Today my lunch hour dovetailed nicely with the re-broadcast of Charlie Rose interviewing the two writers, Simon Schama (The American Future: a History) and Elmore Leonard (Road Dogs: A Novel). I am definitely not a fiction-writer but I was more interested in what Leonard had to say about writing.
For him characters are the main thing. Later on he drafts a plot in which his characters play themselves out. He told Rose he looked forward to sitting down to write each morning because he wanted to know what the characters were going to do in a scene. He likes characters that speak and apparently likes his prose to be as much like speech as possible. “If it sounds like writing, re-write it,” was one of his 10 commandments for writing. He does research for his books but works hardest at creating characters most of him he grows fond of. He even resurrects them from old novels to play in a new book. He dislikes adverbs and indulges in no descriptive runs. His first rule for writing is not to disregard weather but he prefers weather to show up in what his character says or does. All these, of course, echo what gurus of writing teach.
Characters and plot are terra incognita for me. Worse I just am not drawn to them. I have always liked ideas, information, interpretations of experience, consciousness and its way of labeling energy bursts. I like unconnected events that draw out a line of thinking, not events connected into a story. Stories tire me. I de-activate my Netflix membership every so often when I feel glutted with stories. Then I refresh myself looking at nature or history or other documentaries. Nature documentaries can depict images of violence and death more intense than any human drama but somehow happening as they do in the “natural world” I don’t get as involved. It is the exercise of human will that fatigues me, the endless cycle of greed, envy, pride, anger, lust, fear that people my own life so inexorably. (Unlike Leonard I like my adverbs.) Periodically I find a novel I like. Then I often read it in one sitting as I did Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I seek fiction when I want to escape from life. When life is not bothering me, I prefer the cool breezes from a travel narrative or new insights into the Trobriand islanders or other such nonsense. I much prefer nonsense to fiction. Both tell of ephemeral destinies but there is something god-like in viewing documentaries or reading or writing nonfiction. I love the objectivity or attempt at objectivity. Maybe this is why I have never succeeded in romance. It is too subjective. Let me see life through my eyes, not live it with my eyes.