Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Letters to a Young, Middle-Aged, or Geezer Writer, XI

I may not be the one to present this to you in a way that enlists your belief.

Enlist, by the way, is one of those verbs I learned from a former girlfriend who was involved in one of those coaching-type programs where individuals were packed into a room and presented with a great deal of information while not being allowed to have a bathroom break. You enlist individuals into your plans or agenda.   I have trouble keeping things straight when I have to pee.  You could almost say there was a direct ratio between the need to pee and the ability to keep things straight.

What I have to present here is the very real notion that things are not always as they seem.  They may never be what they seem.  I like to think I am what I seem, but I have had some varied responses to that, making me aware of the on-going possibility for misinterpretation and misidentification, two key factors in producing a condition called misfortune.

Things not being what they seem, it seems to me, is a natural lead-in to the concept of alternate-universe fiction, a thing many of us have come to associate with the splendid writer, Philip Pullman.  In his alternate-universe stories, there is invariably a portal somewhere linking two universes, allowing passage from one to the other, pretty much what writing fiction is in general.  Here you are, writing about a world you have created while you are firmly rooted in this world.  Much of you is in the world you have created, but mosquitoes from this world can still bite you, cats can and do come plunging through the cat door, bearing a mouse or vole or perhaps even a gopher or rabbit they intend to devour on the cleanest part of your carpet.  Telephones from both worlds may ring.  Religious missionaries may approach your front door, literature clutched as though it were the armament carried by medieval knights at joust. Nevertheless, you have the advantage of knowing you are in both worlds, the world of the real and the world of your imagination; you have dual citizenship, which allows you to move back and forth, a particularly good thing to be able to do when you are bored out of your mind.

Of course boredom is the key.  In your contrivance to lead a meaningful, craft-enhancing life, you must remember that you do not have to suffer boredom, merely removing as much of your presence as possible from the place of the dread bore influence, then into your created universe.

Similarly you will not appear the same to those who see you.  Yes, I realize that is somewhat of a mountain goat leap between paragraphs, but if you stop to think about it, you'll see that I'm not pushing definitions on you, rather urging you to see that if you are not where you wish to be, you still have options.  Sometimes a bit of the Tom Sawyer fence approach is needed.  You modify it by getting as quickly as possible to the setting of your story, then commencing some tomfoolery or other, cleaning up or rearranging the furniture or removing some adverbs, humming all the while so that your characters become intrigued, one by one joining you, finally wanting to try their hand at it.  Be sure to be firm at first.  No, no, this is something I must do by myself.  Everyone seems to understand that need in a writer, but there you are, appearing to look so singularly pleased with yourself and with life, whereupon one of them will ask if he or she could just try out the scenery to get the hang of it.  Reluctantly, you agree.  Mind, you warn, don't be getting sloppy, tracking dirt about.  Thus chastened, they will agree to anything, and of course, you will have realized the purpose of this exercise which is to make them do things they did not believe they could do.

They will then seem to be following the outline you have so laboriously contrived for them.  But now we will both know better.  They will be working toward secret agendas of which, thanks to you, they are quite capable of holding, all the while appearing to take their directions from you.

I told you so, and I told you I am not a likely source to have done so, didn't I?

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