The Screenplay-novel Manifestos

Less is more vivid

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The exhaustion of the how-it-is

The crippling exhaustion that overtakes the writer -- both the new and the established writer -- is nothing new in quality, but it is new in quantity. For even though "writing fiction" should be a reasonably straightforward exercise, it has become something terribly, almost insupportably, complex. And that's not because writing is difficult. And it's not because reading is difficult, either. Instead, the two actions have become difficult in relation to each other ... especially if one harbors ambitions of -- well, of making it ... not just someone who writers for him- or herself, but someone who Wants To Be Known ... who wants a small slice of the professional pie.

Because the problem is this: a writer is not only obligated to write well, he or she is obligated to read well; read conscientiously, and in the manner in which other writers expect to be read: in their entirety. There is a movement afoot (see, for example, recent postings in The Reading Experience and The Anatomy of Melancholy) to emphasize the importance of this. And, of course, the argument that writers do have this obligation is perfectly logical. It is decent. It is civilized. And, on the level of the ethics, it is a form of integrity. I also support this movement.

But this crazy-making truth is that those in the world of letter who possess most power -- editors and agents -- do not themselves read this way. We don't have time, they say. An interesting fragment, but not quite right for us, they encourage, as they shake us off with the politest of rejection letters. And they are behaving appropriately, too ... that is, appropriately for people whose ultimate obligation is to the bottom line. And if it happens that good work is tossed by the wayside -- if it turns out that good manuscripts are discarded according to an inaccurate perception of what they're about by page 20 -- well, that's just how it is. That's the world of publishing and agenting.

Apart from the literal handful of fiction writers who are lionized throughout their entire careers, the writer of fiction is placed in an impossible situation. And this situation has only become more impossible with the new millennium.

And this is why we need to be more open-minded about new forms.


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