f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Writing Yourself Into a Corner

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

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Writing Yourself Into a Corner

In 2004, Lost debuted. To pretty much universal acclaim. I watched the first season and when it ended, I decided never to watch another episode. By choosing, for the most part, to only raise questions and never answer them, the writers seemed to be playing mostly with smoke and mirrors. To me. Now in Season 3, it seems to have lost it's status as a cultural touchpoint, though that may be as much about our societal ADD than anything the show's done.

In 2006, Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip debuted. To wide acclaim...though poor ratings. I've watched the show mainly because I was a fan of Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night. Ignoring for the moment, that Sports Night is a far better show told in half the time, there's one looming problem for Studio 60--its titular cutting-edge, hilarious sketch show (a SNL stand-in) is not all that cutting-edge and usually the opposite of funny. This is a problem.

In 1999, Lemony Snicket offered A Bad Beginning to a Series of Unfortunate Events. For the first four or five books he mostly repeted jokes and mock-gothic tropes in a clever but wheel-spinning series. Then suddenly the wheels caught and readers were launched into a labyrinthine chase for answers mostly surrounding a "schism" in the V.F.D.. The witty premise of the book is that this tale is ultimately going to end poorly, so you should just stop reading.
But, can you really end a wildly popular series "poorly"? Would Daniel Handler have the guts? Last night I finished the end of The End and in lieu of spoiling anything I'll say that I think he, also, uses smoke and mirrors.

If I remember correctly, in The World According to Garp, Garp is a mildly acclaimed writer..and one of his stories (about a bear) appears in the text. I didn't exactly love the short story and so Garp's "fame" seemed puzzling and slightly dubious to me. (I read this one a long time ago; if I'm wrong and the story was heartwrenching I apologize to John Irving.)

In 2007, J.K. Rowling unleashes Harry Potter and the Something of Something Else. Has she left herself room to maneuver?


I don't have some grand point to make here. Just that writing is hard. And the choices you make in your stories can create fences and boxes that you need to be aware of. Writers can be their own worst enemy sometimes in the things they choose to include in a story, the unwieldy structure they set for a story, or even by picking the wrong POV.

(In The Lovely Bones, I didn't care all that much about who killed the dead narrator...because she was already in "heaven.")

My only advice is, as best you can, be aware of the limitations and roundblocks your choices will make for you as early as you can in your writing process. And then work around them or bridge them. But I wouldn't just expect them to go away. Even with all the smoke and mirrors in the world.

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