Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gimmicks

Sometimes, I get worried my writing is too gimmicky.  I almost emailed a busy writer friend and asked her to read my first chapter.  Because this is what I do.  I find things that aren't really wrong, and I try to see if they can put me in the fetal position.

In case you don't know, I love voice-y fiction.  As I said to my agent recently, "I would read a book where about four dudes traveling across the country.  Nothing needs to happen, as long as they keep saying funny things."  He said: "Yeah, but nobody else would want to read that book."

He is very smart.

Anyway, back to my anxiety.  I got this idea in my head that my current book's voice was too gimmicky.  Nothing more than a carnival sideshow.  Something that might draw attention for a moment, but is ultimately disposable.  What makes something disposable?  I don't know.  But I know what makes something special.  I know that good fiction gets me excited, helps me remember that I started writing to hopefully emulate the power I found in stories.  And the best thing about this feeling?  You never know when it's going to happen.  When a story will jump off the page and grab you by the gut. 

I love that.  And it happened recently as I was reading the New Yorker.

Yeah, I read it.  You want to fight?

Anyway.  Here's a snippet from the story:

And here we aren’t, so quickly: I’m not twenty-six and you’re not sixty. I’m not forty-five or eighty-three, not being hoisted onto the shoulders of anybody wading into any sea. I’m not learning chess, and you’re not losing your virginity. You’re not stacking pebbles on gravestones; I’m not being stolen from my resting mother’s arms. Why didn’t you lose your virginity to me? Why didn’t we enter the intersection one thousandth of a second sooner, and die instead of die laughing? Everything else happened—why not the things that could have?  - Jonathan Safron Foer, Here We Aren't, So Quickly taken from The New Yorker, June 14th-21st issue.
 It kills me.  In a good way.  And I can't even articulate why.  Maybe that's what makes good fiction special, when it hits us in a place we've forgotten about.

5 comments:

  1. I have only had it happen a few times. I think more than half those times have been through the words of John Green.

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  2. John Green is a genius. So is Jandy Nelson and Sherman Alexie and A.S. King.

    I love quirky/raw/authentic dialogue. It's my favorite part of reading. And writing.

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  3. I keep coming back and rereading this post, certain that I'll be able to formulate my thoughts more articulately in another setting, but I keep failing. Just...I know what you mean, and I love a quirky voice or amazing dialogue or humor that feels natural or beautiful images that surprise me or characters I can feel for...and it's such a wonderful-strange feeling when fiction hits you like that.

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  4. Send ME that first chapter. MEEEEE!!!!

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  5. I hear you on this. But what I believe is that voice-y writing, if coupled with a kick-ass concept, is what makes fiction special. Or, since I think voice-y writing is already special, I guess it makes it special-special. Like when you didn't just like someone in junior high, you like-liked them. Keep the voice-i-ness, because it adds spice, but make sure the entree is already bangin' with flava.

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