The poet Kenneth Koch found inspiration for one of his greatest works in a sign he saw at a railroad station in Kenya. The sign read, One Train May Hide Another. This poem came to mind as I contemplated what makes a work of fiction notable. And often, our greatest works are hidden by something a bit more mediocre, a bit more common, a bit more expected. Right?
Often, as writers, I believe we let too much get in the way of our story's strengths. For me, I used to focus too much on complex plot, or flowery word choice, or narrative nuances that turned out to be too "cute,” and not something I felt was authentic. Those mediocre tendencies still eat away at my confidence, but I've forced myself to look past those default settings to focus on what's hiding behind that first draft.
Another author I very much admire—Victor Lodato—said, "For me, a story always begins with a voice. Often, the first few paragraphs or pages arrive in my head—a kind of music or rhythm, which I then follow, in an attempt to discover what's on my mind." I believe a story not only begins with voice, but it must carry through—that music must play through each sentence, through every line, and up to that last word.