Sunday, January 01, 2006

Writing as An Art Form

I was thinking a lot about what my first writing post should be in the new year. I wanted something good. Well, of course.

Then I came across this great article in Salon about The joy of sex writing. I don't write erotica but I don't shy away from sex scenes either, so naturally I was curious. The article is great. It reviews two books of the 'best of 2005' erotica short stories. But other than reviewing erotica, the article also makes many statements about writing:
Of the 47 pieces between the two [collections...] only a few are concerned with presenting sex as a human experience from which pleasure and happiness can bloom. The rest are a compendium of what could be called anti-erotica...
This turns out to be a wise approach, given an unfortunate irony that the best sex, like the happiest families, has a tendency to come off as dull and saccharine on the page. Why? In part, I suspect, it has to do with the nature of writing and reading: They are the least instinctual of activities and therefore less than ideal for expressing our most basic instincts.
And the paragraph that I liked best:

Other, more visceral, art forms, come closer [to sex]. Photography, painting, cinema, hip-hop: These are mediums that, in the right hands, manage to be both carnal and clever without coming off as pat. Writing, though, is inherently cerebral, introspective, neurotic, more professorial than prurient. After all, part of what makes "Lolita" so scandalous after 50 years in print is that it remains a great piece of writing that, to the discomfort of many a blushing intellectual, is genuinely arousing. Generally speaking, writing is not about indulging in one's desires so much as questioning them, over and over, until the onset of vertigo. And so the very hang-ups and insecurities that can ruin a good romp between the sheets are, paradoxically, the very ones that make for excellent writing.

Most of what is said in the above quoted paragraphs applies to all writing, not just erotica. I cannot recall reading a (good) book where everything was happy and fun. I don't think I can write only about joy. In writing we do explore our insecurities, give freedom to our fears, and rely on our idiosyncrasies to create believable characters. We question our own morals and delve into areas of our psyche we probably shouldn't. That's what writing is all about, that's how writing becomes art.

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Benjamin Solah said...

I often find it hard to writer Joy. It is so much easier to write a story where the character is sad, angry, or scared. Even in my romance writing, there is always some sort of insecurity in my character. Otherwise, it'd be kind of boring.

melly said...

I know. Somehow, weird as it is, happiness is boring. And not only that, there's not much to explore. We'd much rather explore our way there than the 'lived happily ever after' part.

Pat Kirby said...

Um, yeah, if there isn't some sort of conflict, it isn't a story.

Happy husband gets up; gets dressed; kisses his wife; goes to a job he loves; comes home to loving family; goes to bed. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Not much of a story there.

For me anyway, joy is defined by misery. So it's rather hard to write joy unless there is some corresponding unhappiness somewhere in the mix.

Sort of of like "good" is defined by "bad," "dark" with "light," etc. word verification was "bligg." I dunno, I just found it amusing.

Melly said...

Bligg you!

Yeah, sure, it makes perfect sense that evil is defined by good etc. Well put!

But it's more than that, it's the exploration of the unknown, of those boundaries you talk about that define one another - don't you think?

Carter said...

That exploration is what makes writing one of the most important art forms. How many times has good vs. evil been explored? Yet there is still so much that hasn't been said. Where is the boundary between good and evil? How do you know when you've crossed it either way? I think the most important thing I can do as a writer is to try to cut through some of that fog and illuminate a small area.

melly said...

Oh, Carter, how wonderfully you have said it. I feel the same way. Thanks.

ME Strauss said...

This was indeed an excellent choice to open this year writing about. It's quite thought provoking and the comments that follow are as well. You must be smiling by now or cringing to think how much the word "joy" has been used. Don't worry I'm smiling, so should you be. :)

In any case, I agree that the conflict is the key and that writing about joy can be a challenge. I find myself describing what I see when I have the feeling and not the feeling itself. That seems to work better. I've done a lot of work on this as you know. :) I've been trying to get better at describing details this year.

melly said...

Thanks Liz :)
I sure am happy with this post.
It's quite alright about joy, it's like I mind it, you know ;)
Quite the contrary I think. Actually, you can often find me laughing for no reason, or is that just a function of being a nut case?

Describing what you see when you feel something and how you see it instead of describing your feelings is actually a really good practice. It's part of the always 'show don't tell' thing. That's awesome. I need to remember that more often.
Thanks for adding this dimension!

Lena said...

I love your writing style. My friend and I were just discussing poetry versus story writing today. The beauty of poetry is that the reader is also a participant because they must decipher the meaning and understanding for themselves. Thus, making it an art. True talent is when you can write fiction or non fiction in an implicit way that involves the reader as poetry does. I think that's what you have. Thanks for sharing!

Great blog design too!

Melly said...

Why thank you, Lena.

(And I do love my new design :)