Monday, October 09, 2006

Over the Road Bump

To sum up my last post, here's what I think the school of hard knocks has been trying to tell me: Before a novelist should attempt to create slowly rising conflict by means of subtle emotional dynamics — slowly rising conflict being the core of what makes a novel a novel — he had better first learn to do it by means of murderous plots, crooks, kidnappings, and so on. In short, he should start his career by writing melodrama.

After all, what skill is not acquired this way? Witness: every young apprentice first takes the basic jobs and does them over and over again until he feels as if he can't bear to do them even one more time. For example, the son of a blacksmith must pump the billows and shovel coal. He may see his father creating fine works of craftsmanship, and he may wish that he could do the same, but he will face many years of drudgery before his father will finally hand him his own set of tongs and a raw strip of iron for the first time.

As a practical matter, then, a burgeoning writer should first practice what he learns from reading simple novels, like those of L'Amour and Le Quin. Only when he can write a novel at least that well is he ready to move on. Next, he should practice what he learns from Agatha Christie and Tom Clancy. After that, maybe Dumas and Kipling. Perhaps some day he will even be able to employ the tricks of the masters, say, a Rand or a Tolstoy, but he will never live to see that day if he doesn't first persevere through more basic stages of learning.

So here's my strategy: First, I need to learn how to distinguish more clearly between melodramas and higher forms of literature. Then, I must study simple melodramas until I can see a novel's basic structure forward and backward. Meanwhile, I must sort my collection of story ideas based on how difficult they would be to write, then choose a simple one to write next. Then after I write it, I will repeat the process, taking great pains to avoid letting my literary senses outpace my skills.

I know how to write literary short stories. That I have learned how to do fairly well. Also, my one and only completed novel is fairly literary although it is also fairly simple and short. Even so, it is time for me to go back to my roots. No more high or even semi-high literature for me, at least not until I have become an expert at pumping the billows and shoveling coal.

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