I had a long lazy lull in throughout July and most of this month, rarely even finding the least bit of inspiration or desire to look at my novel. In the past number of days, I have again picked up the art of writing and began to work on my novel again. I finally cracked open my copy of Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway. As I read through the useful passages, it occurred to me that I should re-examine why I am even bothering to write my novel.
I aspire to create literary fiction, and to say something important about humanity and one of the particular conditions of humanity. In this particular case, I am essentially creating an exploded view of the condition of loneilness, and I am setting it in the most contradictory of places: New York City. It would come as no surprise to me that someone might be lonely and single in a small town in a remote suburb. But to be lonely in a city of more than eight million people? A little less likely, at least seemingly so.
With such lofty goals, I often miss out on the finer details, such as characterization. To me, there is little to be gained by drawing such vivid characters unless it is in the service of the underlying and overarching message.
These thoughts arose in my reaction to one segment in the book that described the couple in Raney (p. 124). I was thinking to myself, of what consequence is it that Charles is “an urban liberal who is broad-minded in abstract principles yet impatient with actual people” and that Raney is the opposite, someone from a small town who is “narrow-minded in the abstract but compassionate with individuals?” I know that such a description is taken out of context, that the description is of the two main characters, and that I have not even touched the book. But even so, it reminds me that I am an impatient reader and writer. I seek to remove all excess from my novel. As I have often said, I believe that the life is short enough that we needn’t waste our time reading a lot of nonsense. I believe in being as efficient as possible. I do not enjoy making mountains of molehills. And so I have restricted the deepest of characterizations to the only person that matters in my novel: Mark the protagonist. Who cares about the auxiliary characters? Certainly, the need to be vivid enough to be believable, and they need to at least give the illusion that they exist for reasons unrelated to the main characters.
I have read many stories in which the writer spends an excessive amount of time and energy on characters who are often inconsequential to the story. I find it tiresome to keep track of so many different characters and to take the time to examine their behavior. Life is too short to do that. What I want to do is to read a story and to receive its emotional payload, its experience, in as little time as possible and with as little energy expended as possible. It is not out of laziness. Rather, it is out of a sense of urgency. While I am aware of the merits of stories that are not written to my specifications, I personally do not enjoy them. And so I cannot create something that I would not enjoy. I do not wish to create something that requires a reader to be extremely observant to enjoy.
Ultimately, I find that I am far more interested in getting my message across than I am concerned with technical craft. A good story is a good story, even if it might be a little rough around the edges. And a turd is still a turd, even if it is polished.