June 3rd, 2006


The letter, and sweatiness

I guess it's a meme now. ccfinlay posted a letter from the magnificent Kelly Link which is worth reading. She talks about ambition in writing. As mme_publisher has said, there's a plague of competence.

I think of this issue as sweatiness. Some stories are sweaty, some aren't. There's a passion moving through the text in a sweaty story, something that makes you hang on to the page and worry about what happens next. Sweatiness isn't directly a function of competence -- I've seen very competent prose that fell utterly flat for me. By the same token, some raw, fractured prose can hold this quality in spades. And yes, sweatiness is in the eye of the reader to some degree. But fiction is most interesting when the edges aren't filed off, and something on the page grabs.

Can I define sweatiness? No, no more than by applying the Potter Stewart test. ("I know it when I see it.") Can I teach sweatiness? No. I think in a sense it's another word for voice. For me, sweatiness arises from writing fast, getting out of my own way, and letting the story flow. The cut-and-polish approach to revision so beloved of English teachers and some varieties of workshopping only serves to file off my edges and reduce my sweatiness to the blandly acceptable average of my critical readers.

It's about not being average. It's about trusting your own voice. It's about not second-guessing your writing.

Go forth and sweat.


Last night bibliothec, tillyjane, karindira and I went to the Back Door Theate on SE Hawthorne last night to see Silence, a 1999 play by Moira Buffini. We preceded this with a lovely dinner at the Bread and Ink Cafe. karindira's eldest daughter plays Agnes, the lady's maid, in the production. (And I thought she was brilliant.)

I enjoyed it immensely. The production was incredibly sparse -- black box theatre, bare stage a few feet from the audience, with exactly one set-piece which served many roles. Costuming, light and sound were barely more detailed, just enough to give the actors a framework in which to perform. Everything focused on story and character. The story itself is a gender-bending reimagination of the meeting and marriage of Aethelred the Unready and Emma of Normandy, but that's sort of like saying that Romeo and Juliet is about a couple of Italian kids on a date.

There's some Shakespearean gender-foolery, and some serious underlying commentary about marriage and life-roles, but in the current American context the play's political content is frighteningly on-target. (All the more so that it was written before this administration even came to power.) If you're in the PDX area, I highly recommend this play.