Here’s another chunk from the book that is slowly killing me…THE STORY GRID. Conflict drives stories. Without it, nothing happens. The words just sit there, inert like your uncle Lou in his Barcalounger on Sunday afternoon.
Great post about managing various levels of conflict in writing (and in life).
Join us for our second edition of the Renegade Reading Series! Doors open at 7 p.m. at ArtsRiot’s new gallery (400 Pine Street). This time, we’re shaking it up. Four readings, a literary pop quiz, a five-minute writing prompt, and only ONE WINNER! Curious? Come see for yourself. Featuring F. BRETT COX, CHRISTINA ROSALIE, TIM BROOKES, AND ADAM OLENN.
There’s pan-Asian cuisine & a bar, so even if you hate literature and fun, you’ll STILL have a good time. Unless you’re an elected representative of Congress, in which case we’re kickin’ your ass.
I wrote a post for the New York Times Magazine blog about the best writing advice I ever received. Here’s an excerpt:
"Charlie gave me a piece of advice that James Salter gave him. Salter (as quoted by D’Ambrosio) said, 'It is hard to get over the habit of being civilized.' As a writer, you have to push past the graceful and civilized into darker places. Good stories are about when characters stop being civilized, when there are cracks in their composure. Good fiction is born of characters’ struggle and desperation. As writers, Charlie said, we have to go looking for ‘resistance and trouble.’”
My point is not that you should write wild plots. (Characters having sex under tables is not the goal.) The point is to remember that all good stories and novels—even ones set in “civilized society”—feature characters who are desperate in some way. Push past the civilized, with your characters and your sentences. Find the resistance. You can be cautious and polite in life, but on the page, you have to go looking for trouble.
There are plenty of people who have got lots of talent. This world is lousy with talent. The idea is to work that talent and try to get to be the best person that you can, given the limits of the talent that God gave you — or fate, or genetics or whatever name you want to put on it.
A lot of people have suggested that the stuff that I do may be second-class because there’s so much of it. My response to that is: I’m going to quit and be dead for a long time. This is the time that I’ve got, and I want to use it to the max. I really want to try and mine everything that I’ve got.
“When a book, any sort of book, reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance, it becomes literature. That intensity may be a matter of style, situation, character, emotional tone, or idea, or half a dozen other things. It may also be a perfection of control over the movement of a story similar to the control a great pitcher has over the ball.”—Raymond Chandler
"This kind of blindness is a means by which one may reveal character, as it has no physiological source… but exists as a product of desire or some other equally revealing emotional or psychological state… Productive blindness is often found in unreliable…
In 2011, Longreads highlighted an essay called “Weekend at Kermie’s,” by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens, published by The Awl. Stevens is now back with a new Muppet-inspired Kindle Serial called “Make Art Make Money,” part how-to, part Jim Henson history. Below is the opening chapter. Our thanks to Stevens and Amazon Publishing for sharing this with the Longreads community.
The Artist’s Problem: Art vs. Money
In 1968, Jim Henson performed a skit on The Ed Sullivan Show called “Business, Business,” which he cowrote with Jerry Juhl. In it, there are two kinds of creatures, and they are locked in conflict.
On one side, the creatures make sounds like a cash register and a slot machine. They recite a poem written in business-ese: “Corporate profits, exculpates, mutual fund, interest rates.”
On the other side, the creatures have naïve voices and lightbulb heads. They ask, “Love? Beauty? Joy?”
Ca-ching! The battle is on.
“Brotherhood, hope, peace!” says one side.
“Option, market, possibility, eight-point-one over counter utility,” says the other.
It’s a war of ideologies.
Business opens fire. The idealists fire back. Business explodes! Then disappears. Silence.
Cautiously, the idealists look around. They have won. “Peace?” says one. “Success!” says the other. Their lightbulbs go off.
List each character and what he or she really wants. Now you know what everyone is struggling for, how to make sure their conflicts are meaningful, that they’re not just acting as straw men for other characters to talk to.
“I understand the need for, and even the enjoyment of, books designed primarily to celebrate or prettify or wax nostalgic about the so-called immigrant experience, but I don’t find those books nourishing. They don’t give me what I ask from literature, which is, as you recently put it, to “bring us deep enough into the minds and hearts and souls of others to make us feel less alone with ourselves.”—
(that would be the Kings, of Maine): “the writing game, in which they would each take five minutes to rescue some hero from peril, only to place him once again in danger before passing the challenge on to the next family member. ”