For this story, I crafted, through cyclical revision, what appears to be a stream of consciousness. Each time I returned to expand the story, I would start at the beginning and revise sentence by sentence. Each revision created a propulsion that pushed the increasingly fantastical scenarios forward and into each other. The narrator’s look back at certain moments in her life, and her mother’s life, and the life of an older cousin, repulsed and incensed her. Disgust I was familiar with on the page, anger less so. Anger is this emotion that is tied to stigma and stereotype for Black women. Anger has been deemed unreliable on the page and rage deemed a lack of control. Both determinations marginalize and cause the stereotype to become a singular defining feature of Black womanhood. And yet, to remove anger from a character—to perform erasure of a single emotion—is dehumanizing. As human beings, shouldn’t we be able to access our full range of emotions? As such, in addition to grief, despair, trauma, humor, and ingenuity, I wanted rage to both be a subtle narrative guide and to also, at times, flare up ostentatious on the page. Character-wise, I wanted to tap into the narrator’s anger without pathologizing or putting the anger into an exchange of words in dialogue. I put it in her actions, her thoughts, her humor, in old and new stories, and in her remembrances.
With anger as an over- and undercurrent, I also wanted a propulsive force. The type of progressive movement in a narrative that makes me as a reader turn the next page, swept up in a story, lost to the outside world. I use amorphous terms like propulsive force or progressive movement because the science of it has been intangible to me, as a writer. I can spot it in the work of some of my favorite writers and even some of my not so favorite. I leave their prose wondering how they did it, especially when the language is delightfully approaching overwrought. Thick sentences, heavy words, a lightness of movement, and a fullness of story and character all happen in simultaneity to suck me into needing to know: what next? And to be quite honest, writing “Ugly,” a story that scared me a little with the character’s angry, revenge phantasmagoria punching out of me, I was amazed and delighted by the physics and geometry of narrative propulsion that I achieved on the page. That being so, with my approach to this story, that is, allowing the story to unfold through a revision and creation cycle, the science of crafting a propulsive narrative has become tangible and knowable.
LEESA FENDERSON is polishing a collection of short stories. Her writing appears in Callaloo Journal, Vibe Magazine, Moko Magazine, and elsewhere. Leesa was born in Jamaica, grew up in New York, and currently writes in Los Angeles where she is a PhD candidate and Provost Fellow in USC’s Creative Writing and Literature Program.