Monday, August 22, 2005

Late Night Insight

I spent a fair amount of time Sunday working on some fiction, and at about 0330 Monday morning I was reflecting on the day's writing and I had an insight. (And isn't it odd how you always seem to have those insights at some ridiculous hour of the night? Maybe it's just me.) Anyway, I've been reading Hemingway's "Islands in the Stream" and noticing how he goes into great detail about every day he writes on. Sometimes it's practically minute-by-minute. And I realized that I've been doing the same thing with my current piece. Now I've written a lot of history, or something close to it, and history consumes great chunks of time and you can dismiss a century in a paragraph. But you can't do that with people. People live life one day at a time, so that's how you have to write about them. The great events of history take place over the course of years, so when you write history you write about whole years. But the great events of a person's life often take place over the course of days, so when you write about them you write about whole days. And you can only do that with a person who does not exist because no biographer can ever do enough research to grasp his subject in that way. So you invent someone and through them tell the story of all the lives that you can never quite grasp. I suppose that's why so many characters are composites of people the author knew. The only way to tell the story of Everyone is through Everyman.

Now maybe everybody else already knew this and I'm just now catching up, but there it is.


Anonymous chris said...

hmmm cant say I can completely agree.

Some of my favourite writers skim over large blocks of time - they have to.

Patrick O'Brian I think when this comes along deals with it by giving you plenty of colour about a single day - then expands into a run of days, often with exceptional incidents noted by exception (the failed turtle soup in "the mauritous command".

I think its a way to write, and a very good one, but not the only way.

10:03 PM  

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