Saturday, January 12, 2013

Dammit, Hemingway (Part 2)

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Last post I didn't mention that my professor gave us an assignment before sitting us in a circle and handing us the Hemingway story. The prompts are always very open but focused nonetheless. For next week, we must have the plan (not the writing) of a 3-5 page story of a protagonist who loses something and then compromises themselves trying to get that something back. I tried planning it out while in class and during the break. Eventually I got to thinking about Daylight Runaway, a little short story I wrote for Carpathia as a Christmas/Late-Birthday present. I've been having a bit of a sudden interest regarding imaginary friends, and in the short story there's a faceless motorcyclist by the name of Caroline Rose who keeps alluding to Ophelia's crazy state and imaginary friend. Caroline Rose can't see Ophelia's imaginary friend, but she knows, somehow, that he is there.

It's never explained in the story, but while I was planning out this next one for class, I remembered Tommy (Ophelia's imaginary friend) was really displeased with the fact that she had brought along a gun when she ran off from home. He's convinced if she shoots someone, she might as well be killing him.

So ta-da! That was going to be the story. Caroline Rose is a young girl and she shoots someone and loses her imaginary friend. And that's like innocence and stuff because blatant double meanings and metaphors and yeh.

But anyways, I'll get back to that later.

After my professor handed us out the Hemingway story, he proceeded to read it out loud, with the perfect blend of emotion and flow. He doesn't have a deep thundering voice, and he didn't exactly distinguish too well from a child's voice and an adult's, but it worked for the story.

As a bad habit of AP English Language and my current annotations (off the book and into my journal so I don't damage it by marking all over it) of Neuromancer, I started writing down little notes and observations on the margin.

I'm certain I've read Hemingway before, but not in any recent years. When I went to the Hemingway house, I bought For Whom The Bells Toll. I couldn't have been more than thirteen when I attempted to read it, and now it sits at the bottom of my shelf with other classic works, untouched because I don't want to open it and see nothing at all.

So I've left Hemingway alone in the past couple of years. Indian Camp has gotta be the first time I've ever read a Hemingway work thoroughly, and that was maybe no more than five pages long.

I noticed immediately the simple sentences, the minimal descriptions, the odd, but somehow natural dialogues, the repetition of words while being in close approximation  Basically, everything I've been trying to avoid since I was thirteen and started writing Redemption. It didn't sound awkward. It didn't bother me as much as I thought it would, but I couldn't shake off the thought: isn't this suppose to be amateur writing?

I don't even know why I think like that. It's not like I ever picked up Christopher Paolini's book and went, "oh wow yes indeed here's a great, useless description about Eragon's thumbs! Oh how I wish I could write like this!"

I know writing too much details with heavy prose is ridiculous and a common mistake by newbie writers. But I didn't know doing the exact opposite was any better, nor did I think anyone could make it work.

By the time we were done, I had thankfully written down about half of the things our professor was pointing out so I managed to just listen. There was that focus on the simple language.

That was around the point Frank told us Hemingway really hated the comma, then Angelina added that the simple writing makes it sounds "primal" (not in the...violent sense, I think. That's how I understood her, at least). Our professor explained the Iceberg Theory that Hemingway employed thoroughly -most of the story is underneath the details. It is what you don't write, but what you imply.

Last time I forgot to mention another lady that was in the class. She came in third to the room so she was the person I saw after Ralph and Chloe. She's a little bit older than us, but I couldn't really pin point any age. Somewhere between mid 30's to mid 40s. I know, that's a stretch, but I really can't ever pin point anyone's age. I just assume everyone's in their 20s unless it's blatant that they're older/younger.

She handed the professor a note from the disability department, and he read it and said it would not be a problem, whatever it was. I'm kicking myself for not remembering her name, because there were two things she said that are important (to me, I guess).

The first one caught my attention. When we left for a short break, before reading Indian Camp, she went out the door, walking with our professor to speak with him. She was saying how much she'd been interested in writing and how she always imagined if she ever wrote anything it would be a memoir because of the life she had. I didn't get to hear the details because her voice faded away as the door closed behind them.

The second was when we were analyzing the short story. Really only a handful of people spoke (Ralph the Illusive stayed silent) and the lady was one of them. She commented how she had been pretty sure since the beginning that the story would involve some sort of death because they were crossing the lake, especially because the water was cold, and writers have used that often as a symbol of death. Plus at the end, when Hemingway writes that Nick was certain he would never die, the waters are warm.

The professor then said that reading it that way was great, and something we are taught to do in literature courses.

But you can't do that in the class.

This is where the "read as writers not as academics or critics" line from the syllabus comes from. The water is cold and then warm because the water is cold and then warm. There is no other reason. He said, "don't ever write that the guy is swimming on the lake to represent his death. The guy is just swimming on the lake."

And I get it! I really do! The reading is suppose to be about the interpretation, it is up to the reader to draw conclusions from it. It's not about what you, as a writer, meant, it is about what the readers see from it. And whatever messages are in there must occur naturally; you hammer the point in you're spoiling it for everyone.

Because of that, I knew I needed to shoot to death the Caroline Rose Shoots Someone Loses Imaginary Friend idea. It was blatant.

But I couldn't get the idea of losing an imaginary friend then desperately trying to find them out of my head. It seemed important, and I wanted to write from the perspective of a young girl (between 8-10, even if that's considered too old for an imaginary friend) because writing young people is appealing. I realized that while watching Pan's Labyrinth: it's fun to write from a child's perspective. They seem to accept magic a lot easier, they're more naturally curious, authority figures find it easy to ignore them no matter the reason, and they can slip and crawl in between all sorts of small or disgusting or even dangerous places.

That's how all my stories start, I picture someone and then see them in a scene. I started to imagine Caroline Rose as a little girl and immediately saw that her appearance and her name did not match. She was a little girl with terrible shoes, torn clothes, dark skin, and messy black hair. She was Indian, Hindu, and living in a slum. Her real name was not Caroline Rose, but she did have an imaginary friend, whoever that was, and she does lose him before the story starts.

I knew immediately that would take me down the wrong direction. If I researched India and the poor, as well as the conditions of the children living there, adding to the fact that she loses an imaginary friend, I would end up inserting some message. And I wasn't gonna let that happen. I didn't want to write anything boring, I wanted some sort of fantasy element in it, but I couldn't plan out a story like that without it backfiring on me. So I put it on the back burner and decided to worry about it the next day.

In the morning, I told Ren about the class and she tried coming up with some ideas. Maria Gabriella followed, then Bianca, and finally Bernie. Bernie came up with the more sane suggestions (losing time, losing youth, losing a pet), Mary Gaby just sort of listened in, and Ren came up with the most of them, but she kept forgetting that the point of the story was trying to find the lost thing, not about losing said thing. Out of all the suggestions I wrote down from her, one involved the Earth losing the Moon. I told her that didn't have a protagonist, she said, "The Earth is the protagonist!" I said "I don't think I'm talented enough to make a planet the protagonist" but did eventually think that maybe personifying the Earth and the Moon would work.

Bianca started throwing around recommendations too. She eventually said a girl hits her head, gets amnesia, but knows she has lost a locket. Then at the end of the story she hits her head again and realizes that the locket is buried with her lover.

So when I heard that, I immediately blurted out, "She's a serial killer?"

Bianca's expression was a mixture horror, disbelief, and accusation. In her, "What? No! It's her love who passed away and-" I could hear her complains of this was beautiful, dammit.

Turns out that's my cop out. Don't have a plot twist for the short story I'm writing for class? Well. She was secretly a serial killer the whole time.

Needless to say, I was torn between Ren's idea of the Earth losing the Moon, and the girl in India who loses her imaginary friend and goes to get him back.

I told my mom that if the professor asked me "Why a slum in India?" I wouldn't know what to respond. After all, he also advised us to, "write what [we] know" and I've never been to India nor have I researched the country or its poverty until a few days ago.

So she said, "well why are you writing about a slum in India?"

And I said, "Uh. I dunno. I just picture it that way."

And she said, "well that's your answer."

But that's a terrible answer, yet there's no balance. I can't come up with some complicated metaphorical reason because that's pretentious and wrong, but I can't exactly not have a reason because that's vapid and dull.

(My mom guessed at some point that I may have been thinking about Slumdog Millionaire, but I really wasn't. I like the movie well enough but it didn't have an impact on me as a storyteller and didn't remember it until my mom pointed it out. In fact, I think I was actually more fixated on that scene in the Avengers when the little girl lures Bruce Banner into the house where Black Widow is waiting. Is that lamer?)

I really liked the idea of personifying the Earth and the Moon, with the names Terra and Luna so they actually sound like people. However, after the initial suggestion, I couldn't properly explain the concept to everyone, and Ren kept drifting into "the Earth has always been sick because the humans treated her badly..." and "so the tides are disrupted and-"

Two problems:

  1. NOT SHOOTING THE MESSAGE. Like yeah, I may have been shocked at the Hemingway thing, but it's not like I didn't know about Being Totally Unsubtle in your messages. And either way, the story is not suppose to have a massage, it's just suppose to tell a story and a message must be created from it, not hammered in.
  2. How would I even personify all that? The Earth starts falling apart in looking for the Moon? And then, how does she get her back? Where does she go? The point is the protagonists compromise themselves in finding that thing/emotion/person, whether or not they succeed.

I feel like that story would also end up being way longer or would work better as a 20-min short film as it feels more visual than anything. So I thought maybe I should just focus on the Indian girl from the slums, but then...am I overdoing it? Every time I write a note down, just because I feel it should be that way, my brain immediately starts looking for the hidden reason as to why it happens in the story. I can't stop it!

It sounds like overthinking this is going to make me hit the greatest wall of Writer's Block ever, which, despite my past delusions and melodramatic moments, I haven't actually ever gotten. I've just been too lazy to write, but I always knew what was needed to be put down.

So really, the only problem I have with the Iceberg Theory goes back to the point of this entire DAMMIT, HEMINGWAY dilemma: I am so not him. I think I've tried to rewrite seemingly simple-on-the-surface stories that are open for interpretation, but I'll be dammed if there ever wasn't a person who said "I don't get it" after reading them. If I try to write something simple with allusions and hints to deeper meanings, the work just sounds incomplete. I can't do it! How does Hemingway do it?

This could all be a freak out without a reason. Hemingway is a great writer, but he is not the definite writer, and his style is not the End All, Be All of writing styles. There are hundreds of them I could adopt and replicate and steal.

However, I don't know which of those hundreds to pick and develop and follow.

I know. I know. That's the point of the class. That's what I'm going to learn. This is going to hurt and they're gonna hate my stories and my professor is never going to single me out, pull me aside, and praise me as the next Great American Author or a sure winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards. In fact, he might wince at my end essay where we're suppose to plan out our futures as writers. In that paper, I will ramble on about my dreams of being a published author and prominent screenwriter.

And he'll shake his head slowly with his lips pressed tightly into a thin white line.

But that should all be okay. Thirty-year-old me will thank me for trying to get better now than later.
~Becky

P.S: I'm sorry for the crazy nature of the post. I didn't exactly wrote it the way it's written right now. More like chunks and pieces I interconnected.

P.S.S: I like to pretend The Four of Us Are Dying is Ataraxia's unofficial theme song. Ahah...yeah... >.<

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