Dear Writer Revisited: Letter Eight

Stranger than Fiction

* Incidentally a great film starring Will Ferrell (I know, go figure) and Emma Thompson.

During this letter, Virginia instructs Writer on the idea of plausibility in fiction.

In writing, as in a murder investigation (if you watch Castle) there are no such things as coincidences. Coincidences in writing should actually be called BIG FAT WHOOPSIES because they pretty much sign the death warrant on your work.  Bye bye suspension of disbelief.  Hello angry letters to the publisher demanding money back.  If you want to write about something strange or implausible, you really have to sell it.  You have to make it true through your fiction.

In writing, as mostly happens in life, cause always precedes an effect, although as my boyfriend is fond of saying, correlation does not imply causation.  (He's really good at maths and science.)  Following this rule in the construction of fictional worlds will help to create a fictive dream state in which your reader is immersed in what they are being told.  Telling obvious porkies or getting carried away in silliness will break the fictive dream, because while your reader is malleable they are not stupid.

Hemingway said, among a lot of other important things that you should consider getting tattooed on the insides of your eyelids, that your writing has to reveal something "truer than anything true."

This chapter is full of many great Virginia-isms as well as the writer-isms we have come to expect.  Finally, we begin to head into uncharted writing lesson territory!  Not that I haven't enjoyed rehashing the basics, but it's a little hard to feel as if I am making progress while doing so.  It appears that Writer is making progress, however.  For the first time, Virginia refers to having read some of writer's writing exercises.  Great.  Writer's doing well, but what about me?  How do I know if I am on the right track?  I think if Writer is going to be given a plot line outside of the text, we need so see some more writing samples from her.  They can serve as examples.

We also head into a philosophical area of thinking during this letter; Virginia asks Writer how she feels about the idea of characters having Autonomy.

Now, I remember seeing a Year 12 monologue night when I was in Year 11, and one of the pieces was about this very thing.  I was operating the light desk.  From where I was sitting, it was like the actors were aiming their words straight at me.  Maybe they were.  Illuminated in a circle of yellow light against billowing black curtains, they seemed to exist in a vacuum.  And mostly, they were boring.

There was a set of twins in this class, and I think it was Eliza who performed the monologue I am thinking of.  She was the twin with the lighter hair.  The less pretty twin, people said, even though she and Bonnie were identical.  She was certainly the friendlier.  She came on stage with her hair all messed up and this stained terrytowel dressing gown on.  I think she was clutching a cup of coffee.  It was probably empty but she took sips from it every now and then.  In her other hand she clutched a pile of papers.  And she seemed to be having a mental breakdown, or her character was, because she was writing a romance novel and her lead characters just wouldn't get together.  I thought that was so great.

But see, I don't think I have ever experienced it.  And I don't know if that means I am doing something wrong.  Maybe I'm just a different sort of writer.  I find it easy to slip into my characters minds and become them, but I feel like it's still me driving.  It's like playing a role.  And I'm still me, and I am still aware of what's going on, but I know exactly what my character would do in each situation.  Perhaps it's the drama background.  Today I was driving home past Port Beach and the rain was blowing against that great stack of shipping containers, and I thought, Winston would think all of this was kind of beautiful.  For a moment I saw the blustery day through his eyes and things weren't so bad.  Winston is the lead in my 1930s anti romance novel.  He's a simple man, stronger than his gentle personality implies.  He's a pragmatist and a romantic all at once.  Naturally, he's often rather confused.


  1. I identify with Winston! I wonder if all writers feel like they are walking contradictions?

  2. Winston tells me that he's pleased that you seem to 'get' him. This phrase sounds funny when he says it. He's learned it from his grandson and isn't sure he's using it right. He would have told you this himself but he's a little shy.


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