INKBLOTS –January 16, 2011
Blustery evening (better for getting the creative juices flowing), fire on the hearth. John brought along a 2004 red from Nimes, where his daughter and son-in-law live in France, where the best preserved Roman coliseum in the world is. I led off with one of my favorite paragraph from Abolition of Man. He could have said. We are a civilization that produces people who have no integrity. Instead he wrote, “In a sort of ghastly simplicity, we remove the organ and demand the function… We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” Vintage Lewis, and perfect example of using specific, evocative language; be specific, avoid the vague and anemic.
John led off with the tea party chapter from his contemporary fiction, exploring the complexities of throw-away life in the age of abortion, euthanasia, and infanticide. I would avoid a movie reference for context. Consider a description of the massive house that describes the mansion in comparative terms. You started to with the columns. Maybe put it in a historical context, pre Civil War, family with 100 slaves. Andy S commented that the height description in numbers is less effective. Translate 5’ 2”. How about comparing the height with her being just barely tall enough to go on the adult ferris wheel, on a tall day.
I read from D M Kaplan’s Revision. Point was the importance of enabling reader to “see, really see.” It is the task of the author to awaken the imagination of the reader so that they not only see, they know the character, how they think, what they hate, why they do so, what makes them move, what other characters think of him. No short cuts to this. And I would add, we must show and not tell the reader. When we show them we don’t need to tell them. But still don’t over-write! Develop a sense of what is essential, what must be there and what does not belong. Sometimes this means cutting out our favorite passage.
Dave reads a chapter of his futuristic thriller. Bioengineering novel, political critique of absolutism, statist politics. The reference to praying seems forced. Against his religion. Is he the one that is or sort of is a Christian? I have a hard time with this. Now he does back down, but I wonder if the reason this gets clogged in my imagination is the futurism and the realism of Christianity seem incompatible. Maybe I’m wrong, but it does seem to sort of paste in the Christianity. Lost your faith? I can’t see that there is real compatibility with a real world where Christianity is also real. John commented that he couldn’t see any of the description, couldn’t see where anyone was, what they were doing. Too unrealistic, too nonchalant, for realism. Comic relief? Maybe so, but it does seem to be unrealistic, and comic relief with violence seems awkward. Andy advises Dave to make each scene grab the reader all by itself. Good advice. Lots of potential. Too quick, stretch it out a bit. Lots going on with the brothers at odds with each other. Reader needs to feel like he is there, and like he really cares about what is going on. End chapter where brother lowers his gun, can’t shoot his brother. We must have a consistent lens, a character the reader sees the world through.
Mixed signals on where the story is going. By attempting to combine Biblical, real Christianity with the fantasy futuristic genre. It has the effect of making Christianity seem fantasy too, opposite of what Dave wants, we all know that. This may account for why it feels tacked on, artificial. Stick with genre. Dickens in Christmas Carol, Scrooge can’t just change by moral improvement; he needs some kind of above the natural to transform him. It is not Christ and gospel of grace, but it is an exploration of evil and the need for transformation. Celebrate goodness and integrity over evil and killing. The violence seems to be too gratuitous, without giving the reader a sense of compassion, no or little internal conflict. We should want to awaken a deeper sense of what it means to be human. Even unbelievers who write well explore this; they just aren’t aware that they’re doing it. The Christian had the advantage here. We by grace have been made to know that we are made in the image of God, that we have rebelled against his holiness, that we are in deep weeds.
We talked a good deal about how Christian writers have a role and it’s not preaching, though they may carefully create a character who does.