27 October 2015

Starting from Scratch

Rita Mae Brown, Starting from Scratch. NY: Bantam, 1988.

Subtitled “A Different Kind of Writer’s Manual,” it is definitely different. The first fifth is an admonition to be healthy, because that allows productivity: work requires food, sleep, and exercise! Oh, and learn Latin.

Now to writing. On plots: you’ll want one. Plot comes from character and conflict, e.g. self v self, another, the state, or nature. Those are your choices.

On to the subjunctive. You need it to explore emotions, the connections between character and characters, &c. Well, no, according to the noir authors. That’s (quite literally) immaterial, unobservable, and ultimately unknowable. It can only be “made up”, and thus calls attention to the fiction as fiction and, in effect, destroys the fiction. But it’s also generally the most interesting stuff, where we see the author exposed and learn how others might think. Oh, the conflict (and now we have a plot!).

That Latin mentioned earlier comes in handy for the section on symbolism, because you'll need you some of that, too. Maybe you need the symbols to express the (or a) painful truth honestly. Remember, its not art if you don’t.

Really, what Brown says is all important -- important background training for the trade, right down to her extensive reading list. More useful for one (who feels) ready to write are the exercises, and the short discussions of particular genre approaches for articles, stories, screenplays, and novels. Today’s publishing environment may be even more difficult to enter than what Brown faced, although the Internet does allow some writers to develop the critical audience mass necessary for publisher investment. Yet the book, now nearly twenty years old, is probably most important for autobiographical insight into an interesting author. For Brown, writing is just a (really good) job -- so get to work!

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