Sunday, 17 July 2011

What's the point of language?

When I met my writing mentor last week we talked about structure of a novel, mine, which as a result needs completely overhauling.  But when we'd finished the official session, of course we carried on talking about writing.  In particular description in novels.

I confessed that I couldn't get along with Ian McEwan's books;  when I dislike a writer's work who has been given critical acclaim I tend to think there's a fault in my understanding of how to appreciate it.  It was a comfort when he admitted to a similar problem with Margaret Attwood.  We both seemed to be obsessed less with beautiful writing and more with the story.

Our chat came into my mind again this morning when I caught up with some Writer's Almanac emails and read about Jhumpa Lahiri.  The item quoted her story about buying chairs with her husband.  He wanted spectacular beautiful ones; she opted for comfort.  For her writing is less about being beautiful than about doing something useful within the context of the story she's telling.

As a struggling novelist I always gain comfort hearing about famous writers and how they've dealt with their writing challenges.  Just yesterday I dipped into a book on writing crime novels by Patricia Highsmith at a passage about having to cut out a huge number of pages she really liked in a manuscript to satisfy an editor.

Gives me the heart to keep going!

1 comment:

  1. A friend of mine has just finished reading my next novel and he very kindly gave me a long report on it, mostly positive, but he did make this – accurate – observation about my style of writing:

    As a reader, I sub-consciously crave a Story and, as a writer, I possibly understand a little better than other readers what it is that I expect. You seem to deliberately eschew Story – snubbing your nose whenever an opportunity comes up to pander to the needs of the poor reader.

    I don’t require much of a story either, a few crumbs here and there along the track will keep my marching merrily along… and you have a story here – a neat Odyssey story. The trouble is, you don’t signpost it. Part of the fun of story is anticipation, “I can see where this might go…” “Oh this is going to be good…” etc etc… but I feel you do not want to play that game. I feel you view the traditions of storytelling as ‘walking’ and that you wish to ‘run’. If this book was you painting a bowl of fruit, you would be splashing paint around in vivid creativity while I would be squinting to make out the banana.

    He’s perfectly right. I use the word ‘story’ as an insult. I don’t go on about it on my blog (especially not in my reviews) but the simple fact is if I read a book and all I have to say about it was that it was “a good story” then I feel let down. I look for more than that.