Friday, April 20, 2012

Roast Beast Two Ways

I still don't have a story or a set cast of characters for my new book, but I've started to experiment with prose styles. In the past I've opted for spare and straight forward prose. For this project, I want to see if I will like something more intricate...even flowery. I'm realizing that I can write with two separate tones at the same time if I pay more attention to the prose. One tone is represented by the subject matter, and one is represented by the language. For example, I could write about a toppled dumpster in an alley using "ugly" language, which would be consistent, or I could write about the same dumpster using "pretty" language to create a different effect--to be able to write about something ugly while still keeping the reader in a zone of beauty. That's an interesting idea for me.

Here's one paragraph I wrote describing a view out of a window without paying attention to the tone of the language. I was just trying to be more intricate:

The loft overlooked a truck wash, from where, on the rare afternoons when Alan stayed home, he could hear the low rumble of engines, the shouts of the Mexican attendants, the spray of hoses, the quick and angry blasts of lug wrenches below his window. Trucks entered from the south, on Mateo Street, where the pavement was coated with smears of grease so thick your shoes sank into it and felt slippery for the rest of the morning if you were too lazy to cross the street on your way home from the bus stop. Beyond the wash was a warehouse displaying in bold black letters SOUTHWESTERN BAG CO.--Alan had lived in the loft for three months before realizing the place wasn’t abandoned. In the mornings, a bearded man in smudged overalls parked with two wheels on the curb while he unlocked the chain link fence surrounding the warehouse before pulling inside. A staff of two or three worked in the back, occasionally climbing into their truck to smoke a cigarette and listen to the radio with their feet propped on the door hinge.

Here's the same view written in a way that is more "beautiful" to me:

Framed and subdivided by the multi-pane window at one end of the loft was a view of the Los Angeles hills, where, on Friday evenings, fireworks popped behind an arc of evenly spaced palm trees that surrounded the baseball stadium. Moving closer, garment factories stood with their racks of bright materials and industrial spools of thread, the pale and bright fluorescent lights visible in suspended rows beneath concrete ceilings and water pipes. There was a smaller warehouse displaying in crisp black letters a sign that read SOUTHWESTERN BAG CO., and immediately below the window, a truck wash, which reflected the bright sun up into the loft, and with it the volleying sounds of lug wrenches and shouts.

What's Peanut eating? A fruit cup.


  1. Roast beast? Wasn't this duck earlier?

    I like both of these excerpts. The second one is certainly more poetic and beautiful, but I prefer the first because it seems to have more life to it. It's got movement while the beautiful passage is static. I like how you're thinking about prose function, how voice and style can change within a narrative. It's one of the most complex and powerful tools we have. It's easy to forget that we can control prose like this, just as it's easy to forget that we can control POV in a similar manner.

    Does Peanut ever eat dog food?

  2. This blog is an ever-changing fireball. Don't blink!

    So, here's my issue. Whenever I start to write like this, a part of me asks if I'm just creating white noise that covers up the emotions of the story. Intricate prose tugs my attention in several different directions. My brain imagines many more things. But do I lose focus? Does the brain disrupt the connection between the story and the heart? I'm going to keep pursuing this for now, but this is why I've opted for more simplicity in the past.

    Peanut did have a kibble or two this morning.

  3. Don't be afraid of being subtle! I believe in directness, too. I believe in telling the reader just what's going on at all times. But sometimes you can tell them in an aside, while talking about something else. And sometimes you want to build up a symbolic framework that operates around the central bones of the story, at a beautiful distance from it. Did Klimt need all that gold and all those mosaic colors around his figures, or did he only need the figures? See how it becomes a ridiculous question? The prose and the story are one thing, unified in a narrative. Beauty and complexity don't build distance from emotion, not if you're being honest in your writing. Feel free to erect a glittering cathedral, as long as you mean every word of it. You can do both, or all, of it in a single novel. You don't have to settle into any single approach to prose. Use every tool you need, Malasarn.

  4. With this new work I'm doing I'm finally buying into your unity theory. I get it now. In a way it makes me feel chained up, not necessarily in a bad way. Every adjustment affects everything else. It's all one struggling mass. I guess I wonder what the force was that made Hemingway write like Hemingway versus like Proust or Woolf. Is that his sincerity?

    I do feel like I've reached a new plane of clarity with the completion of The Pagani Project. I feel like I'm reading better than I ever did, and I feel like I have more tools available to me than I ever did. The thought of writing makes me want to burst with joy.

  5. From Scott: The prose and the story are one thing, unified in a narrative. Beauty and complexity don't build distance from emotion, not if you're being honest in your writing.

    I love that because it's so true, and I'm finding it more true the more I write and notice how I'm writing. This new book is so absolutely different from anything I've ever written. I'm very scared about how it will be received, but who the heck cares about that? Just write the book! So, Davin, I liked both of your excerpts, but the second one really stood out in my mind more. The first one, though, feels like it could belong more in a story moving forward. I feel like characters would feel more natural there than the other. Still, I like both, and I know you are talented enough to make both types work for the story you want to tell. Like Scott said, just mean it all.

    1. Michelle, I'm excited that you're pushing yourself in your writing enough to get scared. For me, that's always a good indicator that I'm putting heart into my writing! Thanks for your thoughts on the two paragraphs as well!