When I was working on my hard SF story “At the Center of the World” about Russian ballerinas, high-energy physics, and the ameliorating power of love, I did a lot of research. One of the things I researched was ballerinas, and this was a topic I had wanted to write about ever since I took a college course in introductory art appreciation and learned about Degas.
I am fascinated by the form Degas uses in his paintings about les petite rats. It put a hook in my brain that over the long years developed into a form I wanted to portray in the story. I was also interested in examining the extreme form of power and control these women (and men) show on the stage. Ballet is full of power, form and poetry. I wanted to the story to reflect that. I knew if the ballet scene didn’t come off right the entire story would fall apart.
It’s like that with fiction a lot of times. Take away one piece, have one foundation stone weakened, and the entire edifice will topple into nothingness. This is not anything new with many stories. A couple of examples will suffice. Take Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. We’ve seen the movies and all the interpretations. But you know why the original movie and the sequel The Bride of Frankenstein work so well? It’s because of the creation scenes. If we don’t believe in the creation scene, if that doesn’t capture our imagination, then the rest of the movie falls apart rather quickly. We see this sometimes in film and story. Sometimes there is a crucial scene or moment that, if not handled correctly, would ruin the whole.
Now I’m not saying I’m in a class with Shelley or anything of the sort. But I am a professional writer and I have been doing this for quite a while. You come to understand some fundamental truths in that crucible. And one of those truths is that sometimes a story will hinge upon one scene more than any other. If it works, fine. If it doesn’t…well, the editor probably wouldn’t buy it anyway.
Not every story has this. A story is written and constructed as the story demands, not as the writer wishes. If it calls for such a thing then the writer would be well to include it. I guess maybe it’s kind of hard to explain to someone who doesn’t write, but I can bet you most writers out there would know what I am talking about, at least in this regard.
As I researched the story I kept the images in my head of these poetic and graceful forms moving across a stage and moving through life. Ultimately, in the story, they move through the human heart and the universe until the very concept of man himself becomes changed.
I had a lot of fun writing “At the Center of the World” and it is one of my favorite stories. I like all my stories. But I would be lying if I said this one wasn’t particularly close to my heart. I hope you guys liked it, too.