Saturday, October 27, 2007


I've been thinking about writing a lot lately, what with National Novel Writing Month coming up and all. I'm only writing a short story, but for me that counts as a challenge. The thing is, my story (so far) doesn't really have a plot. And despite how many times Melanie's explained to me what constitutes "plot", and shown me examples of both the clunky and the sublime, I'm not sure I'll ever manage to work one into this story.

One of my favorite novels is Never Let Me Go. The plot consists of the main characters passing up every single plot point opportunity and, instead of changing events, just letting them happen. I simply adore that. I won't tell you what Melanie thought.

Anyway, I think my story is a lot like that. But that's just an aside -- the real point of this entry is that, in thinking about writing, I fell asleep last night wondering how the form of the novel will change because of the Internet. Because information these days is so modular: you click a link and choose your own adventure. By contrast, novels are hopelessly linear.

At work I write onscreen help (bias alert!). I love how help is organized into topics that can be read either in a linear way (by going through the table of contents) or a "loosely associated" way (by following links) or in a "this is what I'm interested in" way (by clicking the topics you want to read.) Onscreen help is sort of Dada.

An old boyfriend of mine worked as a copier clerk at a law firm. For a few weeks, he was responsible for copying confidential papers about a case involving the improper disposal of bodies at a funeral home. It was grisly and fascinating and he smuggled copies home for us to read. The papers, coming from different sources at different times, were a jumble to begin with. Even more so after he jammed them in his backpack to sneak them out.

We spread papers out on our bed to sort through pieces of the puzzle. At certain points, there were character closeups -- a cremator whose mother had died and who cried because the funeral directors didn't send him flowers. Other papers discussed procedural overviews -- how the cremator had systematically stolen rings and fillings from bodies. The effect was that the story took surprising twists and turns. Dada at its best.

Recently, Melanie's husband Vikram told me about a book he was reading, The History of the Novel. He said most novels are about a person; they are stories of personal change. (I'm paraphrasing heavily, making it sound simplistic. And this is probably old news to everyone else.) Anyway, last night I thought about how you get to know people in real life. How you learn their stories.

You don't get to know someone in a linear fashion. You build impressions, gather images, ask questions, see that person in different situations. Like the court case my boyfriend and I spied on. Like onscreen help you click to learn how to set up an equation in Excel. Like Dada.

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