Searching for a topic

My blogging self seems to have gone off on an unplanned late-summer vacation. Ideas and inspiration for an August post have been desiccated by the long, hot last two months. What to do? Take pro-active steps to find a topic. So I have. . .

• Attended a reading by our recent guest blogger, Maddie Dawson, from her new novel The Stuff That Never Happened, at one of the great independent bookstores anywhere, R.J. Julia in Madison, Connecticut. After Maddie’s reading, an audience member asked Maddie about cadence in her writing. It was an interesting question, one I’d never heard before at an author reading; perhaps it would prove fodder for further discussion. Some clarification was needed. Was the questioner referring to Maddie’s writing cadence or her writing’s cadence or the cadence of her characters’ voices?  The first would refer to the rhythm and tempo of her writing process, the second to the rhythm and tempo of the words of her story, and the third to the rhythm and tempo of her characters’ ways of speaking. I got confused listening to the back-and-forth, and I never could determine which cadence, if any of those three, was at issue.

• Finished Jay McInerney’s 2006 novel The Good Life and marveled at the quality of his writing and, in particular, his ability to convey his characters’ inner processing of events in a totally naturalistic, unaffected way. Another author with that gift whose work I enjoy is Curtis Sittenfeld, most recently in American Wife. There is no aspect of writing fiction that, for me, seems more difficult than conveying characters’ inner thoughts in a manner that doesn’t sound stilted. So I am not the person to be offering any useful advice here.

• Read an obituary of New York Giants hero Bobby Thomson, who in 1951 hit The Shot Heard ’Round the World, one of baseball’s most famous home runs. The article quoted the great sportswriter Red Smith’s story in the next day’s New York Herald Tribune: “Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.” If we are to believe Smith, why should we aspiring fiction writers bother to craft something other than another wizard-vampire-zombie story? Rather than my answering that, I recommend you read “Pafko at the Wall,” the fiction giant’s Don DeLillo’s re-creation of that momentous sporting event, either in its original short-story form from the October 1992 issue of Harper’s, its 2001 stand-alone novella format from Scribner, or as the prologue to DeLillo’s 1997 big, brilliant novel Underworld. Artful fiction is alive and well.

• Familiarized myself with two classics about writing. I have read two online precis of the Ur-text of dramatic story-telling, Aristotles Poetics, and checked out from the Library E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel. Of the former, what I knew before was that a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end. Of the latter, I had read the famous differentiation between story (a narrative of events) and plot (ditto, but with the emphasis falling on causality): “ ‘The king died, and then the queen died,’ is a story. ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief’ is a plot.” All I can say about this middle-aged effort to overcome my ignorance of these works is, better late than never.

—Alex McNab

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Published in: on August 25, 2010 at 8:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

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