Sunday, 23 June 2013

Thinking outside the box...

A couple of months ago I blogged about identifying literary fiction as opposed to commercial /mainstream. Since then I’ve been thinking about both forms of fiction and whether it's possible -- assuming you are not this way inclined at the start -- to turn yourself into a writer who produces literary works.

I think it is.

But I think it involves a great deal of work.

This may seem a simplistic thing to say. Any piece of (good) writing involves a great deal of work, but what I'm getting at is that for a work to be literary you have to say something that makes readers sit up and take notice, or you have to say it in a way that makes them sit up and take notice. It's not enough to simply tell a story - that's commercial fiction.

One way of becoming more literary is to work at the words. To look at how you use words, and whether you can improve by changing the way you describe things.


I've done a little experimenting along these lines. I looked at literary work that I love or admire in an effort to see what it was about that work that grabbed me. Mostly it wasn't big ideas or topical subjects, mostly it was a certain lyricism or a way of saying something that caught me and held me.

For instance, in Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone, which I blogged about recently, there's a sentence on the last page that got me: "The birds had so much to say at dusk and said it all together." Do you see what I mean about saying something in a different way?



I had a go at seeing if I could do this myself. In the story I'm working on at the moment, the main character goes outside with his dog last thing at night for the dog to pee.

At about ten he let the dog out for his ablutions. He stood on the veranda’s lip with his hands tucked in his armpits. The dog rummaged in the ragged grass. Overhead the sky, thick and deep as the bottom of the ocean, sparkled with phosphorus. The pine trees sighed. Ebbed and flowed like kelp. He closed his eyes. He was fathoms underwater. Mute and deaf. Adrift. Untouchable. 



 

To get to this I put myself in the man's shoes, closed my eyes and imagined I was outside under a night sky, and I thought, what does this remind me of? Then I came up with the idea of the ocean. Obviously it took a bit of work. Do you think it's worth it?

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