Thursday 9 February 2012

"Draw large and startling figures."

“When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use morenormal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, thenyou have to make your vision apparent by shock, to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.” - Flannery O'Connor

I was challenged this week to answer some questions about my second chapbook, Swallow. I think the word 'challenge' is over-used, but what I mean is that I found the questions difficult to answer. I remember a workshop at UEA when a story of mine was being discussed and someone made an assumption about it that I felt was completely wrong. I said 'well you're not reading it properly' or something along those lines. My worthy (and correct) opponent, colleague, critic and friend said 'no, you haven't written it properly.' The words stung, because they were true. 

As a writer who is subtle at best and vague at worst, I am often reminded by my readers that I need to work on clarity (see quotation from Joseph Pulitzer from my first post). I like to try and show my stories to a range of people, to see if they 'get' them. I think when people describe your work as 'interesting,' with no further elucidation you can safely assume they didn't know what to make of it or they didn't like it and don't want to hurt your feelings - that's always a risk and fair play if they just don't like it.

But this week my questions were genuine and came from a someone who really wanted to know and understand. I tend to think of myself as not very clever - so it is very hard for me to accept that my work is 'subtle.' To me it is completely clear, easy to understand and sometimes even clunky and obvious. It was drummed into me to show not tell, so I fear that I run the risk of not even showing sometimes. Interestingly the questions were about plot. I don't really rate plot highly when I make up a story. I suppose I write as if I'm painting a picture, instead of travelling from A to B. But I am far more disciplined than I was, because nowadays I like to finish stories and not just start them (see post about being grown-up). So I tend to have an idea what will happen before I start writing. The problem is that not much does actually happen. It's all blinks and gestures and one or two words.

So with regards to O'Connor's words above - I think 'beliefs' can be read as much broader than just religious beliefs - I need to get on with making the 'large and startling figures.'

With regards to the questions, I will do my best to answer them!


This week I have been taking a leaf out of Michael Nobbs' book and doing just 20 minutes worth of writing at a time. The kitchen timer I got for Christmas really concentrates the mind and makes me think faster. I have made a start, therefore, with chapbook three and have done a few squiggles which will hopefully turn into illustrations one day.

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