Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Editing, but not for me...

I'm going over a friend's book and noting typos and such. It's illuminating to do this, because I keep wanting to rewrite his work to suit my style, and that's not right. He has his own way of telling a story and I'm making myself respect that. Just to put this in perspective, I had to drop a class on Faulkner because I hated his non-stop sentences and kept inserting my own punctuation...and the professor, who LOVED Faulkner and thought him the most profound writer of the 20th Century, did not appreciate that. Dunno why. Just 'cause the guy's got a Pulitzer and Nobel and crap like that...and there I was, arrogant enough to disparage his style.

And I still do. I prefer the beauty of Tolstoy's world and characters. I love Hemingway's simplicity (and yes, I know he could be just as self-indulgent and never-ending as Falkner in his sentences, at times) and Steinbeck's casual methodology in storytelling. And I go nuts when I think someone's faking a story.

I was once talked into reading a book called "Continental Drift" that jumped between a man in New England frustrated with his life and a Haitian woman desperately trying to find some way of finding a better life for her son. From the second they were set up in opposition I could see the coming collision where someone would die and it would all be so tragic, but I waded through 100 pages before I gave up on its never-ending bleakness. When I told the person who recommended the book that I just couldn't finish it, she freaked and told me I know nothing about literature.

I took offense. I'd read "A Hundred Years of Solitude" and loved it, even though I'd never write in the vein of magical-realism. I'd just finished "Anna Karenina" and was heavy into my burgeoning Tolstoy worship. I'd even read gentle little novels like "Catholics" by Brian Moore and "The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea" by Yukio Mishima and loved the spareness of them. But just because I couldn't handle the bullshit Russell Banks was handing out, I was dumb. I haven't trusted anyone to tell me what is and is not a good book since; I'll work it out for myself, thank you.

That said, I also fight the urge to insist something I love will be loved by everyone, and that my way of doing things is the right way. It won't be, and it never is. Case in point -- "Seven Samurai", which I think is perfect...and yet Robert Osborne, on TCM, agreed with Rose McGowan that it could be cut by an hour or so. And I once got into a heated discussion with a film professor over the need for the "farmer's wife" section of "La Grand Illusion"; to me it took the film into poetry, to him it was superfluous. Yet a movie I strongly disliked -- "No Country For Old Men -- got near universal praise while I didn't believe a moment of it. I edit. And keep myself to adding a comma here and an obviously forgotten word there and slapping my fingers when they stray into "my way" territory.

They're getting a bit pissed at me for beating up on them so much.


Penman said...

I'm reading, Freedom, it caught my eye that Johathan Franzen is famous for his run-on sentences and use of commas, something I too seem to enjoy.

It's funny, I'm terrible about critiquing some one's work, I also want to change it to my style and as I read, especially the younger writers out there, I find it somewhat difficult to accept their choice of grammar and punctuation, and in some cases, impossible to finish the book because of that. However, that is not the case with Freedom. I like it, keep reading, in spite of his use of capitalizing an entire word or at least the first letter of the word to make it shout at the reader. For some reason, it all works.

I find myself, more and more using punctuation and grammar to give the story the inflection of my voice. For better or worse, I think it is best for the writer and makes the story unique doing so.

JamTheCat said...

True, my stories are told like I would tell them, verbally.