Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Never Let 'Em See You Sweat

'A good style should show no sign of effort. What is written should seem like a happy accident.'
--the late British novelist W. Somerset Maugham. He lives on through his masterpiece, Razor's Edge. If you've never seen the 1984 movie version with Bill Murray, do yourself a favor and rent it now. And if that ultimately induces you to read the novel, so much the better.


At 6:14 AM, Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Yes, I hate books – and indeed films and TV shows especially – where the structure shows through like the piping on the Pompidou Centre. There should be a smooth transition the various acts. I've never sat down and plotted anything. My head doesn't work that way. If someone else gave me a plot and said, "Write a novel around that," I'd be interested but I've never been able to think abstractly about my characters in fact in only one novel, the last one, did I know how the book was going to end. How I was going to get my protagonists to that end was another matter entirely.

At 7:07 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

GREAT line about the Pompidou piping, Jim. Of course, this is harder to accomplish than it sometimes looks. And it often takes many years of effort to get there.

At 7:40 AM, Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I think that depends, John, on whether one has to unlearn certain techniques. I received no formal education. At school we were told to write stories but no one said anything about plots or anything like that so when I started writing stories many years later I simply felt my way on the paper. Very few of my stories have anything resembling a traditional plot.

At 7:50 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I'm glad you mentioned formal schooling, Jim, because as I've noted several times here (and I'm talking mostly about the American experience, which is the only one I really know) hardly anyone really learns to write in school, at any level, in part because so few "English" teachers are writers themselves. We actually begin to learn to write through lots of reading, and then add to that through largely self-taught early efforts. Your marvelous line about feeling my way on paper is how the best writers tend to proceed. Some find outside encouragement and help, some don't. But we're all more self-taught than not. To your point, if you didn't have bad habits picked up from school, you're ahead of the game.


Post a Comment

<< Home