clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Heeeeelllllllllooooo, Reader.

I found a set of rules from Jonathan Franzen (author site here) today. There are many of these various rules of writing floating about. I liked this set probably because I found it connected to The New Yorker podcasts where various authors read pieces from other authors whose work has appeared in the pages of the magazine. (here).

The podcasts are amusing.

Anyway, Mr. Franzen has a published set of rules which begin :

The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.  

I've thought about this all day and I think I can appreciate what he intends here. I also think I've violated this rule on more than one occasion. Damn.

I'm leading the reader on an adventure to an emotional world they've not visited before. I'm the guide in this wild land of my imagination and I need to look out for my reader's best interests. I don't try to lose them (WTF syndrome). I don't try and confront them with an overt theme or message (sermons are for delivering in buildings with steeples, not for works of fiction). I am here to guide them. They're intelligent. They're alert. I don't have to explain everything because they can make logical conclusions given reasonably clear facts.

I have a problem in a story I'm writing now. Mr. Franzen and Mr. Ron Carlson unknowingly helped me figure it out today.

I'm an outliner (see the Watery Tart in the right hand column - she did a great study this week of various writing styles of some blog readers over on her bog. Very worth the time to have a look !) . This outline business gives me targets. It gives me security. It gives me somewhere to go when I am heads-down crafting prose.

It's good because I wander less. Notice I say "less." Lately, I've been including little elements in my stories that I didn't know were coming. Sometimes these little gems become major plot points.

In the story I'm working on now I have a couple of these beauties wound into the story and then ... the outline. I'm going down the path with the reader at my side and without warning I grab the poor bastard and push him over a cliff. Yep - drastic right turn here in the climax of the story because I have in my notes "turn right here." I don't tell the reader we need to turn. I give no logical indication that a turn is possible and wham the trail.

Surprise is great. Every story needs surprise. What type of surprise ? Hmmm. "I'm surprised in the word choice here which makes the mundane beautiful." "I'm surprised that the character's desire for withdrawal cannot be achieved because of the blonde love interest's persistence." "I'm surprised at how much I like the protagonist whom I initially viewed as a scumbag." "I'm surprised he didn't shoot the bastard sooner."

What did I do ? "I'm surprised that is in the story because it is completely out of tone, tempo, and the writer gave me no hint that it was even remotely a possibility."

I've got to change a draft because I've done my friend the reader a great wrong. We were in the thick of an emotional jungle and before we could approach the river whose current we could hear ahead of us, I pushed the reader off a narrow ledge and right down a cliff they didn't know was there.

Friends don't let friends execute sudden right turns off cliffs they didn't know were there. Oh, we might let them see the cliff. We might warn them that it was there. We might say it is dangerous and descending it is a little taste of Dante. We might take them to the edge, hold their hand, and jump off together (Butch and Sundance).  We do not apply the literary stiff arm and shove our friend down to WTF-land.

I did it. It was in the outline. I'm fixing it now. I hope my friend will still talk to me when I get it right.

No comments: