All My Life

Many authors carry away from their studies in higher education, sometimes for decades, a disdain for commercial fiction. When they finally sit down to write that novel that has been brewing inside, they know one thing: they’re not writing any slam-bam piece of trash. What they might not realize is how far the gulf between a popular and literary novel really is.

The project begins the way they have read in countless great books: from inside the main character’s(-s’) head(s). They try to connect with their feelings while recording the supposed feelings of the character they have chosen. What emerges is heartfelt, strong enough swelling in the breast to command several read-throughs immediately afterward, even causing tears. Pages fly by this way until the author decides to review a chapter or several chapters. Given the distance of time, head scratching may follow. Yes, plenty of emotions but they seem so precious and . . . so ordinary.

A common reaction is to hone the writing. More exactitude will certainly help, but the key element in elevated prose is: perspective. Great writers have greater thoughts, greater insights, greater concentration. How can a mere mortal possibly reach that high? 

You can start with sweeping statements. “All my life . . .” is a useful way to think of the matter. Sharon didn’t just have a thought in reaction to what Lisa said; she has thought that way since she can ever remember. Take a thought that you think is suitable for such grandiloquent treatment, and make it into that sort of declaration. If you weren’t your vain self, would you believe it?  You may wince inside: man, that is disregarding so many qualifiers you could name. But that’s what great writers do. They put on their Norman Mailer hat and proclaim: There, that’s a universal truth. If you, reader, don’t like it, put down the book. I dare you.

When you start writing that way, you’ll find that you have to become a bigger thinker. A bold claim can’t be dopey, or at least not consistently. You may be forced to think all the time about your book, waiting for eureka moments to pop out of nowhere. That’s what I meant to say! Or you’ll be conducting research, and reading about one fact makes a connection subconsciously to a completely different part of the book. That’s because an author has to be larger in order to fashion a larger-than-life character.

Exercise: You can work to make the ordinary sublime. If you focus on a thought that you want to become larger, and carry it around in your head as you go about your day, you will find that variations will come to you. You can keep jotting them down, over a course of months if need be, until you reach the higher plane you desire.

“Great artists are people who find the way to be themselves in their art. Any sort of pretension induces mediocrity in art and life alike.”  —Margot Fonteyn

Copyright @ 2021 John Paine. All rights reserved. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.