I hope this new year finds you well, with a pocketful of hope and optimism about what could be.
I hadn’t read any Clarice Lispector before The Hour of the Star. Concerned with life and death and the luxury of time, published the same year that Lispector died, it seems like a good book to begin a new year.
In any case, the future looked brighter. The future, at least, had the advantage of not being the present, and the worse can always take a turn for the better.
Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star.
This happens to be the second book in a row I’ve read where the narrator actively addresses the audience. And, in truth, it’s not my favorite mode of narration. (I am such an introvert who loves to eavesdrop, in life, in literature.) But I can see the appeal of the narrator as confidant (though in this case, certainly not confident) and I’m glad that I assigned it to us, as I might not have read it otherwise and I think there’s a lot to learn from it.
On the one hand, it is about a unfortunate girl, yes, but it’s also a meta novel (novella? novelette?) about the writing process itself. Rodrigo S.M., our narrator, is having a time of it. He spends the first few pages stalling, telling us (in great detail) about the story he is going to write, needs to write, is afraid of writing.
So long as I have questions to which there are no answers, I shall go on writing.
Yes! Commit to that writing, Rodrigo. But then in the very next sentence—
How does one start at the beginning, if things happen before they actually happen?
Ah, yes. Well. We’ve been there, haven’t we? The juxtaposition between our declarations (I will write today!) against the actual writing (just exactly what am I to say? And how? And where to start?) is the first of Rodrigo’s many conflicts.
He muses on the “write what you know” problem.
I know about certain things simply by living. Anyone who lives, knows, even without knowing that he or she knows. So, dear readers, you know more than you imagine, however much you may deny it.
He also weighs in on the “planner” vs “pantser” conundrum:
I ask myself if I should jump ahead in time and sketch out an ending immediately. As it happens, I have no idea how this story will end.
Rodrigo, it turns out, is not so great with making decisions—about his plot, his characters, the title. We have thirteen possible ones. You can take your pick.
Finally, after 25 pages of telling us about his writing issues, he begins telling us about his character.
She was as light-headed as an idiot, only she was no idiot. She wasn’t even aware she was unhappy. The one thing she had was faith. In what? In you?
And so we proceed with him as he irons out the complexities (if one could call them that) of his character.
There is a lot of dry humor to his writing struggles, as though Lispector is winking at us before she systematically begins breaking all the rules we’ve been taught about what writing should do and be.
The main character doesn’t get a name until halfway through.
The roommates are all named Maria: Maria da Penha, Maria Aparecida, Maria José, and plain Maria.
The dialogue is awkward at times, revealing little about the characters, and not concerned with moving the plot forward.
The text itself alerts you to what it deems important with each (bang).
It’s primary mode is telling. There is only one scene that feels fully formed, near the end, when Macabéa visits Madame Carlota, the clairvoyant.
Rodrigo doesn’t seem concerned about contracting himself, leaving the most interesting threads unexamined (Macabéa’s love interest has murdered someone), eventually gets bored of writing the story, and then gives us the sudden and speedy plot twist in the form of a yellow Mercedes to wrap it all up.
He becomes jealous of the characters at one point asking:
But what about me? Here I am telling a story about events that have never happened to me or anyone known to me…
The story is less about Macabéa and more about the anxiety of the writer. He asks:
Is this how one should write?
Was the ending of my story as grand as you had expected?
Have you ever attempted a meta story or essay? Write your own tale in which the narrator becomes an intrusive part of the action. How might the narrator become the framework for a piece? What kind of commentary could they offer?
Consider the future. How much do you want to know? Send your character to a clairvoyant. Let their fortune cookie be extra specific to their lives. Let them learn about a prophecy. How does this knowledge color the way they move about the world?
Revision. Sometimes we don’t always make the best, most interesting choices for our characters and we have to reconsider the possibilities in revision. Find a spot where your character chooses inaction, or where the action is predictable. Brainstorm 5-10 other possibilities. What else could they do? Say? What would really complicate things? Set something on fire if you need to. Have their car break down. If you are writing non-fiction, let it be a hypothetical. How might the possibility of other roads give texture to the one you took?
Yesterday, I test drove a few pomodoro apps. It remains one of the best ways for me to focus. I had been using my timer on my ipad, but I wanted something that would also track my tomatoes. Perhaps one of these would be useful for you. MinimaList: bare bones timer, tracker, and list maker. Pro: If you pick up your phone or ipad, it reminds you to put it down. Flow: 4 tomatoes = one session. If you pause a session, it resets and doesn’t count. If you don’t start the next session after the short break, it resets. For folks more disciplined than me. Pro: If you spring for the upgrade, you can block websites (my original interest.) There’s also a version for macs. I wound up liking Tide the best as it has spa music included with its timer. And the tracking function was more pleasing to my eyeballs. (It also has meditation and sleep trackers.)
If you, like Rodrigo, are having trouble naming your masterpiece, Courtney Maum has some advice.
It seems like a boatload of places just opened for submissions. A few: Split Lip Press is open for short story collections / flash manuscripts. Reckon Review is open to prose and book reviews. Nashville Review is open all of January. Room is seeking work on the theme of “audacity” through Jan. 15. South Carolina Review also closes on Jan. 15.
Okay, scribblers. That’s it for now. Let’s grab a hold of that New Year energy while it’s still fresh out of the package. Pencils up~