Some writers travel seamlessly between fiction and nonfiction. For the past few months, I’ve been scribbling scenes and ideas for fiction into a notebook and the results are not what I’d hoped. There is something that rings so false in my fiction writing.
Yes, I do recognize the irony in that statement.
You get my meaning, though. If the memoir is fraught with the troubling claim “my life is interesting,” as Joe Fassler writes in Atlantic Monthly, then fiction is equally laden: My imagination is interesting.
No, it isn’t quite that. My ideas would make at least as good a read as some of others’ shit I’ve slogged through over the years. The problem is in the execution. My dialogue sounds cheesy. The descriptions are stilted or banal. The vocabulary is pedantic.
Why continue with something I’m so clearly bad at? Because no matter how much I make that argument, Odie insists I take my turn at laundry, dishes, and cooking. But seriously, folks. Why write fiction if I suck at it?
Good question! Man, you ask good questions. Go, you!
Every writer dreams of penning the next Great American Novel, whether he admits it to himself or not and I am no exception. I also have the urge to write stories that I don’t or can’t live, as well as to disguise and disown the ones I did. To protect the innocent. And the guilty. And the ones who plead “no contest.”
My story is magical realism-esque, philosophical, and kind of porny. That last won’t surprise those of you who read my last blog Seeing Myself from Other Angles. I should probably write a “Shudder Warning” or “Cringe Warning” at the beginning of any such future posts for those of you who actually do know me. Just be happy I edited that post to be way less explicit. I’m not trying to get on that 50 Shades bandwagon. Lee Child wrote that if you can see the bandwagon, it’s already too late to hop on it, but that isn’t the reason my story has those elements.
My friend JG posted on Facebook that she and everyone she knows hears the words “lonely Starbucks lovers” in Taylor Swift’s song “Blank Space.” The actual lyric is: “Got a long list of ex-lovers/They’ll tell you I’m insane/But I’ve got a blank space, baby/And I’ll write your name.” JG and others hear “Got a list of Starbucks lovers. “I get mishearing lyrics because I thought Pharrell Williams was singing, “Bring me down, Canan.” He could be Turkish. I didn’t know.
Melissa Dahl of New York Magazine writes that based on her research, “our expectations have such a strong influence over what we hear that they can alter our interpretations of the sounds.” I know for a fact that JG does NOT have a long list of ex-lovers. As for whether the current and only love will tell you she’s insane, no comment.
Evidently, those who listen to Taylor Swift or admit to the same do not have long lists of former bedmates making armchair psychiatrist diagnoses of them. Dahl later writes that’s the reason so many people mishear the lyric. Long lists of ex-lovers? No experience. Starbucks? Indubitable experience.
I never misheard the lyric.
Would they tell you I’m insane? Let’s say that I can think of at least one person who has never shared my bed (nor the counter of a public restroom, the hood of a car, a shower, a jacuzzi, a tent, a catwalk in an auditorium, Space Mountain…) who will tell you I’m insane. If I even think of just Donny, my co-worker ex from the last post, and imagine him replaying my shrill invective delivered via classroom phone 10 minutes before Open House, I end up firmly in the “Yes column.”
What makes a “long list”? The answer is different for men than women, and so is the judgment. That is the subject of an upcoming post along with my thoughts about the most obscene sexual act that no one is allowed to talk about due to the vomit-inducing yuckiness of the topic: married sex.
My fiction story isn’t about married sex. It’s about a compelling protagonist who has some obstacles to overcome. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Some friends become enemies. Some enemies become friends. At the end, the character is richer for the experience. (Thanks, Stewie Griffin).
In Hollywood-speak, it’s sort of The Matrix meets Memento with elements of The Notebook and Aliens thrown in.
Reading over what I’ve written so far of my fiction, I feel frustrated. Why can’t I take those scenes I see so vividly in my head and hear so clearly in my mind’s ear and put them on the page? It’s an existential problem that my beloved T.S. Eliot expresses so perfectly:
“And would it have been worth it, after all,/Would it have been worth while/After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,/After the novels, after the tea cups, after the skirts that trail along the floor — /And this, and so much more –/It is impossible to say just what I mean!”
Eliot’s frustration at the inadequacy of language to convey experience makes the hairs on my arms stand up. If a master like Eliot struggles with it, I will try not to feel too bad about my own trials. My plan is to keep scribbling my fiction, no matter how bad it is. If I keep practicing and keep writing then one fine morning… I, like other writers, will just beat on, a boat against the current, “till human voices wake us and we drown.”