[...] Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development. With descriptions that are simply lists of brand-name consumer products. Where stupid people say insipid stuff to each other. If what's always distinguished bad writing—flat characters, a narrative World that's cliched and not recognizably human, etc.—is also a description of today's world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world, If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything. Look man, we'd probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what's human and magical that still live and glow despite the times' darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it'd find a way both to depict this dark world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it. You can defend Psycho as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it's no more than that.
[...] Fiction's about what it is to be a fucking human being. If you operate, which most of us do, from the premise that there are things about the contemporary U.S. that make it distinctively hard to be a real human being, then maybe half of fiction's job is to dramatize what it is that makes it tough. The other half is to dramatize the fact that we still are human beings, now. Or can be. This isn't that it's fiction's duty to edify or teach, or to make us good little Christians or Republicans. I'm not trying to line up behind Tolstoy or Gardner. I just think that fiction that isnt exploring what it means to be human today isn't good art. We've got all this "literary" fiction that simply monotones that we're all becoming less and less human, that presents characters with souls or love, characters who really are exhaustively describable in terms of what brands of stuff they wear, and we all buy the books and go like "Golly, what a mordantly effective commentary on contemporary materialism!" But we already all know U.S. culture is materialistic. This diagnosis can be done in about two lines. It doesn't engage anybody. What's engaging and artistically real, is, taking it as axiomatic that the present is grotesquely materialistic, how is it that we as human beings still have the capacity for joy, charity, genuine connections, for stuff that doesn't have a price? And can these capacities be made to thrive? And if so, how, and if not, why not?
[...] "[...] And strong works of ﬁction are what refuse to give easy answers to the conﬂict, to paint things as black and white, good guys versus bad guys. They’re everything that pop psychology is not."
Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.
What writers have is a license and also the freedom to sit--to sit, clench their fists, and make themselves be excruciatingly aware of the stuff that we're mostly aware of only on a certain level. And that if the writer does his job right, what he basically does is remind the reader of how smart the reader is. Is to wake the reader up to stuff that the reader's been aware of all the time. And it's not a question of the writer having more capacity than the average person. [...] It's that the writer is willing I think to cut off, cut himself off from certain stuff, and develop ... and just, and think real hard. Which not everybody has the luxury to do.
But I gotta tell you, I just think to look across the room and automatically assume that somebody else is less aware than me, or that somehow their interior life is less rich, and complicated, and acutely perceived than mine, makes me not as good a writer. Because that means I'm going to be performing for a faceless audience, instead of trying to have a conversation with a person.
so agree with this
[...] Other people's words are so important. And then without warning they stop being important, along with all those words of yours that their words prompted you to write. Much of the excitement of a new novel lies in the repudiation of the one written before. Other people's words are the bridge you use to cross from where you were to wherever you're going.
[...] the discovery that disciplined fun is more fun than impulsive or hedonistic fun. [...] writing fiction becomes a way to go deep inside yourself an illuminate precisely the stuff you don't want to see or let anyone else see, and this stuff usually turns out (paradoxically) to be precisely the stuff all writers and readers share and respond to, feel. Fiction becomes a weird way to countenance yourself and to tell the truth of instead of being a way to escape yourself or present yourself in a way you figure you will be maximally likable. This process is complicated and confusing and scary, and also hard work, but it turns out to be the best fun there is.
And this is why writing good fiction is almost never easy. The point at which fiction seems to become easy for a writer--and I'll let everyone supply his or her own examples of this--is usually the point at which it's no longer necessary to read that writer. [...] It's a prejudice of mine that literature cannot be a mere performance: that unless the writer is personally at risk--unless the book has been, in some way, for the writer, an adventure into the unknown; unless the writer has set himself or herself a personal problem not easily solved; unless the finished book represents the surmounting of some great resistance--it's not worth reading. Or, for the writer, in my opinion, worth writing.
[...] you don't get any sense of the infinity of choices that were made in the text until you start trying to reproduce them. [...]
his suggestion that students try to imitate a page of text word for word (from memory) to learn how to write like the author, so you can feel your muscles working to achieve the same effect
A good opener, first and foremost, fails to repel. Right? So it's interesting and engaging. It lays out the terms of the argument, and, in my opinion, should also in some way imply the stakes. Right? Not only am I right, but in any piece of writing there's a tertiary argument: why should you spend your time writing this? right? "so here's why the following issue might be important, useful, practical." I would think that if one did it deftly, one could in a one-paragraph opening grab the reader, state the terms of the argument, and state the motivation for the argument. I imagine most good argumentative stuff that I've read, you could boil that down to the opener.
[...] In order for your sentences not to make the reader's eyes glaze over, you can't simply use the same core set of words, particularly important nouns and verbs, over and over again. You have to have synonyms at your fingertips and alternative constructions at your fingertips. And usually, though not in the sense of memorizing vocab words like we were kids, but having a larger vocabulary is usually the best way to do that. The best. having a good vocabulary ups the chances that we're going to be able to know the right word, even if that's the plainest word that will do and to achieve some kind of elegant variation, which I am kind of a fiend for.