Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Holden Caulfield Leads the Way

On Monday, Anne Rice suggested we "go where the pain is," in our writing.

Are you like me? Did you lift your head from your nail-painting/paper-clip-sorting/whatever-it-is-you-do-in-a YouTube-watching-moment and ask:

 "What pain?" I know, for some of you the pain is big and immediate and sits right there on top, and you may or may not be ready to write about it yet.

But others of us may have submerged a few things, so we can get through the day. But what if now, for the sake of writing in a voice that's yours alone, you want to dig them up? Where do you look?
 
I have some thoughts. 

I recently read Catcher In the Rye, because I wanted to watch Salinger, the film Bonnie talked about a few weeks back. It just seemed right to read his book before I watched the film.

It's a good book, and very subtle, and strangely transparent in it's subtleties. Salinger was a master at telling it slant. The plot takes form between the lines. The main character, Holden Caulfield, repeats certain phrases like nervous ticks, and each time he says them, each instance, is like a little signpost. The signs may not be in a language you understand, not at first.

But soon enough you get that they mean something, and you start to pay attention, and they start to tell you what you need to know about Holden Caulfield. 

Phrases like, "I can't stand it," "I hate it," "Boy, do I hate it." 

Phrases like, "If you want to know the truth," "It really does," "I really do." 

Here's how this connects to finding your pain:

Next time you sit down to write, play with those phrases. Start with "I can't stand it when..." and finish the sentence as many times and as many ways as you like.

Play with the others. What is it you hate, boy do you hate? Your reader does want to know the truth. What comes before "I really do," or "It really does," for you? 

Make up a good character, and let your answers shape him.

Then, read the following paragraph: 

"I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around--nobody big, I mean--except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff--I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy."

Now ask your character what he sees, what she would really like to be, crazy or not. 

Oh, and one last thing, for no other reason than I want you to notice: Read the last paragraph of Catcher In the Rye, and ask yourself:

What's it means to miss someone?

8 comments:

Megan Sayer said...

Wow, that made me read twice...I pulled out Catcher In The Rye just yesterday to read again, and I was writing about it this morning in a course I'm doing at the moment! Still one of my favourite books from early adulthood, along with The Great Gatsby. Wow.
That passage with the kids running over the cliff came up in conversation the other day too, completely randomly. Must be a Catcher In The Rye kind of fortnight. Thanks for reminding me about the Salinger movie, I'll have to watch that.
As for mining for pain? Yeh. Rather pull out my toenails with kitchen tongs. And I'm a writer, and I do it, all the time. Walking dichotomy, right?

Patti Hill said...

Oh, Katy, you've done it again! This really made me think. I plan on filling a journal page with your ideas today. It will be my pain bank. Much better than pulling out my toenails, but I can see that happening, too. For my WIP, I ate sand.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

This is so moving, Katy. Thank you. I think it's especially poignant when I remember that half of this novel was in Salinger's back pack as he experienced D-Day...right there in the thick of the fighting. Talk about pain. And his latter books, too. Franny and Zooey (one of my favorites) and Nine Stories. Oh goodness gracious. I need to pull Salinger out again.

And it seems I can't write a novel without writing "to the pain". For me, it redeems parts of my past.

Kathleen Popa said...

Megan, I know. Yes, I'd rather pull out my toenails, too. But you have seen what gets birthed after the pain. Isn't it beautiful?

Patti, your writing is worth eating any amount of sand. I say from the safe distance of one of your fans.

Susie, yes! I was really moved that he wrote this book on the battlefield. Franny and Zooey was one of my big special books when I was in high school. Must read it again.

And yes. It redeems the past. Literally. It's not the experience that hurts, but how we experience it. Writing is your chance to re-write the past, with greater wisdom, greater faith, a more balanced view of what really happened.

Kathleen Popa said...

Megan, I know. Yes, I'd rather pull out my toenails, too. But you have seen what gets birthed after the pain. Isn't it beautiful?

Patti, your writing is worth eating any amount of sand. I say from the safe distance of one of your fans.

Susie, yes! I was really moved that he wrote this book on the battlefield. Franny and Zooey was one of my big special books when I was in high school. Must read it again.

And yes. It redeems the past. Literally. It's not the experience that hurts, but how we experience it. Writing is your chance to re-write the past, with greater wisdom, greater faith, a more balanced view of what really happened.

mott342 said...

Excellent post, and a terrific nudge. Thank you.

Josey Bozzo said...

I'm glad to see that I am not the only one who writes from the pain. Most of the ideas I have for stories come from something that was painful for me either past or present.
There is a part of me that actually looks forward to the time when I am no longer afraid to write so I can use these things somehow. I think because I've never really had an outlet for the pain I've experienced. Writing just seems like the natural place for me because it's almost as if the verbal words won't come forward.
Funny huh? I can write about pain, but speak it out loud....no way.

Kathleen Popa said...

Mott, good to see you here. Thanks for commenting.

Josey, no you're not the only one, and there's nothing at all uncommon about being able to write about a thing - especially in fiction (ask Salinger) but not speak about it. I'm pretty sure that's why we invented journals.