Writing Right with Dmitri: Sundry Writing Observations
The other week, I wrote a story. It was highly personal, and I wanted to get inside the story. I was trying to find a way to describe feelings I had as a teenager without shying away from them or falling into the temptation to overexplain. I opted for a third-person narration, because I was afraid first-person would cause me to put too much distance on the narrative. When I was done, I felt that I'd done a pretty good job of it. I'd also surprised myself with some of the things I'd noticed.
And then I read the comment.
Brooding seems to be a theme here, the cicadas as well as his approach to the whole camp thing.
At first I expected there to be a surprise twin brother at the camp, but maybe that is because I have seen the film "Parent trap" too many times.
Interesting, I thought. That's what happens if you read it as fiction. You want a different plot.
This is in no way a criticism of Caiman's comment: it's a valid take on the story as a story. It just made me see it differently. Maybe this could be a tip for turning personal stories into fiction?
We've been rewatching The Incredible Hulk. Not the film: the television series from the late 70s. I'm a big fan of Kenneth Johnson, who created that series. The show interested me when it first appeared. I dislike comics in general, but this series was something else: a serial drama with psychological depth. It was also about tolerance, no surprise there as Johnson later produced Alien Nation.
There was a lot of feminism in the series, too: Dr David Banner falls in love with all my favourite actresses from the period, but in this show, they all have at least a PhD. I felt sorry for him, having Diana Muldaur as a sister. Diana Muldaur was the only Star Trek doctor nobody liked. Can't win them all. But he managed to be married to both Lara Parker (Angelique from Dark Shadows, no clue what degrees she had, but hey, Lara Parker) and Mariette Hartley (MD and PhD, and could do hypnosis! and hey, Mariette Hartley). Okay, they died, but that's tv for you. He even had an adventure with Kathryn Leigh Scott (Josette from Dark Shadows, the one Barnabas jilted Lara Parker for, and she had a PhD, too). Almost worth turning into the Hulk for.
Silliness aside, the series is brilliant. I've just watched a documentary with interviews on the old series, and enjoyed it thoroughly. One thing I noticed about the writers: they were young, inexperienced, and frankly not terribly insightful. It appears that they benefited greatly from the mentoring of the producers and, surprise, the lead actor. It struck me that the interviews might be instructive for those who would like to try their hands at script writing.
Of course, my favourite factoid about the series is what happened when the network called Kenneth Johnson and asked him to produce a series based on a comic book character. He initially said no. But then, he explains, he was in the middle of reading Les Miserables…the Hulk series was born, complete with dogged reporter nemesis Jack McGee.
Stop and think: if it had been a few years later, and Johnson had seen that musical rather than reading Victor Hugo, the Incredible Hulk might not have been made. Seriously: could he have done it after hearing the Song of Angry Men? Stan Lee's film oeuvre might have suffered, as well. Interesting.
A Word on Grief from VS Naipaul
I'm hoping you can read this story on 'Grief' by VS Naipaul. It arrived in the 6 January issue of The New Yorker, which I subscribe to. Nobel Laureate Naipaul died in 2018. He was a wonderful writer. If you haven't read him before, go on a journey of discovery. He came from an Indian family in Trinidad, and he had a truly global perspective on everything. Humorous, too.
In this personal story, Naipaul has picked a different way to talk about the intensely personal. He starts out talking about the deaths of his father and brother. Obviously, he loved them deeply. Instead of probing those painful memories, though, he veers off into a lengthy description of the death of his cat Augustus. It is by following the story of his feelings about his cat that we begin to understand what he is not saying about his family members. The story is told in simple terms, almost with a flat affect. The effect is deeper than a violent outpouring of grief would have been. Naipaul is a good writer to learn from.
After revving yourself up for writing projects in November, and then going through all the holiday rush, if you're like me, you've probably got the blahs. Not much energy. Not exactly raring to go with new ideas.
My advice? Don't worry. Take some time to read. Watch films. Listen to audio books, if you have the patience for that sort of thing. (I don't.) Go hunting in archive.org or Open Library for something old to fall in love with, make fun of, or get outraged by.
While you're reading, or watching, or listening, make notes. You'll get new ideas. You'll think of something you want to say. You might find yourself going down a rabbit hole or two. The other day, I asked myself a foolish question, and before I knew it, I had read an entire 1915 novel that I hadn't known was there. I was also mad at people who died when my grandparents were young. Literature can be an adventure. Who knows? You might happen to be reading Les Miserables, and somebody might hand you a comic book…