Thursday, September 18, 2008

Craft of Writing: Extend yourself

On the Philadelphia Stories Weblog, Michelle Wittle writes "On Beating a Dead Horse"

I can not begin to tell you how utterly annoying it is to read a story about a cutter who’s dad beats them or and alcoholic parent and the kid they ignored.
Ditto on that one, and to it I'd add how utterly annoying I find one more story about breaking up with a spouse or significant other or having that ex-spouse or significant other re-surface leading to second thoughts; a middle-age man or woman dealing with the death of a parent; teen angst, whether from the parent or teen's point of view; or those "stories" that amount to one night of bar-hopping followed by a single moment of enlightenment.

Most of these are no more than thinly disguised autobiography, and while you may think your loss of self-esteem on finding out your husband is cheating or your journey into the past after your parent's death is totally unique, in fact, it is not. More important, readers are not therapists who get paid to listen to your whining. Readers want and deserve something more.

Now I can see how you might wonder at my going off on this, when it seems that every other story in The New Yorker or the majority of those chosen for Best American Shorts deal with just these topics. File that under life isn't fair. Like the CEO who faces no consequences for running his company into the ground, big name writers can get away with things new writers cannot. Possibly because experienced writers maintain a certain objectivity that most new writers do not or possibly because some editors feel that evocative language can take the place of a good story.

For my own purposes, I don't care who the writer is or how beautiful the style. To me, if you don't have an interesting story to tell, then don't tell it. But really, there is no excuse for not having a good story to tell. It's not the stories that are lacking but the imagination to put ourselves in someone else's place.

In City of Refuge, a book I recently reviewed, author Tom Piazza could easily have focused solely on the middle-class couple, transplants to New Orleans, who are displaced by hurricane Katrina while working out their own marital issues. This would have rendered an otherwise wonderful novel boring and self-indulgent. Instead, Piazza extended himself by also taking us into the lives of three characters from the Ninth Ward and how the hurricane affected them in both similar and very different ways.

So come on new writers. Extend yourselves. Don't keep telling the same old story in different words. Tell me something I don't know.

1 comment:

Angie Ledbetter said...

Another good post, Nan. (Come check out my new blog when you get the time!)


Related Posts with Thumbnails