Tuesday, September 29, 2009
She loved John Scieszka's hilarious re-telling of The Story of The Three Little Pigs from the wolf's point of view in The True Story of The 3 Little Pigs! for its crafty use of the unreliable narrator device. Fairy tales are conventionally told in third person, so what happened when point of view shifted? Scieszka's use of the first person narrator invited the reader into a a world through the perceptions of a character and not into the verisimilitude of the fairy tale world created by the original author. The reader believes A. Wolf as the long-suffering "I" in Scieszka's tale because he is the tale-teller, the narrator of his own story, not the three little pigs' story. Each point of view creates a verisimilitude fitting its form or intention. Told in the conventional third person, the reader is invited into the fairy world created for the story, not created by a character for the story. Scieszka broke form for his intention to make the reader laugh at his ironic tale.
Writing stories with autobiographical roots, she'd written in first person for the same reason: verisimilitude. As much as she was part of the story, the narrative "I" became a part of the story, the world created by narrator as character. Fiction and non-fiction could be told from either point of view in the picture book, but the questions she'd ask were fundamental: Who's narrating the story and why? The truth of the story, the author's intention, rests in that question. Who tells it truer?
Ron talks about writing sequels below, and I mentioned in the comments how hard writing one was for me. I blithely sold a trilogy and then sat down to write the second book in it and realized I had no idea what I was doing. It’s so scary—you want the story to be worthy of a trilogy, you don’t want to repeat yourself, you want to make dramatic and complete what is essentially a bridge between two other books—and, maybe most pressingly, you don’t want it to be significantly worse than the first.
It was agonizing at first. I had overwhelming urges to lie in fetal position in the corner of my office and stay there for about three years. I finished a draft and it burned my eyes to look at it. I would wake up in the middle of the night in panic, and it wasn’t until one of these 4am panic attacks that I finally figured out the story the book needed to tell. I pressed select all on 200 pages and deleted them. Blank slate.
I learned how to write a trilogy by writing one—maybe not the most efficient way to do things, but that’s being a writer for you. Ignorance is a good fuel for ambition. And, for better or for worse, I won’t be as blithe about it next time. I read so many disappointing sequels. Sometimes they’re just rushed—you imagine the publishers hiring some guy to stand behind the author and beat a nightstick in his hands every time she stops to consider her word choice. And then some great ones. The authors follow varying strategies. I am breathlessly waiting for the nice UPS man to bring the sequel to Skin Hunger, which continues the action after a cliffhanger ending. JK Rowling keeps the same basic structure for her sequels, but grows the threat (just about) every time, along with growing her characters a year. Garth Nix takes the world he built in Sabriel and moves the action up a generation. In The Bartimaeus Trilogy the author expands his ambition in the second book and gives the trilogy its emotional resonance. Phillip Pullman in The Subtle Knife cuts a hole in the world he built in the first book and climbs through into a new one.
So, Hamline students and alums and fellow citizens of Inkpot-land, what sequels have you liked? What makes a good one?
Monday, September 28, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
In the dark, walnuts fall when they will outside my window. My writing will happen as it happens too, but for now, not in the light of my laptop. It will happen as it once did. Hello again, pen and paper.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I found when I did this my mind was always working on the book in some level, thinking about what would come next. And then as I got toward the end of the book I’d write whole chapters in a day just to see what came next. I seemed to always be living half in the world of my book.
Then I had a baby and my writing time suddenly became conscribed by the hours we had child care, not to mention the piles of laundry and doctor’s appointments and desperately needed midday naps and entire days lost to things like little tyke getting sent home from school for getting handsy with the other toddlers. It's hard to fit in any page goal, what with all the time I have to spend procrastinating.
Right now, I am trying to begin a new book and can’t seem to find the voice. A day of stopping and starting led to little progress. But when I came home from picking up the tyke at school my cat had, helpfully, added eight pages of punctuation marks to the computer document. Do you think she likes Reece's?
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Only a few preferred the quotidian: sitting down with two or three hours, a cup of coffee or tea, the favorite pen, the notebook with its inviting blank pages. I know painters who love the paint over the painting and potters who prefer clay to bowl. Even my mechanic likes the wrench and the spark plug more than the sound of the tuned engine. And once Buddy the cat has patiently stalked the bird beside the avocado tree, once it's dead he just stares at it.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Sunday, September 6, 2009
In the article, writer Dave Eggers is quoted describing the typical "easy" plot arc this way: "Let's go find the chalice! Where is it? Here are some people we meet along the way." Well...okay. Those of us who write "realistic" fiction not using chalices might confess to this sort of easy arc: "Things aren't great; things get worse; things get better. Here are some people we meet along the way."
I guess it's the "along the way" part that keeps many of us writing. The Jonze version of the Sendak classic looks to be very much all about "along the way." I'll be first in line.