So, I started a writing forum, since the one I was participating in seems to have died quietly in its sleep. We are, besides posting bits and pieces and discussing each others excepts, are reading a mutually agreed upon book. The first one is Stephen King’s The Stand. It is a favorite and this is probably the fifth or sixth time I’ve read it.
So, various thoughts are coming up as we read, and I started the ball rolling by mentioning our styles in comparison with SK. Now, the fact is that he is a prolific, many-times-published author, and I am not. However, I still feel like I can (and I will) compare my work to the stuff that’s already out there. It’s inevitable; we all do it.
One of us recalled how trying too hard to adhere to the ‘rules’ meant her story just had the life sucked right out of it. She was disenheartened enough that she’s only just started back writing recently. I’ve done that to myself, and it sucks. But does it feel GOOD to start back again. She mentioned a line from Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I don’t remember the quote (since it’s been a really long time since I’ve read it even though I have a perfectly good copy sitting on my shelf.) but it made me stop and think. And smile.
“It’s like a Cadillac with the chrome stripped off and the paint sanded down to dull metal. It goes somewhere, but it ain’t, you know, boss.”
Part of my reply is this: “The idea of how boss a work is seems to be in direct conflict with William Faulkner’s advice to “kill all your darlings.” So maybe we need to strike a balance. There needs to be plenty of chrome on that baby blue Cadillac El Dorado, but it doesn’t really need the running lights, the curb feelers, the dingleballs hanging from the headliner, the fuzzy dice AND the naked lady mudflaps. But by the same token, some of those killer lines have to stay.”
My writing instructor this past semester (*waves* “Hi Jill!”) talked about this. She told a story about the famous sculptor Rodin, known for The Kiss and The Thinker. The story goes that he did another of his monumental figure sculptures and those who saw it kept commenting on how amazing the hands were. So lifelike, so amazing. But they weren’t seeing the rest of the sculpture. So Rodin cut them off. This allegedly had the effect of forcing people to consider the sculpture as a whole.
What Faulkner and Rodin were trying to accomplish was to get their audience to take in the whole work, not just an aspect of it. While it is harder to focus on just one facet of a written work than a visual one, I still get the idea. The onus falls upon the artist, be it a sculptor or a writer, to produce art that engages the audience and elicits a reaction to the WHOLE thing. Be the reaction good, bad, or indifferent, it still needs to get some kind of response from the audience or it has failed, even if that audience goes no further that the artist themselves.
Which leads us back to trying to please everyone and follow The Rules. Such as, your word count shouldn’t be too high/low, you should write in this point of view only, you shouldn’t use adverbs, you should plan your plot/go with the flow, et cetera, ad nauseum. The fact is you have to write to please yourself and hope like hell that some agent and/or publisher agrees with you, if publication is your goal. And if you get rejection letters, keep submitting. Stephen King got a shitload of rejections before finally getting his first book published and look at him.
So, the moral of this story is to cut the fat but not the flavor.
(Yeah, I’m hungry.)