Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Three Levels of Conversation

It's been said there are three levels of conversation, from low to high. How do they affect literature?

1.) THINGS. Simple people talk about things. (Usually what they own or want to own.) In writing, describing the furniture. Literary writers love to write about furniture.

2.) PEOPLE. Gossip is part of human nature. Even some very good novels contain what is in effect gossip. Our interest in character-- think Jay Gatsby-- is gossip.

3.) IDEAS. The most ambitious writers address ideas. Few have done it well, but when it's done well it's a high literary achievement.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bridging the Divide

Studying the types of novels out there, it seems obvious to me that the writer who creates a true new synthesis between literary fiction, on one hand, and popular or genre fiction on the other, will reinvent the form. There have been attempts coming from the literary end of the spectrum to do this very thing.

Some like Michael Chabon have paid homage to "pop" fiction without budging from their stale academy style. Some by writing in a more straightforward, more popular style have traveled a few baby steps down the road toward a new synthesis-- Jonathan Franzen, notably. Others like Joyce Carol Oates, by creating bad plots and caricatured characters, have jumped entirely over the gulf between literary and pop, ending up on the other side, in so doing giving us the worst of both types.

I'd like to see more writers from the genre side of things take a crack at bridging the vast divide.

Monday, January 9, 2012


The biggest failing of most novelists is that their work lacks form.. Aristotle, I'm told, believed literature had three sections. I'm more familiar with chess than with Aristotle. Chess games have three parts also-- the opening, the middle game, and the end game. If you don't have a solid opening you'll lose the game. In the middle game you develop your themes, your narrative lines. In the end game the lines need to come together in a dynamic conclusion.

Note the three sections to my story, "Bluebird," in my 99-cent ebook, Mood Detroit, available via Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

The novel I'm writing will have a striking conclusion. I hope it checkmates the reader. (Surprise and drama.)

As a writer, reader, and book reviewer, I'm impressed by form, by the idea, the realization, that an author knows exactly what he or she is doing. I like the high that comes with the experience of form.

One reason I value the long-forgotten American novelist James Gould Cozzens is that his best novels have near-perfect form. Check out The Just and the Unjust and Guard of Honor some time for their balance, their architecture. Balance-- artistic form--is an imitation of the balance of the universe. Of the artistic intelligence of God.

Ideally, a novel achieves the right balance of elements; plot, characters, setting, in which every element expresses the work's themes, its overarching vision. The expression of meaning is enabled by form.

What novels would YOU give as examples of balance and form?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The First Step

The first requirement for creating great new pop fiction is readability.

Quick pace is one way to make a novel readable. How far to travel away from quick pace is the difficulty-- how much meaning, how many ideas, how much background or description to add, in subtle ways, without destroying the pace.

Ever novel is a mix of elements. How one mixes the elements, in what proportions, determines how great the novel will be.

Note that The Great Gatsby contains fantastic pop elements, a sense of mystery, has a tight narrative and is readable. Fitzgerald expertly finessed some of the elements, like characterization, to be able to achieve this.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Gatsby and Pop Fiction

When you look up and read early reviews of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, you see that the aspects of the novel which were criticized then were its "pop" motifs-- that it resembled a detective novel, was gaudy, violent, grotesque, and often melodramatic. It's these very pop aspects which give the novel its lasting allure, as does the condensed tightness of the plot, the novel's readability, the intense level of the writing and the intelligence of the narrative; that the work was intentionally created to be a work of art.