Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Charles Baxter on "The Nixon-in-China Principle"

I’ve been catching up on some reading, trying to work my way through some of the literary journals that have stacked up, and I came across an excellent interview with Charles Baxter* in the Spring (yes, it’s quite a stack!) 2008 issue of The Missouri Review.

Here are some excerpts:

“Also, I’ve had a lot of interest lately in how to stage a scene. Let’s say you have a character say to another character, ‘I love you.’ It’s a boring line. The real question is—where is that person standing in relation to the other person? Is he looking away? Directly into the eyes of the other person? What is the inflection? Antonya Nelson has this lecture about the truck at the dump. It’s one kind of scene if a guy says to a woman ‘I love you’ on the sofa in his living room. If your character’s in his truck at the dump with his girlfriend and they’re looking out at the dump, and the rats are scurrying across the garbage gatherings and he says to her, ‘I love you,’ that’s a really different scene. For one thing, she can’t get out of the truck. It’s the Nixon-in-China principle. Get your characters into places they never thought they’d be. Suddenly the scenes get a lot more interesting.”

And this:

“Nobody cares, in fiction, what a character thinks until a character acts on those ideas. You can think anything you want to and it won’t matter until your ideas begin to have certain dramatic consequences. I’m always telling my students that if they’ve got a character thinking, and the character isn’t acting on these thoughts, then it doesn’t matter what the ideas are, and it doesn’t matter where they’re appropriated from. What’s interesting for a writer of fiction is what actions follow. You get a certain idea, you kill a landlady if you’re Raskolnikov.”

*On his site, Charles Baxter includes an excerpt from an unpublished novel written in 1977! Brave man….


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.