Steam (Redux)

I’ve now completed the complete first draft of ‘Steam’, a story which may one day become a novel. Steam started out as a sequel to ‘Smoke’, a much shorter story about a woman living in Neo-Melbourne.

In the original draft, each part of Steam hyperlinks to a section of Smoke, and although the connections between the stories become more tenuous as Steam progresses, the intention has always been to join these stories at some point, either by using alternating narrative voices or some other technique (perhaps italics).

As Steam progresses, the sections get longer and longer. I’m not really sure why this happened—perhaps it just took me a while to warm up. In any case, what seemed like appropriately manageable and readable text chunklets in the early sections pretty soon became much longer (and perhaps less easy to read) superchunks.

I’m also not sure, in hindsight, whether it was wise to pursue this ‘prose poem’ style in the story. By the time I wrote the final section, it was all just pure Kerouac flow, whereas with some intermediate sections I made the effort of inserting paragraph breaks and more recognisable dialogue markings, as in a more conventional story.

I suspect that the second draft will require a lot of this kind of editing, to make the text more readable and well-paced.

That being said, as each section of the story was written in a single burst, it does almost seem appropriate to present the work in its present form. The only difficulty I had writing the story in this way was that when it came to dialogue, where I used italics, it was hard to write two statements one after the other. I always had to insert a ‘he said’ or another descriptor when one character stopped talking, before moving on to what the next character said. Also, as the thoughts of main character in the story are also italicized, it does get a bit confusing at times.

This could also be said about the plot or narrative of the story as a whole. As Duck-young himself recognises in the story, the plot is full of gaping holes, and there are several characters who are introduced but who are not very well developed. Obviously I could just put this down to the need to paint in broad brush strokes when writing the first draft. However, I also recognise that a bit of planning might not have gone astray.

Nevertheless one of the greatest joys of writing, for me anyway, is sitting down and creating a narrative or plot line in real time. I could never have imagined where the story might end up – indeed, the ending of the story is still very confused and rushed, and needs a lot of work. Still, it was a great experience to just go where the story lead me, even if it meant following ridiculous and improbable hunches, or trying to write a synopsis for a non-existent film.

I was aided in these efforts by some very useful books, courtesy of the Korea Language Translation Institute here in Seoul, who have very generously made their library available to me. I would like to be able to claim that everything in this story is made up but, unfortunately, it is not. Much of the story is inspired by writings on Korea past and present, and is of course also informed by the people and places I have come to know during my time here.

In particular I have been inspired by both the owners and patrons of Mania Street, the real-life inspiration for the bar Shesa Maniac in the story. Perhaps one day, if the story is ever translated into Korean, some of these people will recognise themselves in it. I am a little nervous about such an eventuality, mostly because I have taken great liberties with reality in the story.

Then again, that’s fiction. It’s been a huge challenge for me to write fiction again, after so many years pursuing poetry. One thing I was not prepared for was the immensely draining experience of writing prose, even in 1,000 word chunks. It’s also been a bit of an eye-opener in terms of the difficulties prose writers must experience in attempting to represent the passing of time on the page. The majority of the story happens over a period of just one day, and I was constantly amazed at much effort it took to even make my characters walk down the street, or engage in a conversation.

Now that the first draft is complete, I think I’ll just take a little rest, and think about where to go next. I’d welcome any comments or suggestions on the draft. I look forward to improving it and hopefully, one day, presenting the story as a finished whole.

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