Saturday, August 30, 2014

Writers' Hangovers

A former client has reappeared from out of the shadows, asking you for "back cover comments," which you interpret to mean a blurb.

"Congratulations on your publication," you reply, playing through the work, as you first saw it, then how it meandered through such editorial focus as you were able to convey and the author was able to put into effect.

The work bears an agreeable parallel to Heart of Darkness without being derivative.  A young man sets out on a journey to deliver a message to a needy group of people, but in the process receives an even greater message from them.  A nice project, stripped of its earlier tendency toward the over sentimental; 

"Who is the publisher?"  you wonder.

"Ah,"  the former client says.  "There are some obstacles."

You now understand at least one of the obstacles.

Much of the essential nature of story resides in the appearance of a character who is driven by a yearning for something.  Note the word choice at work there:  driven and yearning, as opposed to the mere wishing or wanting.

In one remarkable swoop, we have Ishmael, yearning to get away from a bout of melancholy and depression, meeting Ahab, a man on fire with the ache of revenge.

Huckleberry Finn wants to get away from being civilized

Mattie, the narrator of Charles Portis's novel, True Grit, wants the man who killed her father brought to justice.

Richard III wants to be king of England.

Macbeth wants to be king of Scotland,

Frankie, the protagonist of Nelson Algren's novel, The Man with the Golden Arm, wants to be a musician.

Becky Sharp wants money and social position, but when it is offered to her, she cannot accept it.

In the motion picture Dog Day Afternoon, story collides with real time yearning as one of the characters, John Wojtowicz, is so desperate for money to pay for his lover's gender reassignment surgery that he undertakes the robbing of a bank.

Memorable characters stand out in our , their quests often seeming exaggerated to us until those moments when we are faced with a thing we want with such intensity that we overstep our own boundary markers and in the process risk the consequences of the metaphorical barbed wire.

In story, we speak of desire and yearning as driving forces.  In real life, we speak of such driving forces as impatience.  Your former client is impatient to be published, to have the work out in the world.  Such impatience leads writers to self-publish, with little or no regard for how the publication process works.

To be sure, there are substantial numbers of poorly written books being published by the mainstream publishers, but the numbers of disastrous self-published books  as opposed to those done with expertise is telling.

This is not a screed against self-publishing so much as it is a reminder to self about impatience and the consequences of allowing self to unnecessarily boil over.  You have on at least two occasions, advised clients to self-publish because they had the means and energy for the necessary follow through.  

You have on more occasions than you can remember with convenience allowed your impatience to govern your behavior to the point where you did things you are still paying for in your own estimation.

Impatience is the condition where an individual's desire for outcome crosses over boundary lines, resulting in a trespass on the individual's good sense.  The message is clear to the storyteller parts of you, who on occasion become impatient when no projuect is forthcoming.  When impatient, put all your eggs in one character, then push that character over the boundary.  Story begins the next morning.  Painful as booze hangovers are, there is no comparison to an impatience hangover.

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