Sunday, March 2, 2014

In pursuit of the perfect novel

Over the years I've read my fair share of how-to books on the subject of writer's craft, scoured magazine articles discussing the particulars of writing scintillating dialogue, taken workshops with established authors in the hopes of finding the formula for creating that perfect novel. There are quite literally thousands of books on the subject, from the dos and don'ts, to world-building, character-creating, genre writing, motivation, and every facet and nuance you can imagine, some written by world-renowned names, others by little-known authors hoping to carve out a living and recognition by sharing insight.

And over the years I've also read a considerable body of literature, across themes and genres, time periods and subjects, from authors canonized and crucified, known and not.

If I'm honest, I'll admit I've learned more analysing literature than through study of how to write literature.

What have I learned? I've learned (and be prepared for howls of horror) there is no magic formula. There is no right or wrong way of writing. Sure you have to have the fundamental tenets of language well in hand. But the rest, the caveats about exposition, or run-on sentences, or any of a myriad mind-numbing details are all at the whim and purpose of the writer. Language is your palette and you choose how to mix and apply colour of words to suit your own expression.

Why? Because it doesn't matter a blessed damn whether you've followed So-and-Such's rule about world-building, or This-and-That's caveat about exposition. What matters, what really matters, is whether you can actually tell a story. What matters is whether the blood of the bard is in your heart, how well you spin a yarn, tell a tale, fabricate a fiction.

I have read in some of Rushdie's work such passages of run-on, breathless verbiage as to not only laugh at writing conventions, but shatter them completely, and realized in doing so Rushdie has created a story so vivid, so immediate I cannot help myself from turning the next page, and the next, and the next, from thinking on these characters and places and situations until my dreams are drugged with them.

Martel can employ exposition in such a way as to flip the bird at caveats, and do so in a manner that ends up a tale of such fascination it will remain beloved generations to come. Atwood writes such lean, spartan dialogue without identifying the speaker that sometimes the reader looses themselves in the rapid-fire wit unfolding paragraph after paragraph.

In realizing what these masters have done there is now a sense of freedom: Be not bound by convention, rules and regulation. There is but one rule: Tell your story. Tell it from your heart, as though you were speaking to a person sitting in the chair across from you; tell it so that their eyes remain wide, so that you slide like acupuncture beneath the fat and into soft tissue.

That's it.

Throw out the manuals, the guides, the magazines. Just write. Write as though you were Sherazade and your life depends on your skill to spin a yarn, tell a tale, fabricate a fiction.

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