Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Three Things: Bret Easton Ellis Reading, Plot & Structure, Silence & Writing

I picked up this link off Facebook; it’s a great, basic explanation of structure for novels and stories:


“I. The Central Conflict

Every story is a battle.

(P)________must have (G)_______

(A)________must have (G)_______

The story is launched when the protagonist pushes to achieve her goal.
The story is shaped when the antagonist pushes to achieve his goal.
The back-and-forth cause-and-effect pushing and blocking of goals is the fuel for the story.
For the story to have a tight structure and focused central conflict, the actions of both the protagonist and antagonist must directly block their opponents’ pursuit of their goals.”


Another pick-up from Facebook (I promise I’ve been working, honest!): this excellent article in The New Republic about the need for silence while writing, not sound-wise, but time-wise:

“Writing, before it is anything else, is a way of clarifying one’s thoughts. This is obviously true of forms such as the diary, which are inherently solitary. But even those of us who write for publication can conclude, once we have clarified certain thoughts, that these thoughts are not especially valuable, or are not entirely convincing, or perhaps are simply not thoughts we want to share with others, at least not now. For many of us who love the act of writing—even when we are writing against a deadline with an editor waiting for the copy—there is something monastic about the process, a confrontation with one’s thoughts that has a value apart from the proximity or even perhaps the desirability of any other reader.”


I went to the Bret Easton Ellis reading on Monday night and am glad I did. Packed house, and after a horrifying introduction (the woman started out by bragging about how her women’s studies class included Ellis’s name on a list of “people who should be removed from the culture”…it got better, and I’m sure I’m just too old and not hipster enough to “get it” but I thought the intro was off-putting and tacky). Ellis read a very short section from Imperial Bedrooms and took questions from an audience who was quite knowledgeable about his work.

A few interesting points (paraphrased; I didn’t take notes):

--American Pscyho came from Ellis’s own feelings of alienation and isolation and disappointment in the world. He called it (and the others) a “personal book.”

--He doesn’t show his work to anyone—anyone!—before sending it his agent. He noted that his editor was the main person who made suggestions/comments on the work. I was shocked. I can’t imagine what it would be like not to have early readers to bounce ideas off and to see what is/isn’t working (thank you, writing group!).

--Major influences: Hemingway, Didion, Carver.

--He doesn’t wear the designer clothes that his characters wear (I knew you were wondering).

There was a tremendous line for signing, and even so, Ellis personalized books and took a moment to chat, so lots of points for being gracious. And something must have worked, because I came home and read the book immediately.

Even so, after finishing it, I’m not sure what to say. It was both tedious (passive people who don’t communicate can be frustrating!) and yet compelling (short, quickly paced, with deep paranoia and a definite narrative pull). The female characters were shallow and ludicrously undeveloped (but, I guess, so were the male characters). The violence was horrific. The ending was wretched and hopeless and upsetting (though not surprising). Noir to the nth power. And yet: something about this dark, disturbing book is sticking with me. Is our culture really as bad as this? I hope not…but I’m not convinced that Clay’s heart of darkness comes from thin air.

More about Imperial Bedrooms—including an excerpt—here.


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