Thursday, February 25, 2010

I attended a new writers group Tuesday (thanks again for inviting me!) and it was an interesting evening. It’s always nice to reconnect with former writing friends, hear what they’ve been up to since we last met. But the new acquaintances were most intriguing. Warning: the names have been changed to protect the innocent! As noted in a previous blog, I struggle with relating a story that is not mine alone to tell.

Samuel started the session with a wonderfully descriptive excerpt from a larger piece. The other members had the advantage of knowing the story from earlier readings, but we all agreed his writing is well done. I was impressed with his ability to provide physical, background description so vividly that the scenes come to life in my mind. That’s something I have never mastered.

Although to some in the group, such effort is overdone. Interesting that is was a gender divide. The women loved the language; the men felt it was unnecessary and detracted from the flow of action. As I’ve considered his work in the days since, and discussed it with other writer friends, I think I lean toward a division of personal preference, not sex. Some of us love visuals; others prefer action. No right or wrong here!

The most difficult reading of the evening was the final one, given by Fred. Again, the others in the group had heard pieces of the story before, so they had more of a context for what I found to be disturbingly graphic. We ran out of time for the extended discussion the piece provoked – and warranted – and some of the talk spilled over to our walk to the parking lot after we broke up. Fred seemed focused on, “But did it hold your interest?” He asked me that several times as my answers evaded a direct response. I’ve thought about this encounter quite a bit since Tuesday and think I am finally ready to offer a more nuanced answer.

Yes, Fred, it held my interest – much like a train wreck would. I was horrified, but compelled to listen, praying for some sort of redemption. Was it really necessary to tell that story in such painful detail? If so, if it truly serves the piece as a whole, if your intent was to shock the reader into paying attention to what will be a larger message of overriding importance, then I’m okay with that. I would not read it, but there are lots of literary works I will not read. I nearly stopped halfway through Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for that very reason; I plowed through, looking for that redemption, and found it – barely. I will not read the sequel. Again, personal preference, and certainly no right or wrong.

But if you wrote such cruel descriptions of disembowelment and violation simply for the ‘eeww’ factor, I would be heartily disappointed. Your obvious appreciation for the craft of writing is not well-served by such base motivations. Granted, we only met once, for two short hours, but I hold out hope that the larger message is there, yet to be discovered. I will make every effort to stay with you long enough to find it.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that there are definite readers/writers who live for details. Weather the difference rides the gender line is not clear, but there is a line. I personally am one for less detail, more action, less narration, exposition, more dialogue. I find though, have both genders and both preferences for detail a must in any good writing group. We all need that balance.

    You have peaked my interest both in what Fred wrote and in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. You mentioned disembowelment, and this would depend on the genre, are pretty standard fare and generally need to be graphic in nature to truly bring forth the desired feeling of the piece. But as you say, it's personal preference when it comes to reading. I've recently read a romance novel that by the end had me wanting to put it down for a number of reasons, but I persevered to know the end. At AWW 2010, one of our group offered a graphic description of a masturbation scene that I could have done without.


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