Saturday, July 31, 2010

Trying too Hard

With writing, either you get into a rhythm or you are trying too hard. Right now, I'm guilty of the latter. I call it being guilty becuase, it's not something you consciously do. It sort of just...happens.

There are sentences like:

Somewhere between the football field and the bicycle rack, I lost my wallet.

I typed it and thought, oh, yes, I can go somewhere with this sentence. It's simple but it has doors to it.

But then, here is what followed:

Its velcro strip was full of my sister’s Barbie’s hair and it wouldn’t stick like it should unless the wallet was practically empty.

So, I typed it which, standing alone would be interesting, perhaps humorous but, it stopped me...BECAUSE I WAS TRYING TOO HARD.

It makes sense to me looking back at it but I am sorely lacking in the editing department. For that reason, the paragraph of which those two sentences are a part, will likely remain where it is, out of place, dragging my story down and ultimately killing the piece altogether. Still, I can't delete them. Those words are original thoughts of mine and for now, while I ocnsider what to do with them, they will remain perfectly in tact until I come back to them when I'm not trying so hard anymore.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


I've been thinking a lot lately about that moment...that moment in a novel where the protagonist has the "realization" that changes things. I've been thiking about it because it is something I struggle with. Mostly, I worry about whether my main character should have that moment or not.

Life, as most would agree, is full of both moments and non-moments. We do not reflect on our choices of sandwich meat in the deli at the supermarket or on which toothbrush to buy, but we do when choosing a career or a partner in life. I've thought about what it would be like to be a person who is the reverse perhaps, someone who in a Seinfeld sort of way, dwells and sweats of the seemingly small stuff in lieu of the larger life issues.

But, if I'm to write about the moments and non-moments, it only makes sense to me, particularly in trying to write fiction, that an anagnoris is necessary. Aristotle defines "anagnorisis" as a change from ignorance to knowledge, producing love or hate between the persons destined for good or bad fortune.

He uses the example of Oedipus but we can clearly see how Shakespeare translated that into Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, even Othello when Othellos himself finally learns of his mistake as it relates to Desdemona's inappropriate relationship. Even modern day stories like Superman when he discovers his weakness is kryptonite or the moment when Luke Skywalker learns that Darth Vader is his father is THAT moment, the moment when suddenly, the main character knows what he is destined for and how what he is destined for is going to change is that moment that I struggle to write or even imagine.

First, it's hard to sufficiently create in my mind that moment at the start. It's something that I find is arrived at through careful storytelling, character development and lots of time spent thinking through the intricacies that make such a moment actually believable.

Second, even if I can sufficiently create that moment in mind, when I arrive at the time when such a realization would make sense, would be expected even, I find myself asking the more basic question: do I want there to be a realization of any sort at all?

Then, I get stuck. I tell myself that a book needs that moment. It needs to have it in order for it to be marketable, interesting, provocative, intelligent, etc. I worry that if I don't have a moment like that, it will look like my writing was lazy or that my thought process was too simple or worse, boring.

But then, I think back to books I've read and enjoyed where I just watched someone live his life. There were no great epiphanies. There was no adventure or secret to discover. It was just me, watching someone live and eat breakfast and drive his car and complain about the mail being late and the way the elevator always get stuck on a certain floor. I think about the everyday slice of life type stories and I think to myself, not that Aristotle had it wrong. I think to myself that this is the kind of story I want to write even if Aristotle was 100% on point.

So...I begin writing and plotting and plotting as I write so that I don't push myself into a moment, a realization that feels contrived or unbelievable. I write in circles and about nothing until finally, I have something. I have a short story. Then I have a novella. After a few chapters more I have a novel. I finish it and I look back at it and you know what I find?

Anagnorisis...smack dab in the middle of my novel...only, it's there because I didn't plan it. It is there and it works, surprisingly and wonderfully, it works. It works because I wrote it by accident. I wrote it by trying to defy Aristotle. I wrote it because even in life the non-moments can be moments. Things DO happen sometimes when we are simply choosing deli-meat. I might be reaching for the same package of corned beef as my nemesis. I might drop the toothbrush I bought into a storm drain on my way to my car, prompting me to meet the man who'd change my protagonist's life. Non-moments are moments, the realizations we are looking for...if only we follow through.

A realization, I now realize, is comrised of a sequence of events...destined events, fate if you will. So maybe Aristotle had it half-right...all stories have this "moment" but it is not just a is a culmination not just an accumulation. Now, I have to start writing toward that end.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I haven't posted a true "post" yet so, I guess today is as good as any.

As the summer nears an end, well, at least from my perspective since school is about to start and football season is about to be here to usher in the fall, I feel the need to take stock of my year so far.

I'm now reading my 28th novel this year. I'm not sure what that says about me, considering I work full time, and a mother of two girls age 5 and under, but, it doesn't feel like I've wasted my time. Honest. I discovered an author that grips me as much as Thomas Hardy did in the contemporary American writer, Philip Roth.

I've always leaned toward American fiction even though my first loves were classic 18th and early 19th century British novelists. But now, I am back to the good ole USofA.

Yep...something about the American spirit, the robustness of it, the manner of speech, the brashness softened only by the hope that can't help but be there. In a sense, it's almost as if the American writer is unaware of just how upbeat even the most despairing or dire of circumstances come across in the writing if only because there is the idea, the notion that, there is "the othere side." In American fiction, that idea is always just beneath the surface.

The central struggle presented in American fiction is the struggle over simply--how do you get there? How does one make it? What exercises in either futility or practicality does one undertake to get to some place of contentment even if not happiness? Because in American fiction that "place" does exist.

I'm not saying that this idea is not true for other countries but it is rather especially true for American fiction from James Fenimore Cooper to Nathaniel Hawthorne to Mark Twain to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest even the African-American writers like Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, and Alice Walker who, despite the state of America during their writings, still found a way to have hope, to fight for it even. Or Jewish American writers like Bernard Malamud and Philip Roth who wrote almost exclusively about Jewish American characters and their struggles to reach that "place" in American culture.

Today, in reading Charles Baxter I see it. I see it even in Robert James Waller or Alice Seebold, writers of completely different genres but nonetheless, the notion of "hope" is there.

Hope is that place. It's where American fiction does what American poetry cannot. It's a map to the other side, filled with not just a voice or of images...but of dialogue, conversations on how to get there.