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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