The Write Approach… – col. 4



Every work of literature has both a situation and a story.  The situation is the context or circumstance, sometimes the plot; the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer, the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say.

[hidepost]The poet, the novelist, the memoirist, biographer, historian  –  all must convince the reader they have some wisdom and are writing as honestly as possible to arrive at what they know.  In non-fiction the reader must believe that the narrator is speaking truth.

In fiction the writing must be good enough to suspend the reader in time and make the world represented in the book a real world for the time spent reading it.  We can come away from fiction with new knowledge and thoughts, just as we can from non-fiction. In poetry the words must be wrought in such a way that they enter the heart and bones of the reader.

The subject of the discipline required within the writing is a large one if we are interested to look at all genres.  For that reason I shall devote at least two columns to it and this is the first.

In many cases a writer’s experiences and feelings will inform their work, whether fiction or non-fiction.  I’m therefore going to draw on an autobiographical work written in novella form for discussion on how to use these feelings and experiences with discipline. French author Marguerite Duras wrote of the dramatic and sensual experiences of her adolescence in The Lover, set in Indochina in 1932.  It’s a short, succinct, stark and pared-back work, with silence and the unspoken threaded throughout as an important feature of the work, exemplified in all the people who emerge.  Of course, there are many ways of achieving discipline within the writing; in this case there’s a complete absence of expressive feeling and yet that in itself causes extraordinary emotional tension.

The situation is that of a fifteen and a half year old French girl experiencing her first sexual love with a rich Chinese man.  They are both obsessed with the sexual experience in their different ways.  The one constant in the work is the power of the desire; this is the element that shapes the prose.  Desire as human connection, desire as a catalyst for power, desire as temporary sublimation, desire as a narcotic.  Desire is the true protagonist of The Lover and is shown in all its complexity.  This is the core, the particular truth this writer is writing about in connection with her life at that time.  It’s also a powerful evocation of aloneness.  Not loneliness, but aloneness.  The writing is ruthless in its honesty and manages to portray this politically incorrect situation in one of the most sensitive and touching of stories.  It’s delicate in its immodesty and tender in its cruelty.

An example:
The sound of the city’s so near, so close, you can hear it brushing against the wood of the shutters.  It sounds as if they’re all going through the room. I caress his body amid the sound, the passers-by.  The sea, the immensity, gathering, receding, returning.


I asked him to do it again and again.  Do it to me.  And he did, did it in the unctuousness of blood.  And it really was unto death.  It has been unto death.


He lit a cigarette and gave it to me.  And very quietly, close to my lips, he talked to me. // And I talked to him too, very quietly.  //  Because he doesn’t know for himself, I say it for him, in his stead.  Because he doesn’t know he carries within him a supreme elegance, I say it for him.


Write from the heart, with integrity and authority, while maintaining a degree of detachment between you and the writing so that you’re not left wallowing in the emotions of the experience; this then becomes discipline within the writing.  To wallow in the emotions is to lose control of the shape and structure of the work and also renders them less powerfully.  Know your persona and the situation you wish to present and the story will tell itself.  Write, then redraft and redraft, as many times as necessary, sticking to the core of the writing at all times.

Next time we’ll continue discussing discipline within writing.  It’s not an oxymoron, in that using discipline doesn’t disengage from the heart in writing, indeed it magnifies it.

[/hidepost]Liat Kirby-Nagar


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