Re: RARA-AVIS: Writing is Greatly Overrated; It's the story that counts.

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 27 Oct 2007

At 03:11 PM 27/10/2007, you wrote:

>It's not the writing that makes a story or an author
>memorable, it's the story, the novel. Sometimes images
>enhance a work, but if it doesn't tell a story? What good
>is it?

I think you've set up something of a reverse, can't-lose tautology Jack: fancy, bloated, overly-descriptive detail is good writing (it isn't) while strong, concise story telling is bad writing (it isn't.) When you're done, all you're saying is good writing is good writing, and bad is bad. Much as I enjoy a good RA battle, I won't even argue that one off the list.

As for character vs. narrative vs. style, why should we have to choose? Hundreds of thousands of books published every year and I'm supposed to take one or the other? I'm too greedy for that. At $35 a book, I want it all. I want interesting characters revealed in strong narratives with only the essential details beautifully written. And dammit, I'm going to be subjective when I make my decisions, too.

On the flip side, I loved Sallis' Lew Griffin series (as I've said before.) In some interview I think I got to through an address on this list, Sallis said the series had no plot or plots at all. I know that would piss off a number of Rara Avians, but I don't think I believe him anyway. The essence of plot is so basic to how we organize information to make sense of our worlds that I think readers will impose at least a minimal plot if there weren't one, and that writers cannot avoid at least implying one, either consciously or
(sorry Al) unconsciously. This is especially true if the intention in consciously avoiding writing a plot is to point out that life lacks one, or, as some would suggest, that it doesn't matter.

Regardless, in reading Sallis, occasionally in the midst of some of the grimiest, ugliest urban settings I've had described to me in a book, among some of the meanest, most marginal of characters, Griffin as narrator will utter a sentence or two that is so sublimely beautiful I read on hoping to encounter another before the book or I am done.

It's usually an observation about something, a jazz riff, a woman's touch, I dunno, a flower in the concrete, that lifts Griffin above the clutter of his own and others' horrific problems. In the end it's not much more than "stop and smell the roses," or perhaps it's the transcendent quality of art and for the life of me I don't know if that precludes or qualifies the series as noir, but I am just perverse and deluded enough to think that is the conclusion of Sallis' minimalist plot from the get-go, give or take.

Anyway, don't you think he was pretty smart getting us to buy his bloated, 700 page book by dividing it into a bunch of novella-length booklets that lacked plots?

Whatever, Kerry

------------------------------------------------------ The evil men do lives after them

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