Monday, April 15, 2013

Literary Conceit

I received the report back yesterday about the new novel I hope to publish soon. I had sent it away to be assessed, much as I assess manuscripts for others (at lower rates, by the way). It was a thoughtful if fairly brief report. I will indulge myself by quoting this brief section of the report here:

            Logic, Character, Dialogue, Voice/POV, Title
All the usual categories need no address, only to say they are consummately handled. We already know you are a writer of unusually subtle skills, Philip, from your previous work.

Of course, he made some useful and challenging observations about this particular novel that I now need to address. Mostly these concern ways in which to make it more marketable. It is written in a particular style and with a particular form that I think works, I hope works, but which might be difficult to sell to readers. Of course, I cannot discuss this in detail here. But it was another comment that really caught my attention. He wrote that “the contemporary market ... allows little latitude for literary conceits and has almost no interest in form.” Here is where I come unstuck.

I love form, and I love “literary conceits” which, translated into my own language, means art and creativity. Perhaps it is old-fashioned, and perhaps it is difficult to market, but I maintain the belief that writing is, or at least can be, an art form. Consider another form of writing: poetry. This is very unfashionable, and extremely difficult to market, but, hopefully, there will always be poets among us. Prose, too, is or can be an art form. I love using words to create, as well as to tell a story. Words are, for me, what musical notes are for the composer, and brush strokes for the painter. I may not be very good at this, but that is another question. It will always be my intention when writing, not only to tell a story, but to create a work of art, which often requires “form” and “literary conceit”. Is this indeed a conceit? Probably. Should I be giving readers what they want to read, rather than writing what I want to write? Perhaps. Almost certainly yes, if I want to make money from this. 

I know this will sound pretentious, but I don’t usually read to be entertained. Sometimes I do, but most often I do not. I don’t read to be entertained, any more than I look at a painting by Leonardo da Vinci or Botticelli, or listen to music by Mozart, or read a book by James Joyce, to be entertained. At least not in a superficial sense. Similarly, it is not my intention to entertain or distract people with my writing. This is not about how good I may or may not be as a writer. Others will have to judge that. But they need to be judging by the correct criteria. If I am going to fail as a writer, it is going to be while striving to be a James Joyce, or a Patrick White, or a John Steinbeck, not while striving to be a J.K. Rowling , or a Dan Brown, or a Frederick Forsyth. There is nothing at all wrong with what these writers do. They provide entertainment for millions of readers. I simply have no desire to write as they write. When I do read to be entertained it is to fantasy and science fiction that I turn, and I don’t expect to find form and literary conceit there. But when I do, from time to time, it is an added bonus. When it comes to mysteries and other genre, I would rather watch the movie. But would I rather watch a movie version of East of Eden? Most definitely not. It is the words I want: the form and the literary conceit.


Meanwhile, don't forget to check out:

No comments:

Post a Comment