A Conversation for Writing Right with Dmitri: The Not-So-Great American Novel

A yarn and?

Post 1


So you need a good yarn? True smiley - smileyand there's literary fiction that forgets that fact. (I was unimpressed by Ian McEwen's 'On Chesil Beach' because it seemed to consist of one night of failed sex and the backstory and consequences.)

But to make the yarn work, don't you need interesting characters? Would people slog through 'Moby Dick' without the obsessive Captain Ahab?

And to make the yarn work, do you need a few realistic-feeling settings? Think of that chariot race - the arena, full of Romans shouting and cheering, the dust from the track, the heat and smell of sweat and horse dung, the horses with their tossing manes and flowing tails, the chariots with their wheels creaking under the strain...

So those are the basis of fiction.

A yarn and?

Post 2

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

I don't know that MacEwan novel. I like his stuff generally - even if there's not too much of a tale. He's just such a pleasure to read. smiley - smiley

Is 'Ben Hur' exciting? I suppose it depends on the reader. When I was about eleven, I tried to read it. Emphasis on 'tried'. Mind you, I wasn't a coward when it came to fiction. I'd made it through most of Shakespare, 'Huckleberry Finn', dialect and all, 'Pilgrim's Progress', and even 'Jane Eyre'...

But one page of general wallace, and I gave up. smiley - rofl Of course, he was writing for late Victorian adults, not Cold War kids.

A yarn and?

Post 3


I suspect that in the nineteenth century, there was a class of people who read fiction - middle and upper class, with a high proportion of women. The poor people either couldn't read or didn't have the time or the access to books.

Now, most people can read, but there are so many other ways of getting entertainment and information. So writers now have to work hard to keep people's attention.

A yarn and?

Post 4

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

Well, the interesting thing I found out was that in the U.S. in the 19th century, middle and upper-class people didn't read much fiction. They didn't like it much. Which probably accounts for which novels were popular - the ones with a conenction to 'real' issues, like 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and 'Ben Hur'.

The working classes, though, loved fiction - hence dime novels, pulp fiction, and newspaper serials.

When I was researching something in 'Harper's Weekly' in the 1860s, I noticed that the serialised novel was 'great Expectations'. It puts a perspective on the constraints of fiction at the time, doesn't it? Of course, 'Harper's' was a higher class of periodical than most, but it was still ephemera.

Today, I think the role of that sort of fiction has been taken over largely by film and TV. The stroies are acted out, y es, but the serve the same fictional function as written prose of the past. And the writing challenges are similar. Handled well, the stories can be quite deep.

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