Thursday, March 24, 2011


Last night as I read two chapters at writing class - one to a larger crowd of maybe fifteen women and another to a small crowd of just two - I felt like apologizing for what I had written.  Actually, I think I did apologize to two random people. One was an unflattering story and depiction of a mother who could have been my mother but wasn't, but maybe was too close to being like my mother for me to be comfortable.  The other story felt separate from me when I read it at home, a story based on something that happened to someone I know that wasn't me but could have been me.  I felt bad for telling it - it still seemed too personal.  A part of me wishes I had just passed on reading last night.

I wouldn't have felt bad reading either of these pieces in my regular small group - I  know they would get it or at least would make me feel super good about it - but, honestly, I think they get it.  I have lived my life with a lot of well-practiced liars - but I won't tell you who.  I can usually spot the lies at this point in my life.  At least I think I can.  Maybe not. 

I don't want to apologize for writing what I write or for writing the way I write it.  People like to tell you how to do it, that you should show, not tell.  I agree that there's an art to removing extraneous information in a story that can distract a reader or give away too much too soon.  But I like stories that combine the two - showing and telling.  I love the way Tolkien tells a story, describing people and things that don't exist yet for the reader until he paints the picture for you.  I like painting pictures with words.  I like it when Tolkien gets in Bilbo's head in The Hobbit.  Without that, I don't think it would have sucked me in.  I'm not sure I can suck you into my character's heads without revealing their unique perspective.  I can't tell a story without using mine.

I like the way Faulkner describes people and places - he drops some hints of things he's holding back from you right now.  His characters are unique - and they are nothing like you.  In "A Rose For Emily," he artfully gives clues about what is going to happen - you can see the clues placed carefully for you when you read it a second time.  On the first read, you just see the people and events drawn out for you with detail.  That's the kind of story I love.  I could read that story one hundred times and never get sick of it.  Apparently, he wrote that in 1931.  How could a story written in 1931 be my all-time favorite short story? 

One of my favorite books is Catcher in the Rye.  Again, I'm pretty sure Salinger lets you into the main character's head - he doesn't just show his demeanor and let you figure it out on your own from sparse dialogue.  I haven't read it in a while, so I could be wrong.  I don't think I would have fallen in love with that book as a teenager if I wasn't able to connect to the characters directly.  That's the time in my life when I fell in love with literature - that's the kind of story I still love.  Maybe I'll read it again today. 

That said, I also love stories that make you work.  I love poems that leave a lot to the imagination and stories that do too.  But that's not how I write.  It just isn't.  The poems I have written that are abstract are my least favorite and were written at a time in my life where I was very disconnected.  I don't like them  and could not write them now.

I have spent all my life trying desperately to get into people's heads. As a writer, I want to share that with you.  It may be that in the end no one reads what I write.  I think I'm going to have to be OK with that.  So no apologies, I am sorry to say.   

1 comment:

  1. I *love* "A Rose for Emily." I used to use it with my lit class--some hated it, but others loved how he constructed the story. I wish I had the skill to replicate its narrator.

    But I totally understand that struggle between showing and telling: I think the best pieces balance the two. A compelling narrative voice, one that offers a unique perspective, can "tell" things in a way that is interesting. That voice might be funny, smart, sardonic, or like in the Faulkner story, an anonymous "we" that seems almost ghostly.