Your Sad And Even Horrifying Childhood – Show, Don’t tell


Some context. Many of the affectations of the failed novelist have their basis in the stereotypes that form the myth of the tortured artist, but the failed novelist portrays these as weaknesses, when to the successful literary poseur, they are in fact strengths. You’ve probably been posing as a novelist all along, but the wrong kind. Let’s fix that starting right now.

It’s not something you like to talk about, your sad and even horrifying childhood. But it is who you are, after all, and as such, must be admitted to from time to time, preferably when there is a slightly looped and large breasted female nearby. Key point: Hacks write unpublishable stories about their unhappy youth. You must exploit yours tactfully, like a runaway Girl Scout met outside the bus station. You haven’t always wanted to be a writer; you’ve always known you were one. Life weighed heavy on your shoulders from about age 2 when you witnessed or personally suffered some unspeakable act. It’s of no importance what this dark event actually was. It may be alluded to but must never be described for the simple reason that your audience (looped and large breasted female above) has, being human, also experienced most or all or worse than you have. The only chance you’ve got is implying that something too horrible to describe has made you the tortured yet resilient type who can weave masterful fictions, fictions which you have some sort of sublime cosmic connection to.

And this is a good spot to address the current popular confusion regarding the differences between memoir and fiction. Memoir was once the domain of interesting individuals who, having lived an interesting life, having perhaps led rebellions or accomplished similar great feats, went about recording said life, usually upon the request of a real publisher based on the fact that there was some real demand for the resulting book. When we think memoir, we should think T. E. Lawrence or Nabokov, people who led interesting relevant lives and actually knew a few languages and could actually write. But contemporary memoir has now become the preferred medium of nobodies and rehab whores. These types have been embraced by the public who have learned from television and tabloids that what’s really fascinating and important is the telling of the trials and tribulations of ordinary white-trash wannabes, each more outrageous than the last. This is combined with the belief that the “true story” has more value, and the bitter disappointment when the public discovers that all the best parts have been “made up.”

If you want to pose as a novelist, eschew the habits and vanities of the latter-day wannabe memoirist. Nobody wants to know about you, they want to know the other you, the distant, tortured, angry, probably drunk but also sensitive, creative, slightly dangerous novelist you. Maybe you'll finish that book someday. But not right now. tbc


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