Friday, May 18, 2012

The Oak Tree Metaphor

Not the same tree, but one very like it. Found on
Flickr.
There's an enormous old oak tree in my memory of the house my father built for us. A lot happened around that tree. There was a tire swing on it, it helped hoist engines out of cars, offered shade during the day and sheltered the cat when he got scared. (Of course he was blind and had to be rescued every time he went up, but those are stories for another time and another place.) My brother fell very hard once out of that tree and my parents had to take him to the emergency room. I have pretty vivid memories of that day, in particular, though they may be inaccurate now given the decades that have passed since.

I don't recall that we ever trimmed that tree. It was maybe forty feet high (maybe higher) and allowed to grow in any which way it chose: wild, tall and full of branches that cross and occasionally some that are dead. I have three trees on my property now, one old one in the front that provides shade and comfort, especially in the summer, and two that do the same things for the back of the house. 

If I don't get out and trim some of the interior branches, when a storm comes the entire tree could be terribly damaged. I have to thin out foliage so that the wind can breathe through the tree. I need the leaves to diffuse the light rather than block it, because the grass in the yard needs sunlight, too, as do the flowers and bushes we've planted.

My novel, The Cold Distance, is a lot like that tree: there's a lot going on in it, it's full of untamed branches that cross over and sometimes die and it needs to be trimmed so that the story can breathe. It provides too much shade in some areas and not enough in others. The light must be diffused so that the entire story can grow healthy and strong. 

Ugly pruning that's even worse-looking in real life.
I'm in the process of editing it now, trimming and pruning in order to shape the novel into an elegant tree that one would be proud to have in the yard with a tire swing on it. A tree that would be enjoyed its entire life. I'm not going in and hacking away at it to save the power lines that are adjacent to it, though. The result of senseless hacking is something ugly though still functional. 

Rather, I'm making art out of words. Or at least that's my intention. Right now the book is functional, it tells the story and does well enough at that. I'm picking words and sentences and various combinations that reveal truth as far as the story is concerned. 

So the goal is to have a nice, full tree that is something to be proud of. I'm doing the work to ensure that whatever pruning comes next isn't going to result in things like any of the examples here.