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19 August 2010

"It lodges itself in our throats."

Tidbits from a recent Tim O'Brien article, Telling Tails (thank you, Arts and Letters Daily):

The problem with unsuccessful stories is usually simple: they are boring, a consequence of the failure of imagination.
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In fiction workshops, we tend to focus on matters of verisimilitude largely because such issues are so much easier to talk about than the failure of imagination.
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Even if one’s goal is to depict ordinary human beings in ordinary human settings, a story must find striking, dramatic, and unexpected ways to accomplish this. Something, somehow, must strike the reader as compelling enough to warrant continued reading.

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Inventing a nifty, extraordinary set of behaviors for our characters is not enough. A fiction writer is also challenged to find import in those behaviors. ... Cleverness, in the end, is a sorry (though common) substitute for thematic weight.

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[Discussing Jorge Luis Borges's story "The Aleph":] But for me what gives the story its ultimate power—its exquisitely imagined beauty—is the moment at which Borges beholds the unbelievable, obscene, detailed letters that the love of his life had written to Carlos Argentino, that pompous ass upstairs. At this point the story moves from the clever to the emotional and takes on its great thematic heft. It soars beyond a “nifty idea.” It lodges itself in our throats. All of us, I suspect, can imagine beholding things we ought not to have beheld. All of us can understand such pain. In the end, this miraculous little story, with its obviously extraordinary events, illuminates an ordinary but fearsome corner of the human soul.
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2 comments:

  1. I've told you any number of times, when I did attend my single writer's conference, O'Brien was there, and seemed to be The Real Deal. He made writing sound like it mattered (others seemed there to collect the sizable check), and I sat in on a class of his, and it was exciting. Even got to sit down with him and have a talk about writing, titles, Europe, publishing, et al. And he signed a couple of books! Thanks for posting...

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  2. Vincent, I remember you recommending "The Things They Carried" and it is one of my favorite books....

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