Friday, January 26, 2007

Seduce The Reader



I read an interview with one of my favorite writers, Jim Harrison, once in which he claimed to write Dalva (his best novel by my humble evaluation) because he wasn't in love and wanted to create a woman that would inspire that feeling. Mikhail Barishinikov once said that he always fell a little in love with all his partners (and most certainly he slept with all of them -- as a straight man in the world of ballet, I suspect he did not even have to half-ass try), and in a strange way, I love all my characters as well, even the bad ones, perhaps especially the bad ones. One of the questions that is constantly batted around writing workshops is -- Do your characters have to be sympathetic? I think so, but only to the writer. You cannot write effectively about people you hold in contempt, at least in fiction -- I think the constraints of the form have to offer us insight into their humanity. I don't feel this applies in nonfiction in the same way. But regardless of the form, the characters have to be engaging. We must feel as if someone could fall in love with them. From the first line of Dalva, I knew Jim H. had gotten it right -- "It was today -- rather yesterday I think -- that he told me it was important not to accept life as a brutal approximation. I said people don't talk like that in this neighborhood."

The kind of fiction I write is often coded as confessional -- I chalk this up to my early influences, all that Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton, poets that seems as if they have no skin, as if their words are a direct line to their hearts. That, of course, is artifice just as much as a Victorian novel is artifice. One of my former writing teachers was forever saying that you had to seduce the reader. I think this is because he loved the word seduce. But I have to agree that it is an excellent word -- seduction is both completely earnest and completely staged. You tap into the best part of yourself, the part that makes people love you, and you act your heart out. Is it real or is it Memorex? as the old commercial used to ask. Both, I say. That is, if it's working.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"We loved the earth, but could not stay." -- old saying

Cocktail Hour

Drinking book suggestion: Duane's Depressed Larry McMurtry -- This is the final part of The Last Picture Show trilogy. If you're not drinking before you read, you most certainly will be after! This book is so so sad and brilliant and funny.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Friday! Stay warm, fellow Detroiters!

18 comments:

Norman Mailer said...

My Jesus novel failed because, now that I look back on it, I subconsciously had an ax to grind with that bastard.

The White Negro said...

Good insight, Norm.

Young Hitler said...

I vas a goot liddle notzi.

Arnold Schwarzenegger said...

So was my dad!

Maria said...

He's just kidding. Aren't you, darling?

Tug McGraw said...

Ya gotta believe!

The Donald said...

My second marriage was a mutual seduction of the parties.

Howard Hughes said...

I think Jim Harrison became seriously depressed when I sent him back his Christmas gift of the beard and mustache trimmer.

Daisy said...

Jay seduced me--twice. I must admit that I'm partial to men in uniform, money and power. The usual things.

Flaubert said...

I became deathly ill when Emma ate the rat poison. It all boiled down to her going to wrong dances. Some women think of themselves too much as the belle of the ball.

Anonymous said...

Some good insights here, for sure. Yes, seduction is both truth and lie, and working hard to make your writing look "natural" is just as much an artifice as writing surrealism. I also agree that a writer has to have some level of sympathy for all his/her characters in order to write them convincingly.

sal dali said...

Natural is art. Surreal is a joke.

Anonymous said...

Was it Thomas Harris who wrote Silence of the Lambs? I read an interview with him that he said it took him years before he could go back and write the sequal to that book because of Hannibal Lecter and the authors asumption and portrayal of him as a true Psychopath.

I believe he said that the character disturbed him so much because he was able to bring him onto the page he was reluctant to revisit the story.

Now in his own way I will admit Hannibal was a very seductive and engaging character, but one you would not want to be left alone with.

Is this the type of seduction you speak of, a character that just pulls you into the story and no matter what they do you are taken by it to the reality of the scene, being able to feel for example the nurses tongue being bitten out by Lecter when the warden told Clarice the story and showed her the picture?

And the question is how soon into the story do you have start making your characters identifiable with the reader. Shoule there be some back ground, setting of the first scene or do you just jump in by introducing them?

I know we all (thank God) write in different styles telling different storys but generally speaking these are the questions your post of the day bring to my mind. Hopefully to teach me without have to pay for the credit hour ol.

Peace and snow (first real one) and theres really only a month of winter left not counting Tigers opening day when it is always winter like.

More peace just for the hell of it

TWM

thanks for the compliment on the other

Anonymous said...

:)

Anonymous said...

I once woke in pain after a character came to me in a dream and bit my neck. I hadn't written him yet, but after waking I had to. He was dangerous, very pale, and all day I was haunted and hungry, rubbing my neck.

JR's Thumbprints said...

I'll take my characters to hell and back, just to see what they're made of. My problem is letting go of them. I enjoy their company too much.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Walking Man, Thomas Harris wrote Silence of the Lambs, and in the sequels he has redeemed him.

Anonymous said...

I especially loved Thomas Harris' prologue in one of his works. It spoke of writing in complete solitude somewhere in the Mississippi Delta. He used a quote when describing his characters...

"I do not keep falcons. They live with me."

There may be a fine line between the time when you are using the character to seduce your reader and the one in which your character seduces you.

Long live seduction!