Monday, February 20, 2012

Becoming the Background

Blending Into the Background, Cecilia Paredes
Photo Credit: Illusion

I am buzzing with excitement. Finally, a topic that makes my blood boil in all the best ways. I continue to read Jack London's words about writing, and they move me, inspire me, challenge me, and impress me. I find myself thinking, I love this guy. I haven't felt an affection for an historical figure in this sweet way since I fell madly for King George III.

Here, London is talking with a friend and aspiring writer, Cloudesley Johns, about a manuscript called "Philosophy of the Road," which Johns sent him to critique:

Books On The Floor
Photo Credit: Tumblr

"As it seems to me, you are too dry....You are handling stirring life, romance, things of human life and death, humor and pathos, etc. But God, man, handle them as they should be. Don't you tell the reader the philosophy of the road (except where you are actually there as a participant in the first person). Don't you tell the reader. Don't. Don't. Don't. But HAVE YOUR CHARACTERS TELL IT BY THEIR DEEDS, ACTIONS, TALK, ETC. Then, and not until then, are you writing fiction and not a sociological paper upon a certain sub-stratum of society."

It is in this statement that we find the great tenet of any creative work: Whenever possible, show rather than tell. This lesson from London is whispering an echo of one of the greatest lessons I've learned from my Writer's Room coach and fearless leader: As writers we must show, not tell. I am practicing. Sometimes, the best thing I can do is to stop writing and begin transcribing what I'm seeing in my mind's eye. It is often here that my stories develop, with very little help from me. This leads directly to the next paragraph London writes to his protege:

Seamless Blending, Cecilia Paredes
Photo Credit: My Modern Met

He goes on: "And get the atmosphere. Get the breadth and thickness to your stories, and not only the length (which is the mere narration). The reader, since it is fiction, doesn't want your dissertations on the subject, your observations, your knowledge as your knowledge, your thoughts about it, your ideas--BUT PUT ALL THOSE THINGS WHICH ARE YOURS INTO THE STORIES, INTO THE TALES, ELIMINATING YOURSELF (except when in the first person as participant). AND THIS WILL BE THE ATMOSPHERE, AND THIS ATMOSPHERE WILL BE YOU, DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND, YOU! YOU! And for this, and for this only, will the critics praise you, and the public appreciate you, and your work be art."

A variation on the theme, London urges me to dissolve into the background and give my characters center stage. And this is what I aspire to achieve: The mastery of eliminating myself from my story. In many ways, I've been practicing this my whole life. However, most recently I've found myself compelled by crippling thoughts: I want to be known, to be celebrated; I want what I will have before I deserve to have it. Now that I've stopped listening to such destructive thoughts, I have systematically started to eliminate myself from my work. If you catch me letting myself back in, please let me know. I need all the help I can get.

Until next time,

1 comment:

  1. Great advice from a great writer--keep up the hard work.