November 2010

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2010.

We need to bring back the old Broncos orange jerseys. I don’t like the new logo but I like the blue jerseys even less. Broncos fans bleed orange, not navy blue.

Sign the petition at bringbackbroncosorange.com!

Finishing It

“There is a natural, physical resistance in the Universe towards finishing it, whatever it happens to be. It’s always a mountain that’s slightly higher than you could have imagined it and it takes a little more strength than you thought you possibly had.”

Richard Rush, screenwriter

Another belated What Are You Reading Now? I have a better excuse this time. I just got back from Europe (Holland and Ireland) on Monday and I’ve been sick since then. But here goes…

Nothing irritates me more than the writing class rule, “Write what you know.” What a crock. One of the best novels ever written about war was Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage. He did not fight in the Civil War. Tolstoy did not fight Napoleon (though he did serve in the artillery in the Crimean War). Tolkien never lived in Middle Earth. I wish he’d only written about life as a professor at Oxford! Not. (Though that is a pretty interesting story in itself.) Asimov never owned robots or lived in space. Bradbury never lived on Mars. You get the idea, and these are just the more obvious examples.

Maybe a writer’s first story should be about “what you know” but after that all bets are off. And of course writers incorporate what they know in their writing. Asimov had a scientific bent, Tolstoy (and Tolkien) had war experiences to draw from, and Tolkien was a linguist and that led to some very sexy silver screen moments from Liv Tyler. They used what they knew to help them write about what they didn’t know.

Since I left Europe, I’ve been reading John Irving’s last night in twisted river. I had some trouble getting into it but he hooked me by about page 50. I would not say it’s as good as his classics but it is better than most other novels you see today.

[SPOILER — skip this paragraph to avoid.] In one scene, you know a main character has died because someone else is wearing the character’s favorite hat. You don’t know, I suppose, but you think, why would this person have that character’s favorite hat? It was the culmination of an ever so slightly building feeling that the character was no longer alive. Subtle and brilliant.

One of the characters in the book is Danny Angel, a writer. And through Danny Angel, John Irving mocks the idea that people should “write what you know.” Irving has Danny Angel reflect on how reporters are always asking him if his novels are based on true events. Is this part true? Is that part true? John Irving describes Danny’s reaction:

That kind of question drove Danny Angel crazy, but he expected too much from journalists; most of them lacked the imagination to believe that anything credible in a novel had been ‘wholly imagined.’ And those former journalists who later turned to writing fiction subscribed to that tiresome Hemingway dictum of writing about what you know. What bullshit was this? Novels should be about the people you know? How many boring but deadeningly realistic novels can be attributed to this lame and utterly uninspired advice?

Now, it’s John Irving’s character thinking this but I have a feeling Irving agrees. After all, I doubt Irving knows all the people he writes about in his books. Did he know Owen Meany? Probably not. I agree with him 100%.

As a writer you have to seek out as much knowledge about the world and people as you possibly can. Then use it to create a wholly or at least partially imagined story. Another lesson here: don’t listen to any writing rules. Just write.