Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Lie That Tells a Truth, part 1

The other day I was browsing through the writing section in my local library and I pulled a couple of books down from the shelf.  I wrote about the Secret Miracle in my last post.  This post I’d like to share some information I gleaned from The Lie That Tells a Truth by John Dufresne.  In fact, it’s going to take more than one post to share his words of wisdom to the aspiring writer.

The Lie That Tells a Truth was written in 2003.  You might question its relevance for today’s writer but I found it to be very educational and well written.  For many of you this material may be well known and part of your extensive experience.  But for me, it really hit home.  I’d heard some of it before, of course, but the way it was written just resonated with me.  And I want to share some of it with you.

Writer’s Block

The first thing Mr. Dufresne shares with us are that if we didn’t write today it’s because we didn’t want to, didn’t have the perseverance or the courage.  One of those three, or maybe more.   Lacked the will or the passion.  He questions whether we really enjoy it enough because we always find time to do the things we love.  His opinion is that writers don’t suffer from writer’s block.  It’s an excuse to get out of dealing with a problem in your story that you can’t solve.  He mentions that secretaries don’t get secretary block.  (Come on, it’s funny).  His point is, work through it.

Asking the right questions

Another point that John Dufresne makes in his book is that fiction isn’t the quadratic equation; we’re not solving a problem.  His stance is that we’re creating problems.  And the answers we get for solving these problems we create is based on the questions we ask.  Logic isn’t required, let loose and trust your feelings, intuition, etc.  Logic comes later, after the story has been created.  You use the logic to see if your story makes sense, but after you create it.

The 10 Commandments of writing

Now, I don’t know where he got these.  I assume that he’s not the originator but here’s what he shared as the 10 commandments of writing:

1.        Sit your Ass in the Chair.

2.       Thou shalt not bore the reader.

3.       Remember to keep holy your writing time.

4.       Honor the lives of your characters.

5.       Thou shalt not be obscure.

6.       Thou shalt show and not tell.

7.       Thou shalt steal.

8.       Thou shalt rewrite and rewrite again.  And again.

9.       Thou shalt confront the human condition.

10.   Be sure that every death in a story means something.

Writing stories

I love these next few lines in the book, so I am copying them verbatim (all credit to the author John Dufresne).  Hopefully, all of you skilled English majors who recognize that I have no idea how to properly credit a source are satisfied that it’s obvious that I’m not taking credit for this post and are giving me a break.

“Stories and novels don’t get written.  They get rewritten.  All matters of consequence in fiction are addressed in revisions.”

I knew this right?  I mean, every author says his or her first draft was crap.  But you don’t really want to believe that YOUR first draft will be crap.  His point is that the first draft is for free-flowing creativity and that the hard work comes in the revisions.  Dufresne’s commentary about the ‘author’ is that he makes mistakes and expects his first draft not to be crap.  He undermines his effort by holding unrealistic expectations of himself.  (This is where I really begin to relate).  The author becomes discouraged when the characters on the page don’t match what’s in his head.  I like this quote too, “What had seemed like an exciting and noble undertaking now seems foolish and impossible.”  Can I get an AMEN here?  AMEN.

So, just in case I didn’t get the message, he actually spells out the lesson for me.  “Do not write beyond what the first draft is meant to accomplish.”  Explore the world, the story, and get to know the characters.  Make sure you’re asking the right questions.  Watch your characters in your mind and see what they do.

In the next post, I’ll continue sharing snippets of John Dufresne’s book, The Lie That Tells a Truth.  It really was a very good book and he had tons of “exercises” for the writer to do as well.