Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

☞ At the onset, I must say that what Emmanuel Iduma says below deserves to be heard. However, with regard to his belief in the need to transcend genre in order to engage in politically committed writing as an African writer — or as any writer from the third world for that matter — I am not sure if I agree with him completely. I have to say at the same time that I am hugely sympathetic to his cause, but perhaps not precisely in the terms formulated by him. My difficulty lies with the belief that genre could be avoided, or that, to use his word, it could be transcended. I don’t think genre can be sidestepped. It exists in all texts. Even Finnegans Wake belongs to an overall genre, even if it is the only member of its generic category. It should also be said that a complex of (other) genres infuses Joyce’s work: it might be “genre-bending,” but genre or a whole army of genres informs the work. Writing something elemental, essential or basic does not mean that genre can be left aside. If there is an obsession with literary classification, and with placing works according to their genres for commercial purposes, it does not mean that genre itself is at fault: it might be an overly simplistic or mechanical understanding of genre for taxonomic purposes that is amiss here. What is perhaps needed is a more complex and less rigidly formulaic appreciation of genre, and the kind of simplistic pigeonholing of creative texts for commercial purposes is something that we should all move away from. (See also the next entry: quotation from “On Formulas and Fiction” [listed below]).

“‘An elemental narrative’ is the description we should use for a story that transcends genre. Our understanding of  ‘elemental’ relates to what is ‘essential’ or ‘a basic part.’ It means that our elemental narratives always bear the premise that we are writing a ‘basic’ story that touches at the heart of who we are and what we have become. The goal of the writer will be to write a story that is as elemental as a shared humanity, those recognizable qualities that makes us human, and sometimes inhuman.

The word ‘novel’ will serve merely for classification because in my thinking a narrative traverses the edges of fiction, reality, and everything in-between. The writer will not seek to write a story that fits into such categories as literary fiction, because in our time no one has successfully defined what those words mean. Perhaps that term, and classification, resulted from the arrogance of writers of an earlier generation who wanted to distinguish the stories they wrote, or told, from those of writers whose work did not fit into their artistic vision.

Even more, this goal should be taken seriously by an African writer. In truth, classifications – and the conscious practice of adhering to them – have not helped us much. Our publishing industry suffers in part, I believe, from an attempt to elevate one genre over the other. Genres may suffice for bookstores, and libraries, but they should not suffice for writers when they struggle in solitude. Assuming the African writer cares little about attempting to write ‘literary fiction’ but feels compelled to imagine a post-apocalypse world in Mushin, and remains faithful in telling the tale, perhaps we can have narratives that reach an otherwise neglected audience.”

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☞ Giving more details of one’s narrative is always a tricky issue. In any narrative, details must be minimal: one must give only as much as is needed for the narrative, and no more. Too many details would bog down the narrative, and make it slow and meandering (at least for those parts of the narrative where the details were given). But too few details may leave the narrative hanging in the air, and the respondent would not be able to fully understand what is going on in the narrative. As Holly Robinson says in this article, the novelist is presenting a world in his or her novel. One of the ways to adequately present this world is to resort to a back-story (or back-stories). But how much of this should be given?

‟Most of us become novelists because we don’t envision moments. We envision worlds.

Novelists must fully inhabit those worlds to write about them. We don’t just need to know what our characters are doing right now. We must understand who these people were before facing the conflicts we throw their way. But that doesn’t mean our readers have to suffer through reams of back story or flashbacks (the events that happened before your novel opens). In fact, the less back story you have, the better your novel will flow.

This doesn’t mean skimping on character development. Even if you’re writing a plot-driven mystery or an engineer’s wet dream of a science fiction book, you want your characters to develop beyond the paper doll stage. You know their eye colors, the way they walk, the slang they use, and their favorite cocktails. If you’re clever, you’ll even give your bad guys a few good qualities and your heroes some flaws to keep things real and 3D.”

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by Holly Robinson in The Huffington Post 
Author of Sleeping Tigers and
The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir

☞ Not everyone writes at night (the previous blogpost below). Here’s Roxana Robinson on when she writes:

❝The reason the morning is so important is that I’ve spent the night somewhere else.❞

In the morning, I don’t talk to anyone, nor do I think about certain things.

I try to stay within certain confines. I imagine this as a narrow, shadowy corridor with dim bare walls. I’m moving down this corridor, getting to the place where I can write.

I brush my teeth, get dressed, make the bed. I avoid conversation, as my husband knows. I am not yet in the world, and there is a certain risk involved in talking: the night spins a fine membrane, like the film inside an eggshell. It seals you off from the world, but it’s fragile, easily pierced.

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☞ Is night the best time to write?

What is it about night and storytelling?

Unless it is raining, I do not know what it is about the day that is not always the best time to write. Maybe, it is too bright outside. Maybe, the light is a distraction, not blinding, just distracting. Maybe it is too busy and noisy during the day or during business hours or the hustle and bustle.

Maybe it is because during the night things slow down. Dusk sets the tone. It calms the day down. It is quieter. It is easier to think. I do not know. Maybe it is just a more romantic time of the day. Maybe it is the lamp which dimly lights the room like a bar. Maybe it is that perfect amount of low light. Whatever it is the night certainly puts me in the writing mood. The night puts me into the story. Whatever it is I am more comfortable writing. My thoughts flow more easily with a soft buzz. I am more poetic with prose. I feel the romance of the story or storytelling or both. If I could compare the mood I would compare it to the soft, slow, distant sound of jazz.

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