f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 1 of Novel Writing - Beware Belabored Apple Metaphors

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Monday, January 24, 2005

Day 1 of Novel Writing - Beware Belabored Apple Metaphors

On the discussion board (free to join and filled with excellent conversation), a reader in addressing some conversation about the role of dialogue in books pointed out this interview with author Dennis Lehane at Powells—a wonderful site for book-lovers, btw.

I want to look at what he says here:

Whenever I see books about how to write bestsellers, I just want to ask, "Why don't you just call it, 'How to write a screenplay'?" I say to my students right off the bat, if there's not depth of language, if you don't bring some sort of music to your prose, if that isn't something you can put on the table, then please go do something else because it's the only thing that separates literature from any other art form. That's it. That's all we've got left. Hollywood can beat us in the car chases and the explosions and the high drama. All we have is language and the depth of character, the ability to take you through a life, as opposed to suggesting it.

Um, yes.

See, I’m tired of the debate between “literary fiction” and “genre” or “popular” fiction. I’m tired of arguing whether a book by Lisa Samson is more important than a book by, say, Ted Dekker is more important than a book by Anne Tyler. There’s so many stories to tell, so many reasons to write a novel, and so many ways it can be done that while it is still comparing apples to apples, it becomes an argument between Honeycrisp and Macintosh. A matter of taste, in other words.

From now on, the only discussion is: For your story how best do you employ that which makes a novel. The language, the depth of character, and the ability to take you through a life. That’s our goal here.

You people who join me everyday, I have to admit, you’re not who I was expecting. I thought the Flannery fans would come out. The Buechner disciples. Those who worship at the altar of Wendell Berry. Or Walker Percy.

Instead, we have an eclectic readership writing an eclectic variety of stories. Many of you whole-heartedly admitting that “literary” is not what you’re going for.

That’s fine. BUT…you’re not off the hook. See, you’re still novelists. You’re not, at least while you're here, short story writers or playwrights or screenplay writers. You’re writing novels and while one may be Golden Delicious and another Granny Smith, they’re all, at the core, apples.

And because so, we can learn as much from how Elmore Leonard crafts his razor-sharp dialogue as we can from how Richard Russo takes you through a life in Risk Pool. There is no room here to say, “That’s not applicable to me, I’m writing fantasy.” It’s all applicable, all worth learning. And so we will learn it together. Huzzah? Huzzah.
Continue to Day 2 of Novel Writing