Reading Joseph Conrad’s advice on writing a novel, it struck me that writing novels must be in large part about creating the impression that there is more than meets the eye. Just as a comic book writer relies on the mind filling in a sense of motion and falling when a man is depicted, limbs askew and backward in the air in front of a building, the writer must deliberately learn and exploit the mechanisms by which the mind implies a vast reality from what are in fact merely a few words.
Archives for August 2012
Perhaps writers in trying to recover the past are not trying to recover any particular piece of an actually existing past, but are looking for mental objects which are somehow lost by their nature… they exist in that state alone. This is what philosopher Gilles Deleuze has to say about these objects, which exist in the imaginary, “play world” that we all have running in parallel to “real” reality, and which helps guide our actions. This world consists of fragments of images, people, places–Deleuze dubs them “virtual objects.”
The virtual object is never past in relation to a new present, any more than it is past in relation to a present which it was. It is past as the contemporary of the present which it is, in a frozen present; as though lacking on the one hand the part which, on the other hand, it is at the same time; as though displaced while still in place. This is why virtual objects exist only as fragments of themselves: they are found only as lost; they exist only as recovered. Loss or forgetting here are not determinations which must be overcome; rather, they refer to the objective nature of that which we recover, as lost at the heart of forgetting. Contemporaneous with itself as present, being itself its own past, pre-existing every present which passes in the real series, the virtual object belongs to the pure past. It is pure fragment and fragment of itself. As in a physical experiment, however, the incorporation of this pure fragment changes the quality and causes the present to pass into the series of real objects. This is the link between Eros and Mnemosyne. Eros tears virtual objects out of the pure past and gives them to use in order that they may be lived.
–Deleuze, Difference & Repetition (102)
Hilarious British writer Terry Pratchett, in an interview from over a decade ago, provides some advice from aspiring writers. It boils down to: read a huge amount, work consistently, care about grammar and spelling, and eventually you’ll develop your technique.
But he also has this particularly interesting bit about writing a novel:
Okay. I have to say that I change the metaphor about once a week. But it may help if I give you an idea of how I go about writing. I’m about 10,000 words into my next book. Do I know what it is about? Yes, I do know what it is about, it’s just that I’m not telling myself. I can see bits of the story and I know the story is there. This is what I call draft zero. This is private. No one ever, ever gets to see draft zero. This is the draft that you write to tell yourself what the story is. Someone asked me recently how to guard against writing on auto-pilot. I responded that writing on auto-pilot is very, very important! I sit there and I bash the stuff out. I don’t edit — I let it flow. The important thing is that the next day I sit down and edit like crazy. But for the first month or so of writing a book I try to get the creative side of the mind to get it down there on the page. Later on I get the analytical side to come along and chop the work into decent lengths, edit it and knock it into the right kind of shape. Everyone finds their own way of doing things. I certainly don’t sit down and plan a book out before I write it. There’s a phrase I use called “The Valley Full of Clouds.” Writing a novel is as if you are going off on a journey across a valley. The valley is full of mist, but you can see the top of a tree here and the top of another tree over there. And with any luck you can see the other side of the valley. But you cannot see down into the mist. Nevertheless, you head for the first tree. At this stage in the book, I know a little about how I want to start. I know some of the things that I want to do on the way. I think I know how I want it to end. This is enough. The thing now is to get as much down as possible. If necessary, I will write the ending fairly early on in the process. Now that ending may not turn out to be the real ending by the time that I have finished. But I will write down now what I think the conclusion of the book is going to be. It’s all a technique, not to get over writer’s block, but to get 15,000 or 20,000 words of text under my belt. When you’ve got that text down, then you can work on it. Then you start giving yourself ideas.