Budding Writer, 1979: ‘Parameters of Pygmalion’

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About this series: I revisited my journals from my first year as a freelance writer and found they told a story of their own. In this series I get the rare opportunity to give myself, and other writers, career advice with nearly 50 years of hindsight. Enjoy!

One day tends to roll into another during working vacations. On this date 44 years ago, I was on the Jersey shore, launching my writing career by drafting a new short story.

The title is awful: “Parameters of Pygmalion.” I later changed it to “The Dream Girl” when I realized that my first audience — my mother — probably wouldn’t get it.

You do, though, don’t you? Pygmalion was a character in Greek mythology, a character in Ovid’s Metamorphosis. He was a sculptor who fell in love with his own creation. George Bernard Shaw used the name as the title of a play about speech coach Henry Higgins and pupil Eliza Doolittle. You probably know it as the musical My Fair Lady.

My story was about my character Fred Warner, a young writer, driving through Cape Cod, catching sight of the woman of his dreams, and following her to a romantic waterfront pier. The question of the story was whether the woman was real or literally his dream girl.

And yes, like Fred, I was looking for my own dream girl. Think of it as a Pygmalion-within-a-Pygmalion.

… Highlight of the day (other than my sunburn): I made quite good progress on the Fred-and-fictional-friend “Parameters of Pygmalion” story today. I like the plot and the mood I have in mind as I write it; unfortunately, though, I’m disappointed in the specific style and inability to convey the mood properly. Luckily for me, that sort of thing should be able to come with practice and with rewrite.

I saw a snatch of Get Smart today and the entirety of Farewell My Lovely (Robert Mitchum?) tonight. The latter gave me a good example of lively, colorful, moving dialogue. The former renewed my interest in writing “The Kings of England.” I’m psyched to write, and I’m doing it. A good working vacation.

Journal, Volume II
19 June 1979.

… I finished the first draft of “Parameters of Pygmalion” today. It came out better than I had expected; although the plot is quite different from my original plans, it’s better. I keep the ambivalence about the dream girl’s nature pretty well, I think. But, as ever, I have severe doubts about my narrative style. This problem dates back to high school, and it will be a long time before I overcome it.

I’m pretty well written out, too, it seems: I really can’t get up the momentum to write anything else this week.

20 June 1979

I read “Parameters of Pygmalion” to Mom and she caught on, but it may have been too obvious. Needs some work.

22 June 1979

Two days of writing one story, and I was burned out? Not much of a working vacation, was it?

Of the four ideas I started the week with, this was the only one that I actually completed. I noted that it “needs some work,” but I don’t know if I ever opened it again.

I’ll have to check the files. If I do find it, should I share it here? Let me know in the comments below.

Dialogue or dialog? Contemporary readers might find the longer spelling awkward, but the novice writer had it right this time. Dialogue is the conversation between characters in a story. The shorter version, once simply an American variant, has become more common in the computer age in the context of dialog boxes. Today it is the most common American spelling, although the British prefer the longer form.

Spirea blooms in a garden in North Hero, Vermont, June 3, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered
under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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