clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Dance Monkey, Dance


I saw the Muppet movie tonight which featured a song whose chorus includes the phrase "dance monkey, dance."

There's no accounting for taste but the song has a place in the heart of every writer following along after a more successful colleague.

There is the novel we can write. By "can" I mean this in the Mrs. Shean definition of "are physically able to perform." Then, there is the novel we want to write.

We learn techniques and tricks as we write. After a while, stringing together these slight of hand devices becomes a sort of parlor game. 

The transition from dialogue to narrative summary to dialogue back to narrative summary with a return to dialogue at the end of the chapter is a common enough structural element. We learn to hasten in our dialogue structure the revelation to the reader in a mix of showing and telling.

If we only show everything through action and dialogue, the novel becomes ponderously slow. If we only use narrative summary then readers are not able to structure their own attachment to characters. We compromise. We craft. We use a slight of hand again and again and we move on.

We develop these tools and find comfort in them. 

More substantially, we tell tales we think we can tell and push off some of the tales we want to tell.

We neglect some of the stories we most wanted to tell when we started writing. Maybe they don't matter anymore. Maybe they require degrees of the craft we don't yet know how to employ.

I'd encourage you to write one of those novels you don't yet have the skills to master.

Maybe the story is of a kid you knew in high school who was to himself an unreliable narrator. His inner voice was a pack of useless lies and fabrications (rationalizations?) though - because of a lack of any serious demands placed upon him - he was able to drift along through life without ever confronting this doppelganger.

Put this kid in a house with everyone dead. Let him flee the scene with a neighbor calling after. Let him see the world turn around him knowing that he will be blamed for the unfortunate demise of a family.

"Had it in him" they'll say. "Never was any good."  His classmates know him and will say things like "he stole those cupcakes out of Sara's desk in sixth grade - who'd know it could turn out like this?"

You know these characters. You know these stories.

You thought of them on that drive to see you boyfriend in Dallas. You were on a plane back from Baltimore and thought of these things instead of reading the book you had with you. Did you ever finish that book or do you just say you did?

Write one of these novels that you don't know how to complete. Write one where the techniques are new and fresh and ... scary.

A little bump in the night quickens the pulse. The pounding on the door - pounding - at 3:07 AM: it makes you feel alive.

Never fear the pounding on the door. Bad things like the DEA, the FBI, the DNC? They don't knock. You'll wake up and they are already in the bedroom.

You could use a little shake-up. I can. I found that out this week.

Go. Write something you can't. I will.

Pay the money, call the tune. Dance monkey, dance.

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