Interesting Difference

When I interviewed Yann Martel several years ago he pointed out that it was his book Life of Pi that became famous, not he. Unlike an actor, Martel could easily walk the streets of his native Toronto without being recognized. This is probably a best-case scenario for the average writer, most of whom happily practice their craft in an alive solitude with only their imagination for company. We love other people, our readers most definitely included, but they are very distracting and they sometimes make a lot of noise.

I say this as someone who, once he’s done writing, loves to find other people and talk to them. Now these other people are no longer a distraction – they are an inspiration. It is easy to become so familiar with your own work that you forget why it was ever so interesting to you. Fortunately, no two people are ever interested in the same thing for exactly the same reason. Because stories are brought to life in the alive solitude of the reader’s imagination, every reader I meet seems have a read a slightly different book than the one I wrote. The difference between the book I wrote and the book they read can bring that story to life for me again.

I thought about this difference when I watched the movie version of Life of Pi. I’d taken my youngest son to see it, and at one point in the middle of the film he began to cry. I glanced down at him to make sure it was crying that I was hearing, since I was watching the same movie he was, and I was not even in the vicinity of tears. He was most certainly crying. I returned my attention to the screen, where a zebra was struggling to climb onto Pi’s lifeboat. It was then I remembered my son’s feelings about animals. I loved animals too, but I knew he identified with them in a way I did not.

During our conversation, Martel said one reader he met told him the tiger sharing the lifeboat with Pi clearly represented marriage. Martel thought the tiger represented God, but he wasn’t about to disagree with her. Ideally, I would never disagree with anyone, even when someone doesn’t like what I’ve written. To do so would be to ignore the inspiring difference between us, a constant reminder that everyone has something new to offer – including me.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

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Real Tigers

For a writer, there is necessary ambiguity, and unnecessary ambiguity. The best stories I read are the ones finished inside me after what the writer calls The End. In this way, the writer is pointing me toward what he wishes to share, and allowing me to find it in my own thoughts and feelings, thereby making it my own.

But this way of sharing a story comes with unavoidable ambiguity. What will the reader take away? Yann Martel told me how once a reader was eager to thank him for Life of Pi. “It’s just so perfect,” she told him. “The tiger is obviously a marriage.”

“It is?” he asked.

“Of course. I’m married and that tiger is a marriage.”

So it was for her. It is almost frightening for an author to learn how varied your readers’ responses can be. A thousand people will read a thousand different stories all with the same title. And yet we pour our attention onto the page so that we may say precisely what we mean. Why bother?

Because of the alternative. Do not be distracted by all this interpretation. Do not be seduced by the witchcraft of meaninglessness: “Life is ambiguous; so too shall be my endings. Who am I to say what is real and what is not?”

You are the author. Pick what you know to be valuable and write it. Know what you know and do not be afraid it, nor that other people will not understand it, nor that they will find something valuable in your work that you did not first see. It is your intention that lights their imagination. It is your desire to share something meaningful and remind readers where the value of life dwells that allows them turn tigers inter marriages.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

Real Tigers

For a writer, there is necessary ambiguity, and unnecessary ambiguity. The best stories I read are the ones finished inside me after what the writer calls The End. In this way, the writer is pointing me toward what he wishes to share, and allowing me to find it in my own thoughts and feelings, thereby making it my own.

But this way of sharing a story comes with unavoidable ambiguity. What will the reader take away? Yann Martel told me how once a reader was eager to thank him for Life of Pi. “It’s just so perfect,” she told him. “The tiger is obviously a marriage.”

“It is?” he asked.

“Of course. I’m married and that tiger is a marriage.”

So it was for her. It is almost frightening as an author how varied your readers’ responses can be. A thousand people will read a thousand different stories all with the same title. And yet we pour our attention onto the page so that we may say precisely what we mean. Why bother?

Because of the alternative. Do not be distracted by all this interpretation. Do not be seduced by the witchcraft of meaninglessness: “Life is ambiguous; so too shall be my endings. Who am I to say what is real and what is not?”

You are the author. Pick what you know to be valuable and write it. Know what you know and do not be afraid it, nor that other people will not understand it, nor that they will find something valuable in your work that you did not first see. It is your intention that lights their imagination. It is your desire to share something meaningful and remind readers where the value of life dwells that allows them to turn tigers inter marriages.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

The Never Ending Story

Yann Martel makes the point in his interview that without what he calls “stories or gods” people become lost. As he says, neither religion nor stories serve any rational purpose, yet there they are, everywhere, and without them, he believes, we are untethered.

I tend to agree, although I would say that stories, a concept that encompasses the religious narrative by which so many live, are not only rational but unavoidable. Though I’m quibbling a little. His point is that rationally we must hunt the wooly mammoth to feed and clothe ourselves – those are the empirically necessary action steps of survival.  Everything else, cave paintings and grunt-filled stories around the campfire, are just a little icing to make the time between hunting, eating, making babies and dying a little more pleasant.

Except all stories, from cave paintings to Ulysses are simply concretizing what is going on within ourselves all the time. We cannot stop telling ourselves stories – they are, as Martel points out, the engines or our lives. The stories we tell ourselves, from, “My wife loves and supports me,” to, “The government is dysfunctional and corrupt,” color every moment of our lives. We wear our stories like glasses through which we see the world.

This is why the stories we tell each other, at the dinner table and in books, are in fact rationally, if I must use the wretched word, necessary. In our stories we are in effect offering one another alternative realities. I might have a story in my head that goes, “The world is unjust and rewards the cruel and squashes the meek.” Perhaps then I read a story about a man’s world crumbling under the weight of his own cruelty and a kind person thriving through generosity. If the story is compelling, perhaps I will tell myself a different story, and if so, my life has changed.

It is that profound. Our lives are nothing but stories we are telling ourselves. I implore you tell the best stories you can, to yourselves, to your friends, and to the strangers who pull your book from a shelf. Actions may speak louder than words, but every action has had a story told about it in words, and it is that story we carry with us long after the action has been subsumed irrevocably into the past.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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The Never Ending Story

Yann Martel makes the point in his interview that without what he calls “stories or gods” people become lost. As he says, neither religion nor stories serve any rational purpose, yet there they are, everywhere, and without them, he believes, we are untethered.

I tend to agree, although I would say that stories, a concept that encompasses the religious narrative by which so many live, are not only rational but unavoidable. Though I’m quibbling a little. His point is that rationally we must hunt the wooly mammoth to feed and clothe ourselves – those are the empirically necessary action steps of survival.  Everything else, cave paintings and grunt-filled stories around the campfire, are just a little icing to make the time between hunting, eating, making babies and dying a little more pleasant.

Except all stories, from cave paintings to Ulysses, are simply concretizing what is going on within ourselves all the time. We cannot stop telling ourselves stories – they are, as Martel points out, the engines or our lives. The stories we tell ourselves, from, “My wife loves and supports me,” to, “The government is dysfunctional and corrupt,” color every moment of our lives. We wear our stories like glasses through which we see the world.

This is why the stories we tell each other, at the dinner table and in books, are in fact rationally, if I must use the wretched word, necessary. In our stories we are in effect offering one another alternative realities. I might have a story in my head that goes, “The world is unjust and rewards the cruel and squashes the meek.” Perhaps then I read a story about a man’s world crumbling under the weight of his cruelty and a kind person thriving through generosity. If the story is compelling, perhaps I will tell myself a different story, and if so, my life has changed.

It is that profound. Our lives are nothing but stories we are telling ourselves. I implore you tell the best stories you can, to yourselves, to your friends, and to the strangers who pull your book from a shelf. Actions may speak louder than words, but every action has had a story told about it in words, and it is that story we carry with us long after the action has been subsumed irrevocably into the past.

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The Authentic Journey

In a few weeks I’ll be interviewing Yann Martel, who burst onto the literary scene in 2002 with The Life of Pi. In preparation, I’m currently reading his latest, Beatrice and Virgil, and quite enjoying it.

However, it is an odd book, and it took me a day to figure out why.  Most stories follow a basic pattern: the central conflict is established in the first third—if not the first page—and the rest of the story is spent resolving that conflict one way or another. So as early as possible a writer will reveal that John loves Jane but Jane is engaged to pigheaded Paul, that a killer is loose in a kindergarten, that Emily cannot let go of the guilt she feels for her broken marriage.

Not so in Beatrice and Virgil. I am halfway in and I really couldn’t tell you what the central conflict is. But I like it, and I like it quite a bit. Why? Because something is going on, and it feels like something important. I’ll have to wait until the end to see if Mr. Martel delivers, but in the meantime I’m enjoying the ride.

All of which is a long way of reminding me that formulas are swell and exist for a reason, but we must not be afraid of veering from them. I suppose it is easier to veer from the conventional narrative arc when you’re last book sat on the NYT bestseller list for 57 weeks, but then again, perhaps not. Beatrice and Virgil begins with a portrait of a writer whose last book was a smash success, involved animals (Life of Pi saw its protagonist stranded on a raft with a tiger, among other animals), and whose latest effort is unconventional and is rejected by his publisher. I will not put thoughts into Mr. Martel’s head, but clearly he understood that nothing is guaranteed.

In the end, every story has its own idea of what it must be. A writer’s job is to follow that idea along its most natural route. The worst thing you can do is to decide ahead of time what that route must be—to think, I must write something post modern and clever, or I must have at least three women between the ages of 35 and 50 appear by page 100. Most readers, most editors, most agents, despite what they might claim they require in a story, actually just want a story that feels authentic. This is great news. We don’t have to figure out what an authentic story is, we need only listen faithfully to the story delivered to us and we will be guided toward an authentic journey.

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