Friday, September 17, 2010

Anthony Doerr on Writing and Seeing

Upon the occasion of watching a cardinal announce the selection of a new Pope in Rome.

"Every story seeks, in Emerson's words, the 'invisible and imponderable,' Faith, loss, emotional contact. But to get there, oddly enough, the storyteller must use the visible, the physical, the eminently tangible; the reader first and foremost must be convinced. And details - the right details in the right places - are what do the convincing. The ringing mouth of a 9-ton bell, green with verdigris, shows itself, then sweeps away again. A gilded carpet unfurls from a balcony. Two three-story curtains ripple, then part. A man steps into the light.

"The glory of architecture, the puffing chimney, the starched white robe - these details are carefully chosen, they are there to reinforce majesty, divinity, to assure us that what is said to be happening actually is happening.

"And doesn't a writer do the same thing? Isn't she knitting together scraps of dreams? She hunts down the most vivid details and links them in sequences that will let a reader see, small and hear a world that seems complete in itself, she builds a stage set and painstakingly hides all the struts and wires and nail holes, then stands back and hopes whoever might come to see it will believe.

"As I work on yet another draft of my story, I try to remember these lessons. A journal entry is for its writer: it helps its writer refine, perceive, and process the world. But a story, a finished piece of writing - is for its reader; it should help its reader refine, perceive, and process the world - the one particular world of the story, which is an invention, a dream,. A writer manufactures a dream. And each draft should present a version of that dream that is more precisely rendered and more consistently sustained than the last.

"Every morning I try to remind myself to give unreservedly, to pore over everything, to test each sentence for fractures in the dream."

Two more:
"In a poem, Tom Andrews once asked the Lord to 'afflict me with Attention Surplus Disorder so I can see what is in front of my face.'"

"The space is both intimate and explosive: your humanity is not diminished in the least and yet simultaneously the Pantheon forces you to pay attention to the fact that the world includes things far greater than yourself."

Amen, amen and amen.

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