Hemingway helps with Babe in the Woods

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Papa Hemingway, I have been reviewing Babe In The Woods. Is the story too slight? And if so why and how can it be fixed? I already instantly hear some of your response but for clarity let’s set it out in order.

You might say I’ve been waiting for you to ask. It’s as if I were leaving the manuscript uncompleted and I always hated to do that if I got that close to the end.

You know what is missing – the elements of self-revelation that cut closest to the bone. Nothing on sex, nothing on family, nothing on boredom and spiritual stagnation, nothing on metaphysical despair or wild unreasoning hope. All of that is out of the picture. Now it would be one thing to deliberately mute and even suppress them to keep Angelo in character but that isn’t what you are doing. You are suppressing them lest they say too much about you. But in that case you should choose another profession. Novel writing is strip-teasing if it is anything. You can’t pretend and be a successful prophet – and what else do you want to be but a prophet?

Hmm. I have to accept that. All right, what do I do, concretely and practically, to fix the manuscript as is? I won’t rewrite it or re-script it; I’d lose as much as I gain.

You have been working toward the revision scarcely noticing. When you counted the pages of the chapters what did you learn, or rather remember? Your later chapters have room for more material. Copy the numbers and see:

intro 3

Saturday 15

Sunday 44

Monday 44

Tuesday 39

Wednesday 34

Thursday 31

Friday 8

You did a competent job of setting up the situation but Tuesday on offers space and occasion to deepen interaction correspondingly, and then the story won’t feel slight.

Just by these minor additions eh? Sex, family, boredom, spiritual stagnation, metaphysical despair, wild hope. That shouldn’t require more than a sentence or two.

Remember you must show not tell, but in the form you’re using you can show by having Angelo think or speak as well as by action.

Any ideas on – uh

Yes, as before. Chart the progress of each element, figure out how to show each stage, and figure out – last – where each has to go if it is to fit. Not terribly hard.

I was going to ask – all about Angelo and his outside life but I see, no, my beliefs and struggles can be expressed in the lives of others.

You have Jeff, so far scarcely used.

Too bad they can’t get drunk together.

You can do the equivalent.

I can? How?

High emotion little constrained by convention or company.

Connected with grief over Joyce?

That’s one possibility. But what of others? Suppose Jeff jokes a lot but is actually consumed with loneliness? Suppose he is secretly gay and is in agony about admitting it?

Wow. I’ve been moving toward that, but – gulp!

Yes. But if your stories don’t move you, how should they move anyone else? To the degree that you have been honest – about healing, even a bit about asthma – people have been taken by it. Spiritual seeking, too, or anyway psychic exploration. But if it is still slight, it is because in too many areas you have not dared to take the lid off and see what would emerge.

I suppose I could apportion the elements among various people.

Don’t get too bound by formula or it will dry up on you. But sure, different people mean different viewpoints, meaning conflict if only conflict of attitudes, and that’s the stuff of drama.

So I’ve touched on

spiritual/psychic exploration and abilities

love between lives

loss, in advance

inexplicable affinity

health and healing

love and fear

death as the great divider

learning and refusing to learn.

Now add other features that would or might flow freely from such entanglements. Yes, Angelo is the center of the story but as you have told people, the program itself is the center of the story in a way. So everyone’s transformation or failure to transform is center.

I could use those elements to flesh out some characters.

Of course. It is only a continuation of what you’ve been doing.

So Jeff and sex in a peculiar way.

Joyce and family and death, and despair and hope, all together.

Yes. François and metaphysical despair?

Tony, rather, and Francois as counterpoint. Others too. First see what you want to say and then the apportionment by person and time and incident will suggest itself, and we will fool with it until we have enough.

Can I thank you enough?

The work is fun, and is thanks enough.

One thought on “Hemingway helps with Babe in the Woods

  1. He’s really talking about how to live a life–that it’s about mining for the truth. And a writer gets to remind us of that by sharing his story. He’s right (IMHO) that any sharing you do about healing or asthma or psychic exploration is moving, because its enlightenment that comes from the personal, the first-hand. I find that powerful. I’m always working on writing, so I appreciate hearing Hemingway’s perspective and your response.

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