Give Us a Reason to Read

Sorry for the slow pace of posts this week, readers; I’ve got a few family events coinciding with the beginning of a new class that I’m teaching, and both novel-writing and blog-writing has fallen by the wayside for the moment. Very soon, however, more mailbags and other posts will be back in action. For today, I’d like to offer a quick word of inspiration, something that my own writing teacher helped me recognize. He reminded our class that we don’t just read to see stories of our own carefully rendered realities; that would be like looking at a wall-ful of photographs that are simple pictures of our own houses and furniture and parties (think Facebook, not great fiction). Instead, great fiction has to capture that reality and heighten it, making it more urgent, dangerous, sexy, or melancholy. It’s our lives amplified, made sharper and clearer. In one chapter of my novel that I submitted to workshop, this teacher wrote that it was all nice, but a bit too “benign.” I think that was a perfect word for capturing a common problem in fiction: we work very hard for a clean, descriptive sentence, or a thoughtful image depicting — something we’ve already seen in fiction a thousand times before. Stop and think for a moment if your book really needs another description of white sheets on a clothesline, or someone making meatloaf, or a hooker with a heart of gold; or even if it’s not a cliche, such as the games your family used to play at the dinner table, consider if it furthers the story or has urgency to it. Maybe it’s just benign — harmless, but insubstantial.

One comment

  1. Amy says:

    I love that – thanks for sharing. I’ve found that as I write, I tend to “plan” benign but then as I start writing, the ugly tends to come out of my characters. It’s sometimes hard to have them be awful because I really like them, but I think you make a good point that it is that behavior that clarifies life and makes good writing good.

Leave a Reply