Fiction Expectations

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I am really not sure why one day is a good writing day and another, just horrible. Some days I’ll write over two thousand words, most of them good, and even get another short story idea. Most other days, I just stumble through the dark, not knowing where I’m going.

On those horrible days, I might switch over to reading 2666 (I’m still reading that epic novel, and loving it. I’ve just begun reading book 4…or book 3, depending on how you look at it) or take out my handy moleskine notebook and start jotting down notes and sketching out the storyline there. I’ve decided not to make writing more torturous than it can be.

Eventually, I make it through the woods. One of my writing mentors told me, “Sometimes you have to write the shit to get to the good stuff.” But sometimes there is a LOT of shit. (Let’s pause for effect). A LOT.

Reading and writing go hand in hand. You can’t write without reading. You can’t. You gotta read a lot. Some books inspire me as a person, and some books inspire me further in my writing. Murakami inspires me as a writer, Bolaño’s 2666 is doing amazing things for me as a writer, as does Yasunari Kawabata’s work. They are masters of craft, and I am learning from them as I read. Their use of language is amazing. Kawabata is on one end of the spectrum, and Bolaño the other end (dude wrote a 4 page sentence!).

As a human, I love all of the above books, but also adore Yoko Ogawa’s writing, and John Irving’s books (though his recent books don’t have the sparkle of his earlier work) and of course, there’s my favorite novel of all time, The Great Gatsby. I think these works resonate with me on a thematic level. The beautiful writing and characters also seduce me.

One of my readers, Anonwupfan, asked me as a writing prompt, “What do you expect from the fiction you read? What would you like your fiction to do for your readers?

I’m a reader who is also a writer and who is also a fiction editor. Sometimes I yearn for the days where I would read as an act of wonderment, before I started writing fiction, like how the general population marvels at the sunset or a dew drop or how television seems so magical.

Scientists know why the sunset is pinker that evening, and why the dew drop takes on that shape, and how the image appears on the television–I know, because I’m married to an engineer who knows all these scientific details and I find myself hollering, “Stop taking the wonder out of it!” I don’t want to know, really, why the sunset is so beautiful one particular evening; I just want to appreciate its mysterious beauty.

Being a fiction writer myself, some of the wonder is taken out of the reading experience. I am aware of the technical feats, the craft elements needed to execute a scene or build a character and storyline. I find myself examining work for those elements, much like an engineer examines a machine or software’s elegant execution or how a biologist knows why and how the trees turn color in Autumn. And yet…

I look for the feeling of wonder as a reader. It is harder to experience these days, but I search and yearn for that feeling of wonder as I read work. Junot Diaz’s voice in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I’m entranced by that narrative voice, and by the story, and the sadness and the humor and its combined brilliance.

Or the character of Aphias in Alex Chee’s Edinburgh. The story of Philippe Grimbert’s Memory. And Bolaño’s 4 page sentence in 2666 and the epic story in front of me, the one written with such confidence that even though I’m lost at times, I’m following, I’m following, I’m trusting that narrator. And the brilliance of Fitzgerald’s photo capture of the 1920s in The Great Gatsby and most of all, the character of Jay Gatsby, told in “as if told” first person narrative. The feeling of “Whoa, how do they do that?” And feeling emotionally touched, unearthing a part of me that had been hidden under the soil until that point. Like remarkable sunsets. And vistas. Falling in love. The thing that defies explanation. A little miracle.

As a fiction editor–I read for that sense of wonder, too. And if that wonder isn’t there, I examine the craft of the piece–has the writer hit one of the big elements (voice, character, idea, language, story/plot) out of the ball park? I think a piece can hang on an element if it’s done with brilliance–and that brilliance can bring on wonder from a reader.

And I’d like my fiction to bring that sense of wonder to my readers, too. Some feeling of enlightenment and awe. I don’t think I’m there yet, but I’m typing, writing, thinking, struggling, reading, imagining, dreaming towards that light.

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2 Comments

Filed under Abstract Thoughts, Reading, Writing

2 responses to “Fiction Expectations

  1. Stephanie

    I loved your entry. The point you make about knowing too much vs. appreciating the moment reminds me of Mark Twain’s short story, “Two Ways of Seeing a River.” In it, he states that a woman’s flushed cheeks are attractive to one man but a nuisance to a doctor, who can only see that it’s a sign of a cold or another ailment breaking through the surface.

    Wonderment pulls me into any story, no matter the genre. As long as I’m feeling *something* then I will keep reading, even if I’m feeling confused because that only makes me more curious to figure it out, understand it.

    Either way, fiction is feeling. If I can have many different reactions throughout a novel (laughter, sadness, kinship, distaste, etc.), then that’s even better.

  2. Stephanie: I love the idea of that Mark Twain story!

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