Realized this as I updated Twitter and Facebook this morning, that I’m being too easy on my characters. It’s time to mix it up and get them in trouble. One scene was entirely too pedestrian (he did that and then he did this, blahblahand blah!). The challenge is how and also reveal character at the same time. More to come.
Monthly Archives: July 2009
It’s one of those days when the characters are sulky and uncooperative. Tell me what you’re doing, you characters, you! Doesn’t help that it’s about 100 degrees outside.
In the meantime, I had to take a look at the NY Times book section and depress myself. Is it just me or is this… well, ugh?
Also put up an annotation of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Brilliant book.
Getting out the whip and chair. Look out characters – I will have my 1,000 words today!
There’s material all around us for short stories and novels. Here are 5 different takes on Ruth Madoff and other clueless wives. I haven’t been following as closely as when the story first broke, but it’s entirely possible she did not know. It never fails to amaze me how people see what they want to see. There’s also the point that just because you wouldn’t do it, doesn’t mean either they wouldn’t do it to you, or to others. If a person is not a cheater or liar, chances are they are not looking for it, especially in the people closest to them. Why should they? And that can make not only for headlines, but interesting fiction. Your character is in some kind of self-made bubble and drama happens when an event or another character punctures that bubble. Now go write.
“Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.” — Sidonie Gabrielle Collette
Happy National Blog Posting Month. I’m not officially signing up, but you can…any month you choose.
Narrative has an essay (free signup required) by a friend of a friend, James Salter. Our friend in common is the inimitable Richard Russell who writes the Dow Theory Newsletter.(by subscription, though the Popular Article section is free)
Here’s what I’m reading this summer:
About a Boy, Nick Hornby
Skinny Dip, Carl Hiaasen
Birds of America, Lorrie Moore
The Secret History, Donna Tartt
Code of the Woosters, PG Wodehouse (may substitute My Man Jeeves)
Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
Columbine, Dave Cullen
The Hours, Michael Cunningham
Since I’m writing a dark comedy, I will probably add in some David Lodge (Changing Places, Small World, and Nice Work are all fun reads) and perhaps Richard Russo’s Empire Falls. If you haven’t read Straight Man, do.
Here are more suggestions. I tend toward the second list.
I’m not much for thrillers, but Salon has a few suggestions.
UPDATE: Welcome Anchoress readers!
Been thinking more about the need to shock in fiction. Watched Sydney Pollack’s doc “Sketches of Frank Gehry” last night. Pollack said, and I’m paraphrasing, that he thought of talent as “liquid trouble.” The trick was to let it seep out in productive and creative ways, to use the talent. Also made the point that liquid trouble was largely frustration with things as they are and the desire to change them. If you strive for excellence, then you’re definitionally competitive and ambitious. Reminded me of something I read when Ricardo Montalban died. He was a famous perfectionist and it grew directly out of his faith. He maintained that we create in imitation of God and have an obligation to get it right.
Taking all of this together, trying to shock the audience/reader makes sense – it’s the obvious way to jolt someone out of complacency. The problem is that it loses its effectiveness if done too often and the ante continues to go up. It seems that we need more creativity to express that frustration with the way things are without going solely for shock value. Right now I’m thinking it’s about leading the audience on a journey so that by the end they see things as if for the first time. Yeah, easier said than done. Believe me, I know.
Had a conversation the other day and the premise that shock lit is over came up. It was thrown in to high relief by the Michael Jackson spectacle. Sometimes it’s hard to top real life with fiction and I began to wonder why we should feel the need. There are so many books about (now formerly) shocking subjects – just look at the dozens of junkie memoirs – that you’d better a) know what you’re talking about and and b) bring something new to the table. I could be wrong, but my sense is that people have been so saturated with snark and shock that are ready to gravitate toward something else. Everyone does seem to have the sense that we’re on the brink of something. Perhaps it’s the sense that the pendulum is bound to swing in the other direction.
Some of the people at school (see below) read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. I find it interesting to look at what authors are doing besides writing. Pressfield, who wrote Bagger Vance, Gates of Fire, and so on has taken his research on Alexander the Great’s Afghan campaign and looked at Afghanistan. He doesn’t pretend to be a general or historian and adds new information as he receives it (including a youtube from a Pashtun tribesman!)
The military has made use of writers’ imaginations in the past. Interesting post on why military officers need novels that includes speculation about what may have happened regarding Vietnam if more decision-makers had read Greene’s The Quiet American.
:some of my class of not very quiet Americans