I’m closing in the 200-page mark in my novel. I’m not even halfway finished, but it’s moving along, slowly but surely. The writing workshops that I’ve been attending have been very helpful and interesting, I must say. The reactions to my work have been diverse, to say the least. I’ve gotten everything from “lame and cheesy” to “I’d rather buy this than ‘Native Speaker’ (by Kor-Am author Chang-rae Lee).” Overall, it’s helped me to identify my writing weaknesses.
One weakness is that I am rather terrible at giving descriptions of settings. If I were to describe a house, I’d say something like, “It was big, white, and had a green roof with a gate around it,” and be happy with that. It’s not exactly William Faulkner, obviously. I’m just not good at it. I look at a house; I see a house. I look at a tree; I don’t have much to say about it beyond that it’s a tree.
I think my bread-and-butter is dialogue between characters. It comes out naturally, and I enjoy seeing what happens when my characters collide. I recently wrote the scene where my main characters meets the girl he’s going to fall in love with for the first time, and everything flowed out so easily and naturally that I was sorry to see the scene end.
A girl at the last workshop made what I thought was really a prescient point about writing. She said that in a good story, the writer reveals one part of a whole and lets the reader extrapolate the rest instead of just of telling him or her what the story is supposed to be about. I think she was exactly right. In so many of my favorite books, there is a poigant quality of something hidden, something missing; a sense of loss and mystery that’s never quite made clear. As a writer, I believe it’s possible to dig deeper when you have your reader doing the digging right along with you.
It’s not often when you find that elusive quality in pop music, but it CAN happen. Tori Amos has made a career of digging lyrical mysteries, and even Madonna had the enigmatic masterpiece that was “Live To Tell.” Another example comes in the form of the #49 song on our Top 101 Countdown: Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner.” What exactly is happening in this diner? Who is it that’s watching Suzanne? And who is it that Suzanne’s thinking of? What does it all mean? Well, the answer leaves it all for you to decide. The song, like almost all great art at its core, works as a mirror, casting different reflections for all of us.