neil and ornette and me

I saw a couple of interesting things in the New York Times yesterday.

One was an interview with Neil Gaiman. I want to quote one question and answer here:

Q. Do you have a different approach for different kinds of work?

A. I have no idea of what parts of my brain I use to do what I do. Mostly, the creative process is really, really fast. And when it happens, I have a pretty good idea of what something is. I am much more like somebody driving in the dark. My headlights will illuminate a little bit ahead of me, and I know where I’m going. I’m not just driving randomly. I know if I keep down this road, I will get to New York. But what happens on the way, I will find out.

 
The other was an article about a tribute to Ornette Coleman. I’ll quote a little more of this one:

The evening’s honoree on Thursday at the Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn was Ornette Coleman, and the first to pay respects was Sonny Rollins, wearing a stylish black raincoat.

“I’m going to say something that Ornette already said to me: It’s all good,” Mr. Rollins declared. “Don’t worry about anything. We might not see it right now, but it’s all good.”

Mr. Coleman appeared next, in a purple silk suit, walking slowly, with assistance, and wiping tears. Borough President Eric Adams of Brooklyn read an official proclamation, and Mr. Coleman followed with his own.

“There’s nothing else but life,” he said. “We can’t be against each other. We have to help each other. It’ll turn out like you will never forget it.”

You’ll get to New York in the end. Don’t worry about anything. It’ll turn out like you will never forget it.

What a great attitude for approaching creating art — or anything else, for that matter.

 
On an entirely different note, I saw this Blog Hop post over at Laura Stanfill’s blog.

When I see these lists of questions, I always think about whether it would be fun to answer them myself (even if I’m not tagged).

But this one stumped me. The first question was: “What is the name of your character?”

Your character? You only get one? One novel = one character?

That is an assumption in some genres, I guess, that a novel is the story of one character’s journey — but that is certainly not a requirement of the form.

To me, that would feel incredibly narrow and restrictive. In fact, though this was not a conscious plan, each of my recent stories started out with one character, in third person limited, and I ended up with a final chapter where that character didn’t even appear.

In one case I circled back to add on a coda with the original character, and in the other I inserted one additional scene (though I really did that for a different reason).

 
Let the story go where it will. Follow what’s interesting. You’ll get to New York eventually, and it’ll turn out like you will never forget it.

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2 Responses to neil and ornette and me

  1. Maggie says:

    Those are good quotes for writing and life. “We can’t be against each other. We have to help each other.” I was just thinking about that. To me, the reason we exist is to help each other get through life.

    I agree about one novel not necessarily being the journey of one character. When I write, I don’t like to stay in just one character’s head. I usually go back and forth between two characters.

    • I remember reading a blog post once, a while ago, by someone who was writing a story like that — about two characters, told alternately — and the blogger (I have no idea at this point who it was) was struggling to figure out which of the two characters was The Protagonist. I tried to argue that this story might not work that way, but apparently some people are trained to think that every story has to have A Protagonist. To me it seemed like a way to make your writing life a lot more difficult than it needs to be.

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