Monday, June 23, 2008

tension schmension

And yes, she did speak too soon, folks, the pessimistic writer.  I showed some of those brave new pages to my friend and critic, wise, stern Wayson Choy.  And he came right back at me. "The voice works," he said, "but there is no narrative tension."  What that means is that NOTHING HAPPENS.  The nice voice goes charmingly on and on, but nothing is at stake. "Never forget, your reader is asking, 'Why am I reading this?'" he said.  "This is much too leisurely." 

He said: Show don't tell; use detail to paint pictures, to let the reader see, hear, feel the story; dramatise, don't summarise; justify every word; grab the reader immediately.  These are things I have said a million times to students.

And then, "I sense you are getting a little too fond of your narrative voice.  That will lead to sentimentality.  Like in American films."

Omigod.  So I was growing to like the voice a little, yes, and now I'm at risk of writing "White Christmas"?  He's right, as usual.  Every writer should be so lucky, to have a trusted editor of this calibre.  Wayson himself has Martha, a superb editor at Random House. Thank the lord for good editors, who give writers, lost in the thicket of words and thoughts, a ball of string to help find their way home.

Mr. Choy and I went to a heavenly movie yesterday, after he'd savaged my tensionless prose. "When did you last see your father?" is a classic memoir, beautifully written by Blake Morrison.  When I heard they were filming it, I couldn't imagine how - it's so personal and intimate.  And now there's a personal, intimate movie, wonderfully written, filmed, and acted by a crack British cast including one of my biggest crushes, the divine Colin Firth, beautiful in this film about a son struggling with love and hatred for a difficult father.  Unless you had a perfect father, you'll find familiar conflicted feelings in this story. Highly recommended, both book and film. 

Nothing conflicted in my feelings for Wayson Choy.  At the risk of sentimentality: it's love, love all the way.   

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