At the risk of overcommenting yet again, I want to share a feeling inspired by today's post (thank you, George), the film viewings, the Chaplin interview, and the rich interactions in the comments (as usual, I learn much from each of you). I'm holding an interesting new impression of how I want to approach my own writing going forward, and am compelled to share it here with the hope others might find value in it, also.

I used to own horses, and lived in that world for a time. My own best horse was one copper-colored off-track thoroughbred who helped me get through a tough set of years by using a "safety stance" to protect me whenever I would venture out to her stall at night to cry into her neck so that the kids wouldn't see me succumbing to the exhaustion of single parenting and worry.

Bear with me for a moment until I circle back from horses to writing because I think it's a good and useful comparison.

In my own opinion and experience, the best horse-rider pairs communicate really well with each other, by use of the riders legs, the horse's ears, and both of their sets of eyes and head position, among other subtle things. Usually, the kind of riding we get to see is entirely controlled by the rider (writer?) and the horse (wild story) is tolerating the control for a number of reasons. While most any "broke" horse will ride or respond somehow with a bridle on its head, because of the pressure of a bit in its mouth, it's a use of forceful intention on the part of the rider to get the horse to submit to the rider's own will. It might look elegant on its surface, sure. I think of a lot of editing like this, and I also think it's not the most beautiful, most artistic riding there is. It doesn't respect the animal as much as is possible, which I think is critical if riding (like writing) is ever to be artistic. I can watch horses on a Merry-go-Round, watch an animated movie like "Spirit", if I want mechanically "artistic". Artistic, to me, respects something natural trying to speak with its own voice not mine.

A wild horse is a thing of absolute, pure beauty to watch; however, because it is entirely free and separate from us, its stories are largely unknown to us who glimpse it in its own environment from our own very limited perspective, the horse usually communicating only with others like itself. That's ok, too, of course, even desirable to leave a wild thing to itself and merely ponder its existence.

But a genuine partnership between a trusting and joyful horse and its trusting and joyfully partnered rider is an extraordinary thing to witness and experience, a profound gift––and it's the example I want to focus upon and hold in my mind now as I write going forward... so inspired as I am today. What I want to seek in writing is something that moves between these two better-known horse worlds of wild or dominated.

A well-respected, well-handled, very sensitive horse can be ridden by a rider using no gear of any kind––not a bridle (with a bit), nor a saddle, not even a halter (no bit), especially not riding crops or spurs or anything of the like––just bareback and loose-mouthed, its rider not even holding onto its mane. A horse without gear has the capacity to run fully free, so its partnership under those conditions is really powerful to recognize. Without gear, the rider and the horse can connect and communicate with each other using just light leg pressure, resistance or relaxation in their bodies, their eyes, their heads, and maybe something more subtle than all this that is kind of hard to commuicate because I personally think it tips into a spiritual realm. The two become one for a mutual purpose that becomes a sort of restrained freedom, and a joy made partnership that both can appreciate if there's trust, respect, and good communication. Both can have a bit of say in what takes place, and it's a joy to both witness and experience this kind of artistic riding. It's as close to being accepted into the wild horse's world as a rider can become without living on an open range studying a herd. As a metaphor for our written work, riding without tools or force is the difference, I think, between a written set of operating instructions and the kind of gathering of words that dips into a reservoir of truth and feeling that moves a person to tears.

If I keep this kind of riding in mind, I feel like I'll know how to face my stories going forward when they show up, better understand how to trust them to say what they are holding inside, and let them out with their beauty intact, but then edit them with a looser rein, too; because, I want to ride my story and words a bit like a wild horse releasing its natural love of its own gifts over to me, with me as its privileged rider-witness, in partnership.


Not sure how I got from where I was before to where this is now, but I'm inspired by all that's happened here today, and I think it's really going to help me on my path. (Thanks for reading if you did.)

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Before I engage in this activity, I just want to take a moment to say thank you, George, for your own intentionality of language in these posts. {e.g. For referring to *her* as well as *him*}.

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I want to apologize, George, for missing the past month. I've got a good excuse. Wipf & Stock Publishing gave me a contract on Snarl, my first novel. I'm also producing a study guide to go with it (for book clubs) called A Snarl Theology. www.snarlthelion.com

I'll be back next week at this site, though I doubt I can catch all the way up!!!!

Thanks, too. Not sure how much the karma and hopefulness the Story Club has had to provide the karma that pushed my book through the fiction gauntlet. There are no coincidences.

Four decades, five books, hundreds of short stories and poems, and finally a hit. I wrote it back in 2015. Sits in the middle of my production of novels. I did an edit on Snarl after 3 months with you. Must've made a difference. God bless your teaching style, attention to detail, and depth of support.

Never felt so good about writing since I got the nod. Deeply grateful.

(Got a push to republish today - I first posted quite late on the last post)

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Thank you, George. This is wonderful and reminds me of the line from “Adam’s Curse” by Yeats:

“A line will take us hours maybe;

Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,

Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.”

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Does more organization result in less spontaneity? The first Chaplin fight has a sort of anything goes anarchy that is delightful, although I admit it would have probably benefited from some judicious editing. The second fight scene, by contrast, seemed, however intricate and witty and tightly edited, a little overdetermined. A little drained of improv imagery, compared to the first one.

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Only in Story Club would one go from Babel to Chaplin. We are being taken on a joyful ride.

The two Chaplin fight scenes have the same set-up. In both, Chaplin fights a larger man, a more serious boxer. In the first, the action is frenetic and crazed, as if both fighters have taken amphetamines. It's all action. The word "slapstick" comes to mind. The second is slower, and the choreography is beautiful and graceful, at the same time that it is funny. The gags seem spontaneous but obviously require great skill and timing to get them right. Everything about the fight scene in City Life seems professional, deliberate and under control. The camera work is more sophisticated. The fight scene in The Champion seems entirely improvised, crazy and out of control. That's part of its appeal, I know, but the City Life scene is beautifully done, and I wouldn't say that about the first one.

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One element that's important is that in The Champion film was still treated as if it were simply a recording of a stage performance. I.e. one, straight on camera angle that all the action unfolds in front of. So, you have to look at its staging and economy as if you were in a theatre watching a play. The second is shot more like what we recognize as a film. Different camera angles, edit points where these carry more of the pacing. Don't mean to be a total wet blanket here - because the overall point when it comes to story composition is fabulous and of an importance rarely emphasized - but these two Chaplin instances are a bit of apples to oranges.

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I haven’t watched either movie in many years so it was wonderful to laugh out loud while watching alone on my iPad. However, in the context of this exercise, I will note that the editing in “The Champion” fight is rather crude. Or maybe utilitarian is the better way to say it. The editing tells the story (foreshadowing the dog’s hilarious entrance into the fight, for instance) but it doesn’t “enhance.” On the other hand, the “City Lights” fight is one continuous sequence. There are no cuts. That was a very purposeful decision—to be the editor who doesn’t make a cut. That choice keeps us always involved in the action. Its artifice makes the fight more (ahem) realistic The fight thus becomes the only story told. And the Tramp loses the fight! There’s one narrative, unlike in “The Champion,” which has multiple narrative threads. And, now, I’m wondering if “The City Lights” fooled me into thinking there were no cuts. We’re there cuts that I didn’t notice? I’ll have to watch again.

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The first seemed more slapdash, like he was cobbling gags together without a sense of progression. In the later fight, he seems more “directed.”

I recently watch “The Real Charlie Chaplin” on Showtime. It includes interviews and clips. But by far the most interesting segment for me as a writer was his creating of the flower girl scene in “City Lights”. He took many months shooting and reshooting this single, brief scene, trying to get it just right, all the while not able to say why the scene wasn’t working. At one point, he tried replacing the actress playing the flower girl. But that still didn’t help. In the end, it was a single scene beat at the end that changed it from a very good scene to an iconic one. It is eye-opening, watching a true genius wrestle with the work.

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May 1, 2022·edited May 1, 2022

I guess overall I enjoyed "The Champion" more. I was a bit disappointed in the more "produced" later one, "City Lights" - when the art of movie making had acquired more technique maybe. And it was more noticeably repetitious - at first the hiding behind the referee - or whatever you call the third guy in a fight - was fun but then it was done too often.

The extras in "The Champion" seemed to be having a really good time as well, and I enjoyed watching them. Had the thought of watching it slowed down to just watch the audience watching the fight - wonder who all those guys were - and how they got there.

I enjoyed this post - reading how Chaplin enjoyed spontaneity and seat of his (chalky!) pants. It's helping me loosen up. Been keeping too tight a rein on this chapter I'm redrafting - letting the need for this project to be finally over dominate.

GRR. gotta get my hero from HERE to THERE! Well - wait just a wee minute now...

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May 1, 2022·edited May 1, 2022

I am right now taking a short break from revising Draft 6, Chapter 9, Rev 1 of my novel for 10-12 year olds. I'm feeling the opposite of spontaneous. In fact I'm deeply, muckily mired in plot requirements. (I've been having great joy in earlier chapters of this draft, but with this chapter, I am efforting it.)

Revising a novel as opposed to a short story means that changes can affect multiple later chapters. Sigh.

I recently watched Adaptation again - movie written by Charlie Kaufman - and being in the throes of my novel revision - I found it all the more hilarious. Maybe a little hysterically so.

Anyway - thanks! I wrote out the details about my problem here, and saw a better way - character driven, and within plot requirements.

You'll be glad to know I deleted all that. I really was writing to all of you, and it got me out of ricocheting off the interior of my skull.

However the result is useful to only one person, and that person has copied them to a file on disk!

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A wee bit off topic, but since George is mentioned in this piece by Steve Almond in today's Lit Hub I thought it might be of interest, especially since it's good advice.


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The moments in the first fight scene, with the dog, are funnier, but it did need editing down. I loved how Chaplin did these strange things in the first one, like rubbing his butt in the dirt, and other seemingly spontaneous funny bits. Second one tighter, more controlled, sharper. Still funny. I wonder how much of the first one was improvised, and the second one more planned out. It would be cool to know what the conversations were like behind the scenes, with the editor and camera people.

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May 4, 2022·edited May 4, 2022

Thank you George for your post on Sunday, May 1. I thank you from my whole heart and all its connected parts - top, middle, and bottom! I thought your post was beautiful. It helped me to organize some of my confused thoughts about art and the making of art. You put into words something that for me, at least, has always been elusive. That is, why is a work of art beautiful and why is it that a work of art can sometimes take your breath away. Your post taught me so much. I haven't really commented before, but I'm moved to say how enormously helpful and thought-provoking your post is.

I'm a painter (although I do try occasionally to write fiction and non-fiction) and I think what you said about a good work of art as a highly organized system of course refers to painting. In a great painting there is little waste or randomness. Nothing "flaps." All the parts are somehow locked in together and yet the system feels open and alive. The parts feel as though they are in connection with each other and therefore make a whole that is experienced as beautiful and satisfying. If you remove one thing or set of connections from a painting or story, for example, it becomes a different painting or story. Becoming aware of the underlying connections can be exhilarating. I've had that experience of exhilaration in Story Club.

I can look at a painting by Matisse or Cezanne and feel there is a structure and organization but have no idea how it came into being (I wish I understood that more). I have a difficult time uncovering the relationships and connections, although I can feel their impact. I know the artist's experience, practice, and revision is part of the painting or story, but I don't feel the effort that went into making it.

Chaplin said, "the intellect is not too great a thing." Perhaps this quote by Cezanne is related (if indeed Cezanne said this): "the minute I start to think the painting falls apart." YES!

What you wrote helps me to think about writing, painting, and art in a new way, on a deeper level. And I must add that Story Club has helped my writing too.

Oh my goodness, I'm so grateful for you and this class.

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Seeds? Plants grow in an organized way that feels unorchestrated and therefore beautiful.

In the City Lights clip, Chaplin plants seeds. The scene is set up (the ring, hand-shaking, stretching, bell and timer, etc.) in ways that constrain and organize but then allow an unfolding that feels organic -- and beautiful. In The Champion, it seems anything can happen. It feels more like a pile of leaves than seed-plant-wow!-flower.

In the comments, I see many people found the more chaotic scene (The Champion) funnier or just more enjoyable to watch. I can understand that for these two short scenes -- but I wouldn't want to read a whole story of spontaneity.

This is my first post but I've been following all the way. Thank you, George. I've learned so much from Story Club.

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Thank you for this post. So much to think about, not least within the paradoxes. I did not know much about Charlie Chaplin. His life story is at least as interesting as his films. It is good to know that one of the prime movers of film often felt that he had no idea what he was doing, or why things weren’t coming together, but he kept working at it anyway, day in, day out.

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