Friday, March 26, 2010

Not writing, typing...

"...truth, in writing, is the only important thing. That's what it's for. The whole time, every day, all these pages, all my life, means sitting there looking for something -- some line, some insight, some microsecond -- that makes me think: yes. Yes, that's true. That's real. I recognize that. I know it. That's all I'm after! It might be a truth discovered ten million times before by other people, but that doesn't matter. If you discover it for yourself, then that makes everything worthwhile. No wonder writing is such hard work! You're strip mining your own head, every day, searching for this stuff -- and then those moments of revelation are like a godsend.

I remember thinking, and thinking, and thinking, about Vince, in Queer as Folk, until I arrived at that crucial conclusion about him, in Episode 8, that because his boyfriend loves him he thinks less of the boyfriend. Vince cannot love Cameron because Cameron is stupid to love Vince. That's a great insight. Frankly, that's brilliant! It's devastating. And it's not merely analysis. It decides Vince's character, which then decides the plot, which then decides the entire climax of the series. The discovery of a truth like that doesn't come along very often, though every other moment is spent working toward it.

It's so worth it, when it happens. Oh my word. Gold dust."

-- Russell T Davies, The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter, p. 692.


"If you want a Doctor Who's there in the moment in "Aliens in London" -- that moment when Jackie calls the police to report the Doctor. I love the truth of that moment, that she's so shell-shocked she betrays the Doctor. An incredible thing to do, and very real. It's there in the whole 45 minutes of "Midnight," in the accuracy of that group mentality. It's there in that tiny moment in "Turn Left," when Donna tells Sylvia she's tried the Army for jobs, but with no luck -- because this is after she's seen the Army take her neighbors away to a concentration camp. Donna might well rage in the street, and yet she asks the same Army for employment. I really believe that. A true moment of defeat."


"...(she) then turned to hoist herself onto a bar stool, showing off a pair of haunches a man would be proud to have the tattooing of."

--Andy Dalziel in Reginald Hill's The Price of Butcher's Meat, p. 51.


Generic said...

Does kind of make you wonder if Davies has ever seen "Annie Hall"...

Christian Lindke said...

Of course Davies' "truth" regarding Cameron didn't have to be insightful. Why? Because it creates conflict, internally and externally. Conflict is the heart of drama, as irony is the heart of comedy.

Generic said...

Puzzled by the scare quotes. I assume Davies means true to the given character and to human nature. Haven't seen the show and therefor don't know the character, but on the second point I'm with him (and Groucho and Woody).

If you're suggesting that as a professional storyteller Davies tends to overrate observations that help him to do his job more entertainingly, you could be right. He seems to regard the life of the storyteller almost as a Way, as an intellectual activity that can bring people to the truth. Which may be overselling it a bit. Not a lot, just a bit.

Tulkinghorn said...

I'd use scare quotes myself, since the insight is fairly banal, however true.

This is wonderful, though: Davies gets genuinely excited when an obvious insight makes everything hang together. He thinks that its the power of the idea when we know that its the power of the craft that ties it all up.

I am reminded here (no kidding) of the first scene of "Prospero's Books" when a naked Shakespeare in his bath finds the first word of "The Tempest" and shouts it out in ecstasy.

I notice that you're on page 692 of this book. Is there a lot left?

Generic said...

That is, in fact, the penultimate page.

There is perhaps, at times, a thin line between the banal and the universal. And if that insight now seems banal to you, good on ya.

Generic said...

Then too: ""We can walk only on our own legs and sit only on our own bum." So sod off, the pair of you.

Christian Lindke said...

Anyone who creates sits on the shoulders of giants. We may only walk on our own legs, but we do so with crutches manufactured over generations. We may only sit on our own bum, but we sit on a chair comprised of the work of those who preceded us.

Mystery fiction without Poe or Collins would not and could not be what it is.

Fantasy fiction without Morris, Horace, Homer, Tolkien, and Howard would be a far cry from enjoyable and would mournfully lack Moorcock.

Science Fiction without Wells, Huxley, Asimov, Van Vogt, Moore, Bradbury and Brackett would be a genre without Davies or Scalzi and would be worse for the loss.

Generic said...

I'm not sure who you're arguing with, here. It can be a wonderful feeling, coming upon even a familiar idea by a pathway of your own, and Davies has described it rather well.

Christian Lindke said...

If the excerpts you posted are the highlights of the depth of artistic insight that Davies offers in 693 pages, he leaves a lot to be desired as a thinker. He is a good practitioner of the craft of writing, but these insights demonstrate that he may not understand why he is proficient at what he does for a living.

In many ways Davies is like Wordsworth in this regard, rather than like Coleridge. Saying that "truth" in writing is the only important thing is something akin to what Wordsworth would say, and Wordsworth said many annoying and banal things about writing. He also wrote some brilliant poetry, and seemed to do so almost effortlessly. Coleridge, on the other hand, wrote deep and challenging things about writing rooted in an understanding of philosophy and presented his experience as a writer as a struggle. There was no new age "Writer's Way" feeling to Coleridge's writings about life and writing, there was a kind of brutal honesty about process and beauty.

For some, The Writer's Way is deep. Others prefer terms like "core tension" underlying the character to the more wishy washy "a truth like that."

Generic said...

I have to say, bringing Wordsworth and Coleridge to bear on the writer of "Dr. Who" feels like overkill. I doubt Davies' thinks he's even operating in the same creative universe. He certainly doesn't claim to be.