Saturday, April 07, 2007

From "Renderings"

Taking a little break from David Morrell's thrillers, I started reading a novella by James Sallis called Renderings. I have very little idea what's going on in the story, but I've never minded being lost with Sallis. The trail may not be cut neat and tidy and paved, but you know there'll be great vistas along the way and that you'll end up somewhere interesting.

The main character in Renderings is a writer, and at one point we hear the following thoughts:

"Walking in the hills today I thought how surprised our old professors would be at the way I write. Suckled on New Critics, they believed the writer a master manipulator, a kind of conjurer, every word and motion bent inexorably to the final effect. I believed it too, but when I began to write, from this side of the door, that all collapsed. The only way I could do it was by winging it; if I knew things ahead of time, I simply couldn't make myself write. From page to page, word to word, I never knew what would happen. I still don't."

Although this is a character speaking, I suspect strongly that this is the way Sallis himself works. Thus my comments about the meandering path. Of course, I think this approach to writing works better with Sallis's more literary fiction than it would for something like a genre action/thriller (without extensive rewriting). I can't, however, decide whether it is more of a comfort or an anxiety to work this way. It's actually comforting to not have to plot, to not worry over what happens next and what follows that, to just open a vein as they say. But it's also worrisome. Writing takes work, and what if you write yourself into a corner three/quarters of the way through a book? How much time and effort might you waste when a little forethought would have saved you?

Maybe there's a reason why Jim's work is mostly novella length. Maybe there's a reason why many of my favorite reads are on the shorter side of novel length. As a reader, I feel the passion, the exploration, the freedom that writer's such as Jim Sallis bring to their work. There's nothing mechanical, no place where you become aware that Screw A goes into Part B. The work grows around you, grows over you, as if you're a fallen log lying quietly in the forest as the seasons pass.


JR's Thumbprints said...

I've been trying to do less plotting and more "free writing" to see where I might end up. Unfortunately, I've sacrificed being too contrived for being stuck on a dead end street.

Donnetta said...

Well, the seasons pass and I keep winging it.

Always good thoughts, Charles.


Sidney said...

Clive Cussler worked mostly without an outline I think and you sense it in some of the Dirk Pitt books. I think generally it works pretty well in those because things seem spontaneous but you can also kind of sense sometimes that that's going on.

Erik Donald France said...

Well, writing and reading are like food. Sometimes you like a snack, sometimes you like a big meandering feast. Sometimes you eat in and make it yourself, sometimes you go out and sometimes you're surpised by what you get.

Steve Malley said...

Times like this in my work, I wish I could work to an outline. I really do.

Of course, times like this in my work, I also see why I can't.

Danny Tagalog said...

I might check this Sallis out now.

Charles Gramlich said...

JR., Dead ends are where bad shit happens. Maybe write that.

Donneta, a wing and a prayer is better than a whine and a bear. (uhm, don't ask)

Sid, a lot of it seems to go with the nature of the writer too.

Erik, I like food.

Steve,sometimes it just has to grow on you.

Danny, I think you'd like him.

Drizel said...

Wowi....great post,
I am a free writer, I know my path will still have alot of weird stuff on, and I will still have to write a full book....but heaven knows all will be ok...
again great post:)