I’ve been tossing and turning an idea around in my head, one that I can’t put my finger on.
Last night, I watched an HBO movie, Hemingway and Gellhorn. There is a scene when Ernest is standing in a hotel room at his typewriter placed upon a high dresser. He types manically. Gellhorn is watching him and she begins in on how she doesn’t know how to do this, how to write, and he tells her that she just has to do it. He does not say this kindly. She knows the writing of which he is capable, and she is amidst the war in Italy and all she wants to write about are the people, the small stories, the way the war is effecting these people’s lives.
Something hit home for me. For the purposes of this discussion, indulge me in listing some writers I love: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Franzen, George Eliot, Michael Chabon, Salman Rushdie, Louise Erdrich, Margaret Atwood, Colm Toibin, Barbara Kingsolver, Zadie Smith, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Russo, Jeffrey Eugenides, David Foster Wallace, Nabokov, Jane Smiley.
Not by any means an exhaustive list although it may seem like it, but just the first that spring to mind. I’ve been thinking lately about honest writing, but I’ve also been looking for other connections. What is it that they do, that is lacking from my own work?
When I take everything else away, what is it? It isn’t magic (well, they do create magic, but that’s another story), a moment when the muse struck for them and they jotted it all down. What I adore is the ability they each have to take the world and import it into the lives of their characters.
That sounds so dull. What I mean to say is, they aren’t didactic. They have issues, social concerns that I think about long after the book, but the reason I do is because of the characters that had to deal with very specific, small problems. They don’t preach about global warming. A character’s life may have complications because of it.
They know how to create a microcosm, where a war may be going on but it is secondary to the character and very real, tangible things that the character is dealing with. Their feet are grounded in this very specific place and time, but it is because of the small, minute specificity.
They deal in worlds, not necessarily fast-paced plot, but entire worlds that are illuminated by the character being an honestly, real, fallible human being that gets screwed. These characters are being run through the mill, as whatever socio-economic battle, war zone, poverty, drought, you-name-it is going on in the background.
That is where my love is. It is also where my book is lacking. My book is not grounded, it is a bunch of characters floating around in the ether. I haven’t come up with the goods to put them where they need to be in time and space, so they are just acting/reacting to each other in the ether.
A good thing to find out, but not one I know how to fix. Nuts. I think they are as honest as I can make them at this point, but not as honest as they need to be. There is a greater truth missing, a deeper, richer world yet to be uncovered.
Knowing this now, feeling it, makes me wonder if I should ditch them, if this story has gone as far as I can take it, or if I should chase them down and then figure out what the hell is also going on behind the scenes, grounding them, stifling them, freeing them, trapping them.
I haven’t decided which way I should take it, but it feels good to see it in a different light, to see what I want, even if I don’t know how to get it there.
Write on, my friends.