11 January, 2006

Books on Writing

I'm browsing through 3 different books on writing at the State Library at the moment:

  • Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, which I've heard people raving about for years, but it just didn't occur to me to look it up in the SLNSW catalogue.
  • Bernard Malamud's Talking Horse, which I looked at for the 'Why Fantasy?' chapter, but I discovered it had a whole bunch of other interesting stuff in it.
  • Annie Dillard's Living by Fiction, because anything that woman writes is worth reading.

Here is a nugget from Lamott:
The great writers keep writing about the cold dark place within, the water under a frozen lake or the secluded, camouflaged hole. The light they shine on this hole, this pit, helps us cut away or step around the brush and brambles; then we can dance around the rim of the abyss, holler into it, measure it, throw rocks in it, and still not fall in. It can no longer swallow us up. And we can get on with things.

3 Comments:

Blogger Lee said...

A recommendation for further browsing: Samuel R. Delany's About Writing: quirky, opinionated, infuriating, wonderful.

15 January, 2006 20:10  
Blogger White Rabbit said...

Writing about the dark is a brave and difficult thing to do but perhaps writing about ‘the light’ is even more challenging. Everyone, especially young people, relate to the dark because we all have to face it and it’s with us all the time. Fear is a powerful and universal emotion. But happiness is so much more elusive. To look into the light, to try and define the nature of joy, to give colour, texture and to breathe life into something that is blinding in its brilliance is incredibly difficult. It’s why there is so much sentimental, romantic clichéd writing in the world. Teenage writers often become pre-occupied with writing about the dark because it makes them feel brave. Writing about the light is actually much scarier because you have to confront how fleeting and ephemeral true happiness is and how we are all, at best, stumbling through shadow.

24 January, 2006 23:15  
Blogger Among Amid While said...

Thank you, Lee, Justine Larbalestier has been recommending this one, too, over at her blog. It's not at the State Lib., though, so I will have to go hunting.

Hi Kirsty, I've been thinking about this. I think happiness and joy are harder to write about because they're not intrinsically interesting states. Characters being terrified immediately has writers and readers casting about for a solution, but characters being happy - well, either it's the beginning of your story and you're about to throw some disaster at them, or they've had to go through hell to reach this happy state. Happiness is fleeting, yes, but while it's there it's a fairly static experience.

One of my preoccupations is how the happy moments and the miserable ones can be jammed up right next to each other, that in the middle of great terror, one character can turn to the other and do some ordinary, generous thing for them.

I'd read Anne Lamott as including those kinds of moments of warmth when she talks about "the light they shine on this hole", because writers don't just illuminate the dark place to show what it is; they also show people continuing to function in a dark place, and dealing with it, well or badly, which is an encouraging thing in itself.

25 January, 2006 09:37  

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