“[M]ost of the time I’m blocked and unable to write.”
—Rahul Kanakia (x)
Anyone else relieved to hear somebody say this? (Well, to hear a widely published author say this.) Kanakia is a gem.
In preparation for writing a book myself, the plan is to outline each book and figure out what makes me like it so much (and also what doesn’t). To be updated when I feel like it.
Other possible additions:
It’s funny how few of these there are. It’s not that I don’t like novels. There are a lot of novels I like that I just wouldn’t care to emulate. Actually this seems like a fair amount.
Things that didn’t quite make this list because they’re not unified enough, or not quite satisfying enough, for me to think of them as complete, single works:
“[While writing the short story ‘Sea Oak,’] I realized that if you’re writing a good story, it rebels a little bit, and it rebels mostly against your early and too-simplistic version of it. There’s that Einstein thing I always quote, ‘No worthy problem was ever solved on the plane of its original conception.’ The story just locked up until I was willing to stop dictating to it and start listening to it.”
“But what is it, it might be asked, that distinguishes irrealism from these other contemporary genres of literature and art that also ask us to accept the impossibility of their physics? One of the key differences is that, in these other genres, there is an internal consistency to the ‘impossible’ physics of the story; that is, once the reader understands and accepts this alternative physics, he or she can assume that the story and the world it describes will be consistent with it. And, to facilitate this transition, this alternative physics is generally based on some pre-modern physics or the other that is already familiar to the reader, such as the belief in ghosts that Henry James utilized in The Turn of the Screw. Thus the author, as soon as he or she has established this alternative set of physical laws, will remain as faithful to them as the realist author is to contemporary physics. In fact, if this alternative physics stops working in the course of the story the author must explain why this is so (as in certain fairy tales where an explanation would have to be offered if, at some point in the story, the carpet didn’t fly).
“In an irreal story, however, not only is the physics underlying the story impossible, as it is in these other genres, but it is also fundamentally and essentially unpredictable (in that it is not based on any traditional or scientific conception of physics) and unexplained. In a story like ‘Metamorphosis’ there is no physical law, even a fantastic one such as a spell or a curse, which is put forward to explain Gregor Samsa’s transformation. It is simply an absurdity that has happened, an absurdity that places itself between him and his goals in life.”
—“What is irrealism?”, by G.S. Evans (x)
I don’t understand how this genre differs from surrealism or magic realism, but this is a good analysis of it regardless.
Worldbuilding seems to be key here. Irreal, surreal, or magic realist literature refuses to worldbuild in a coherent fashion.
“One will wonder quite reasonably why tigers and not leopards or jaguars? I can only respond that spots displease me and not stripes. If I were to write leopard in place of tiger the reader would immediately intuit that I was lying.”
—Jorge Luis Borges, as translated by Christopher Mulrooney (found here)
I love this but I’m not sure I understand or agree. Surely we all disguise our experiences, at least in fiction, by substituting one specific detail for another. Surely readers can’t read our minds and understand that this particular symbol or emblem is a false one. It seems to me that including true details (like the names of real people we’ve known) serves only a private purpose, a magical purpose.
On an unrelated note, Mulrooney removes Borges’ comma from that last sentence. I wonder why? Perhaps the Spanish original has a flat or abrupt or emphatic tone that’s best captured in English by eliminating the pause.
“What most interests me is surprise, discovering a capacity for something—tenderness, violence, duplicity, hope—within a character that I didn’t expect to find. For me, this is profoundly different and infinitely more compelling than a character who ‘changes.’ I’m not one of these folks who believe that stories are always about change or that there needs to be a Joycean epiphany three-quarters through a short story. In fact, such rigidness smacks a little of hogwash to me. So often the so-called changes in characters feel manufactured, crowbarred into the plot.
“When the ‘change’ feels beautiful and natural and, to invoke the workshop term, ‘earned,’ I think it’s because the character has confirmed what we’ve hoped or suspected all along. Maybe the character hasn’t changed at all, but rather has finally been put in a situation where her truest self can be revealed.”
—Bret Anthony Johnston (x)