Monday, January 14, 2013

INKBLOTS, Fiction: entertain or edify?

INKBLOTS, January 8, 2013
It was a dark and stormy night... Okay, sorry about that. But it is blustery and stormy, and dark, but we're sitting all toasty in front of a nice warm fire, drinking Gnarly Head.

I shared an article about James Patterson's writing. He argued that we ought to write to entertain, not to edify. Ought? Curious word to use for someone who is essentially arguing against writing doing anything more than entertaining the reading, which sounds very much like a moral judgment about the role of writing (but it ought not to have a moral objective?). Essentially he recommends giving the reader what you think the reader wants. Write what gives readers a rip roaring buzz, an adrenalin high would be good.

I followed it up with a brief read from the last chapter of Strunk and White. Don't watch the trend machine if you want to write worthwhile material. If you want to write what has enduring value, what explores in an authentic way the complexities of the human experience, the depth and anguish of human woe, if you want to confront unchallenged assumption, want to right the wrong, then don't follow Patterson's advice, that's my advice.

McComas read from his Korean War fiction. We talked about the merits of detailed plotting of the tale in advance before writing. Patterson will spend five or six weeks only planning the plot, without doing any al writing until the plotting is finalized. Not the way I write for the most part. McComas does an authentic job of creating conversations about war, about weaponry, about tanks and bazookas. It sounds like I envision army enthusiasts would sit around talking shop. He got ideas for the story from the book The Korean Pentecost, about the Korean revival of 1907. His protagonist's parents will be killed by the North Koreans and the tale will end.

John reads from his Russian immigrant tale. This was an idea John first got a number of years ago, when I was writing Hostage Lands. I remember because John was trying to sell me on writing his idea. At that time he was not writing and didn't think he could do it. Well, he's doing it. I feel like the emotion of this scene is being told but not felt, at least by me. Autism is being featured. John's protagonist Amy lost an autistic child who was struck by a car on a cold, rainy street, she holding her child's body as the child died.

Peter speaks in broken English, as an Eastern European might speak English. When Amy encourages him to go on in his story, have him pause first, a faraway expression in his eyes, she taking his hand and urging him to continue. The lengthier broken English is difficult to sustain. Give Peter a mannerism, something he does with his hands, with an eyebrow, that he does when he pauses in his story telling. The dialect is working (John works with Russian immigrants and has listened to their accents well). Why Baptists can't get jobs but why would atheist materialist ay Baptists will burn in the hell they don't believe exists. Play this up more.

McComas recommended having backstory told not the beginning where the narrative is actually on location in the old country, then bring the story to Amy and Peter. D Mac is doing a tale set in Vietnam where he does this. I think Amy ought to be a writer, she telling the story as she writes it, with breakaways to conversation the actual conversation. What is the undergirding point of tale? Will you write to demonstrate the soul killing results of totalitarianism, how it dehumanizes people, how it creates an ugly world where everyone is suspicious of everyone else.

My go. I decided to read from a later chapter in my Wycliffe novel, sort of a tragic one, that incites the peasant revolt. This is what I read (see next post):

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