Almost a year ago, I sketched out the beginnings of a story involving a young mermaid who, ignoring her mother’s warning, got involved with a two-legged land creature. The story was vague and without distinctive features, aside from the mermaid and her indiscretions. Like most of my stories, it was (or would have been) easy to follow. The reader would not need to think hard about the actions taking place; they would be clear and unambiguous. That’s one of the differences between my mermaid story and one I read recently.

Do Not Save the Ferocious, Save the Tender, is a gripping tale (written by Ramona Ausubel and published by Oxford American, a literary magazine and its sponsoring organization based in Little Rock). From the outset, I found it difficult to follow, but I became enmeshed in the story in short order and could not put it down. The piece requires thought—a great deal of thought—to get through and then it requires more to process the thoughts that took place while reading it.  I like stories that challenge me. This one did. And that’s what led me to write this post.

Much of what I have written and, indeed, much of what I am writing now, is plot-driven. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think I could improve my writing by focusing, instead, on deciding the message I want to deliver to the reader and, then, determine how to layer the plot in such a way as to require the reader to strip the plot  back, layer by layer, to fully comprehend the message. It’s a challenge to the writer, for sure, and it would be a challenge for the reader. The danger in writing in this way is that the plot must engage the reader and stand on its own, even if the reader does not want to, or cannot, comprehend the deeper message.

I now wonder whether a mermaid story is the right way to go about this. Ah, what the hell! I’ll continue to write straightforward mermaid stories because I rather enjoy straightforward mermaids.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Mermaidery

  1. Thanks, Juan. I think you’d find Oxford American interesting, and a valuable source of new writers and their work. As for mermaids…I have lots of ideas!

  2. jserolf says:

    I really like your rendition of “Do Not Save the Ferocious, Save the Tender”; your style is like Roger Ebert’s, and I’ve read a lot of his reviews — nice sense of clarity.

    I’m not much taken to plot driven stories, which mandates some twisting and turning for reader or viewer interest. I just saw the worst John Wayne movie ever made, “Brannigan” 1975, and it was plot based. I suppose producers thought that a Wayne and Attenborough duo might carry the characterization — and it almost does. But, the plot twists worked with too many wild cards. There was no artistic unity to the piece; everything felt disjointed.

    Might be interesting to make up a list of plot driven movies.

    You might remember John Gunter at Del Mar? Well, he took me under his wing (don’t know why), but we lunched often, many with William Mays and Whitney Hoth. Anyway, John said there were two kinds of pieces: Theme driven and character driven. I always kept that in mind, but drive my own classes on theme driven analysis.

    I can think of at least 6 problematic mermaid movies, including “Beach Blanket Bingo,” though wonder if that mermaid persona might be revamped into a girl missing her legs, or one who had three legs, or at least a club foot, as in The Glass Menagerie. Turn the oddity into something else and you build a story of a hetero falling in love with a homo. Sorry, I’ve been dying to use that noun for the last three months. Don’t ask me why! LOL!

    Still, that “mermaid” story has to work with three emblematic characteristics:

    Physical deformity
    Fish & Mammal (aliens’s love)
    Rebels to tradition

    ….I think, but are there more?

    Love your posts!!!

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