Friday, January 4, 2013

Popcorn

This post should probably wait until after I finish Wonder Boys, but I've been thinking about what gives stories momentum. I'm learning that with this novel. By page 275 or so, where I currently am, only about 35 hours have taken place in the story...granted the protagonist slept for less than four hours the first night, which bought him some time. What's interesting to me about the book so far is that it doesn't feel memorable beyond the immediate experience. I don't seem to be stamping characters forever in my brain or exploring any important themes or learning valuable lessons. It is just a compelling read so far. How does Chabon accomplish that?

For one, his language is beautiful. I find myself liking all of his characters as well. But, beyond that, there's something about how he has loaded so much conflict up front that I find myself anxiously reading to find out how everything will turn out. It's like watching dominoes fall, which I imagine required a lot of intelligent set up on Chabon's part

In terms of driving forces, I'd say this story is working by having a collection of things happen simultaneously that clash with one another. The "main event" that puts the story into motion, a writer's conference, really has nothing to do with what makes it exciting other than serving to bring the right people together at an explosive time. Everything becomes spring loaded. A reader just lets go and watches to see what happens.

I'd argue that this strategy is different from what I experience with books like Plainsong or Mrs. Bridge or The Buddha In The Attic. I barely recall the openings of these books at all. With these I feel more of a sense of following the natural progression rather than chasing a speeding train. The energetics are more subtle, more naturally flowing, less calculated, perhaps.

Then there's my own strategy which, I realize these days, usually tries to diffuse the linear momentum in an attempt to create these books that can be opened up at any point and read in a piecemeal fashion. Instead of a river I get preoccupied with the idea of a lake with little areas to explore.

I have a lot of explanations for this.

One is that I tend to hate how most stories end. (Or, if I love the story, I don't want them to end.) I often hit a point where I feel like the author is trying to get rid of me, like a person who wants to break up but doesn't actually come out and say so. But I think it's also because I start more books than I finish, and when I love a book I tend to open it up randomly just to get back into the world of the story. This has become a bad habit, perhaps, and I'm trying to create the same experience in my work, for better or for worse. I think part of my motivation is also greed. In most of my novel attempts, I try to get multiple stories in, creating compilations instead of single stories. The overall plot ends up functioning simply like a spine that just barely holds everything else together. This also allows me to think less deeply about any one particular story, perhaps.

At the moment I'm questioning the effectiveness of this. Is it actually a preference or is it my own lacking? When I started Cyberlama, I remember telling myself that I wanted it to jump around in time, I wanted it to twist over itself, so that there was a constant level of discovery rather than a payoff at the end. Is this just a way to create boring writing? I wonder.

2 comments:

  1. Just my opinion; but I think stories grow from the original concept just by the author writing them. My belief is that we have a concept in mind, something that propelled the writing in the first place. It may only be a first line, or a character that intrigues us, or even a setting that begs to be developed. But, something initiates the story.

    And then the characters, emotions, setting, conflicts; whatever comes out of the author's mind builds a story. Does it all have to manifest in linear fashion? Does point A have to lead to Point B and so forth? or do you (author you) see your character in a scene and write it, even if the scene is later in the story, or eventually is deleted.

    But The book that is read has to follow some sort of theme. I defer to Steven Brust; who wrote of a world with a consistent set of characters. The characters stayed the same throughout, the setting was surreal, yet each book was written as more of a "scene" progressio than a novel.

    Did I digress? Anyway; not all stories have to have a definitive end. "The End" needs to wrap up the major story concepts, but not end all forward progress. Perhaps what your are looking for Davin, is the "satisfactory end". Not everything is resolved with the Happily Ever After (HEA) conclusion; but it allows a "next step" if the author chooses to carry on with the story.

    Not all stories have to have a conclusive end. Maybe I've digressed too much from your original question; but as long as the beginning questions and the end tie together, why would you need a definite conclusion to the end?

    Literary writings almost always leave an open ended question of "what comes next". There is always a larger question that cannot be answered within the confines of the novel. The reader has to address their own values on the concepts to come up with viable answers.

    This, I feel, is what Dan Brown was trying to accomplish in his novels. He reported on some little known mythologies that contradicted and challenged known theologies. Does it matter if he is right?

    What do you want to accomplish with your novels Davin: do you want to challenge social norms, or adhere to social policy?

    I've read several of your writings that integrate both. Your target audience isn't someone who needs every nuance of a story concept explained. I have to believe that I am not the only reader out there who "gets it" when I read your abstracts. This just means you have t work a little harder at cultivating a following. Mainstream readers are so boring.

    .....dhole

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  2. Donna, thanks for your thoughtful comment. Along the lines of what you are discussing, one concept I'm trying to crystallize in my mind is the idea of reaching closure on the emotional strands of my story without worrying so much about tying up the more tangible threads. I think that, to me, would be satisfying.

    When I think about my own writing and what I try to accomplish, I want to create a book that I'd enjoy reading more than any other book that already exists. At the same time, I'm often conflicted because I think the process of writing has to be fun for me to justify my spending so much time on it.

    I think it's in my nature to try to do new things. That makes life more exciting to me. Of course a lot of things I think are new were done years ago without my knowing. :)

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