From the Gotham CIty Writer’s Workshop to a Fractalized Massacre of Mirrors

So, Happy Holidays, from the bad duck compound.

Earlier this year, I read the “Gotham City Writer’s Workshop’s Guide to Writing Fiction” for school. Not a bad guide, as guides go, and I actually love how different sections are by different writers and no one authorial voice is given the reins to thoroughly tell you what you must do to be like them. Especially for young writers, and beginners, I’d try to avoid any one source that could become an authority beyond the developing author’s own voice. Young writers, especially, ought to be the biggest ego in the room for a while, when they’re writing, I think.

But, they chose “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver as the big source material for their guide to fiction. What a weird story to choose for their guide, right? They tried to focus on “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver.

As a consistent example of how to write fiction in this practical guide, “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver is an odd choice. Carver’s writing, back in his day, was groundbreaking and experimental for doing something beginning writers don’t do – heck, most good fiction doesn’t do it. He was reducing fiction down to its emotional core with subtle use of language, in prose that is so often called “Spare” that it seems the very definition of spare prose.

“Cathedral” is even stranger than most Carver stories, because it seems to go a little farther than the Hemingway roots of the style. “Cathedral” has some similarities with experimental fiction. The narrator is unreliable. The unnamed narrator smokes marijuana, and has an unexplained distaste for blind people. The pace of the story is long and full of the discomfort of two people who don’t really like each other making nice. It’s like a scene from an Indie movie when we’re being forced to watch two bad actors uncomfortably exchanging their lines.

Also, the drawing scene, when the narrator places the blind man’s hand in his and draws a cathedral to explain what a cathedral is, borderlines on the surreal. Is it sublime? Perhaps it is. But, it is, to me, more surreal than sublime, with that post-modern penchant for dissolving forms in frame after frame of artificial symbols and expressions. Minimalism, already, in its time, an experimental form of writing, was taken to the surreal edge of our modern post-modernism.

Why did they choose this story upon which to place the beginning writers of the world?

As it is such an odd story to choose, the rules of writing often don’t quite work. In the plot section, attempts to bring Cathedral into the form falter. “’Cathedral’ is unusual in that it has a long beginning and does provide a lot of exposition at the outset.” (p.81) The author of this chapter also mentions the exceptionally long middle of the story, as well. One would think the classic short story drags. Yet, the section on description does not mention “Cathedral” at all. Other sections have better luck with “Cathedral”. Dialogue is able to quote from it at length, and the character section is also able to pull from it extensively. Since the Minimalist movement was known for characters in sharp relief and lots of pregnant dialogue, the pieces that are present seem to be mere frames, missing places that other sections in the guide require. That’s why the story works as well as it does, and also why it is a poor choice for a writer’s guidebook that tries to cover everything.

When I’m reading writer’s guides, I often look for the edges of those guides, where the lines get fuzzy and rebels will think of every way they can to push and break the boundaries of the guidebook’s claims. What’s most interesting, to me, is that this guidebook chose an untraditional story, like “Cathedral” as their prime and recurring example of fiction form. As an aside to their own lessons, a lesson about experimental fiction resides in between the lines. Though “Cathedral” pushed the boundaries of plot, style, and character interaction, not everything in the story was pushing boundaries. Some things remained the same – dialogue, character, setting – and provided a framework upon which the experimental elements could grow without alienating readers.

Ergo, I have inferred a rule of writing from the corners of the writing guide.

Not a strange or obtuse one, but one that goes unmentioned in the text itself, that I recall: “Experimental fiction still needs to be ‘Fiction’.”

Unless, of course, it is not really fiction, in which case I now wonder where the hidden rule lies within the rules. Hm…

“Experimental fiction could be a disguise for something else entirely.”

Now I have to wonder if the point of fiction is that it is a disguise for something else entirely, and the experimental writers are just more keyed in to that?

Or, perhaps, the mysterious thing that fiction, experimental or otherwise, disguises, and the disguise, are both the point together, because the universe is more beautiful when it has become a fractalized massacre of mirrors.

Anywho, here’s a link to the book in question, for you to make up your own mind on it:

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=httpjmmcdtrip-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=1582343306

Most of you cats around here would get a lot more out of a different writer’s book, entirely, which is required reading for me.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=httpjmmcdtrip-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=1892391902

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One thought on “From the Gotham CIty Writer’s Workshop to a Fractalized Massacre of Mirrors

  1. Interesting post, JM, thanks. I could see why they'd want to use something unconventional, to spice things up and make a point that you don't always have to be conventional. But with beginning writers as an audience, but I'd expect there to be some convention lurking under the surface, waiting to be discovered, like a non-obvious three act structure or interesting character arc. I'm sure I've read "Cathedral," but don't recall the details, even after reading your summary.FWIW, and only half joking, my primary criteria as a reader for any kind of experimental fiction is that it should be *short*. My patience has a hard time otherwise. :-)Dan

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