Monday, August 30, 2010

Learn Something Monday: What writers hold dear

What binds writers together? What are we really? What sets us apart? What's wrong with us?

We're overly sensitive. This makes us acutely aware of the minute details in everyday life and gives us the ability to create an emotionally charged-fictional scene. And we have a wrogan.

I am going to include many quotes from E. M. Forster in the following weeks, but his book Aspects of the Novel makes me sigh. Lucky for us, when he wrote it in 1927, he admitted to purposefully keeping it conversational, in line with its originally oral delivery. So the prose reads like an old dream. This, my writer friends, is the real deal:
We cannot consider fiction by periods, we must not contemplate the stream of time. Another image better suits our powers: that of all the novelists writing their novels at work together in a circular room. They come from different ages and ranks, they have different temperaments and aims, but they all hold pens in their hands, and are in the process of creation. Let us look over their shoulders for a moment and see what they are writing.
This is pretty amazing. For one thing, its intuitive and true and gives me the warm fuzzies and makes me want to hold hands with all of you and sing kumbaya around a giant mother tree. For another, its unique. E. M. Forster was the first novelist to be invited to give the annual Clark Lectures, usually given by critics, scholars and historians. He dared to look beyond the date of an author's birth and the subject matter and the school of the thought and the trend. Forster desires to examine what all excellent works of fiction hold in common: "The Story; People; The Plot; Fantasy and Prophecy; Pattern and Rhythm."

But looking at the elements of fiction was not new of course. Aristotle anyone? Still, the idea that writers do more than combine the elements, just like the craftsman does more than use the tools, is very appealing. 

Why should I be so very touched by this image? Why the hell am I so sensitive? Forster says, 
The novel's success lies in its sensitiveness, not in the success of its subject-matter. Empires fall, votes are accorded, but to those people writing in the circular room it is the feel of the pen that matters most.
Isn't that so true? Don't we just love the action? Sure, we devote ourselves to our characters, but they come and go. What marries us to writing is the feel of it. We are more alive and more aware than ever possible.

Its the rush that we're after. Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French say that "we write for the satisfaction of having wrestled a sentence to the page, for the rush of discovering an image, for the excitement of seeing a character come alive."

It is so very pleasing. Here is a giant mother tree I am fortunate to know on a near daily basis:

What do you think about Forster's image of all the writers of all times everywhere together in one circular room? Do you feel the rush that Burroway and Stuckey-French describe?

the first photo is of me and my friend and the second photo is from this blog. i pride myself on not being a google ganker. and the Burroway/Stuckey-French quote is from the book Writing Fiction: A Guide To Narrative Craft. worry not my writer friends, those writer ladies will be featured many a monday on this humble blog. as a side note, I misspelled Aristotle so bad that spell check suggested "prostrate." Prostrate anyone?


  1. It is tempting to parrot the old joke:

    "Of you took all the creative people the world has ever known, and laid them end to end, what a good time they'd have."

    But I won't, because I am the very soul of restraint.

    What I will say is that it's the timeless themes that make a work endure. When two lovers woo, they still say 'I love you', on that you may rely. Writing that depends upon the topical, or gadgetry, will soon be out of date. If you want to be the next trash novel queen, so what. But if one's aim is higher than that, then the room you've described is a good place to start. Kind of heavy on the men, though.

  2. Yes, yes and yes!!! I saw them sitting there, all in their various arraignments, holding their different writing impliments, having no trouble at all relating to each other. Listen to all of the stories pouring out. Sharing their own stories for all the eager ears.

  3. What an interesting question...I've never thought about it that way. Beautiful photos, by the way.

  4. Fireblossom- interesting comment. You made me go HUH? which I rather like. And now I have to wonder, if I start in this room, where do I go from there?

    Jackie- I think we might have a hard time relating to each other if we talked about anything other than writing, but who knows?

    Julie- thanks! EM Forster sure does make us think and ask HUH?

  5. "we write for the satisfaction of having wrestled a sentence to the page, for the rush of discovering an image, for the excitement of seeing a character come alive." Love that quote.

    I was going to say that we are the gods of the worlds we create, but really we are just listeners and observers.