Dead white English writer, and your sense of time and story structure.
December 7, 2008
I have a confession. I am in love with a dead white English guy, a writer. If it isn’t love, at least it is a shock of recognition, a wave of gratitude at being seen, the kind of amazement when someone brings something into words that illuminates, or puts into relief, or gives name, gives terra firma, gives refuge, touchstone, to the whirl of ideas one has about things important to the spirit.
This love is not jealous. I want to share. If you are writing a novel or a book of memoir or creative nonfiction or short fiction, or anything that might not fit some precise box of language; if you have ever chafed against what feels like authoritarian instruction about writing, or the structure of story, and yet wanted and yearned for honest assistance in your work, so you buckle to what feels wrong and yet has the back-up or entitlement of positioning or market or university sanction; if you are so sure there is magic in your work and so unsure as to how to fit it into the world; pick up E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel.
Again, that’s E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel.
A friend in Boston, a wonderful playwright, Barry Brodsky, mentioned it to me a while ago, and you know how some books don’t get read until they are urgently needed? Well, I urgently needed it and zap! I read and it did its work with me.
I want to talk a bit about what I found there in my next posts, but for now, I want to reaffirm this: trust yourself. Trust your deepest sense of yourself as a writer. Trust your sense of language. Trust your sense of time, formed in the very cooking of your life from before you knew there was a way to break apart reality into time; this sense of time, these infinitely varied senses of time human beings hold, have a great deal to do with how you tell story. Some are formed easily, or some writers rigidly hold to a preordained sense of time or buckle to one dictated to them and then proclaim it as The Reality.
Many of us form a very different sense of time and with that a very different sense of story structure.
Many of us have a badly formed sense of time. Sometimes we write less of “a life in time” and more of “a life of value”.
Good. So be it. We need to have our series of events, our story and plot and action, but what Forster says, ooooh la la! He gives the infinite ways human beings form their imagination, the room to move between poles of “time” and “value”. Long story, this story. And I really must go, but his discussion of this is LIBERATING.
As is his discussion of kinds of voices and novels, including those voices of prophecy as Melville, Dostoevsky, DH Lawrence, George Eliot.
Trust me, I don’t fall easy for dead white English guys. Well, maybe sometimes. So often as I have been “…in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes…” So, actually, don’t trust me. Don’t trust anyone when they push you this way and that way, trying to package your spirit; trying to package the magic, the energy, the nkisi, the medicine packet, the infinitely particular sense of things you have — the contribution of which through writing helps make the full chorus of what literature is likely truly about.
I will be back, next time sooner. I am off to spend a little time with a dead white English writer, and oh, it is divine.