Monday, January 23, 2006

ten things about my fiction

Ten ways to tell you're reading one of my stories.

Got this meme from author Ben Peek’s journal, and it looks like fun (and, at the same time, reminiscent of the long conversations I have about writing with Nikki, Vin and Buddha).

Not everything I write shares the same elements, and I like to imagine that I do write about different things in different ways. The truth, however, is evident. Someone once wrote, and I paraphrase wildly because my memory is pathetic: “You can tell what an author is all about – past, present and future – by looking at any three of his works.” I do not completely disagree; certain elements do pop up and are seemingly integral to the author’s unique voice.

1. The Run-on sentence. Given the magic realist slant of most of my writing, this is practically a given. Through the years, I’ve worked to tame the beast. But once in a while, a monster sentence (over a page long) sprouts like a sudden tendril in a Swamp Thing story, threatening to strangle all light and love in the world. When this happens, it’s time for the shears: cut it into two or more sections (since these run-ons usually have some independent clauses anyway). Why does this happen? For texture, for pacing, for atmosphere.

2. Love & Loss. Sigh. Despite myself, I find myself writing more stories that have to do with sad qualities of love: desperation, searches, longing, endings. My novel Salamanca can be read on one level as a love story, and I’m fine with that. The curious thing is that I rarely set out to write a love story, but find elements of love intermingled in my final text. What I do not write is sappy, crappy love stories. Nope. Love, like hope, is cruel, after all. Interestingly, my own love affair with my wife is wonderful. I think I’m channeling all the failed marriages I’ve been exposed to.

3. Language and Vocabulary. Since I love words, I consciously select and use newer (to me) and uncommon words in most of my writing. Words are the primary tools of my trade after all, and increasing my familiarity with them improves my ability to be more concise (or vague) as I need to be. My basic default style is lyrical and so-in-love with words.

4. Lists. I like lists and imbed them in some way. This could be lists of objects, actions, places, whatever.

5. Local Color. Especially in fiction (and more so in longer pieces), I imbue the text with details about my country, whether real or real-enough. Apart from adding to the texture, historical details enhance the verisimilitude of certain stories. Additionally, it appeals to the odd nationalistic part of me which attempts to conform to the stunningly powerful deeply-set social realist “Pride to the Filipino” sensibility that I am sometimes at odds with. The struggle is between the Filipino-in-me and the Filipino-of-my-imagination which, I feel, should break the traditional notions of what we Filipino authors should write about, regardless of mode.

6. Women who explode. Or burst into flame. I have nothing against women (my experience with my own mother do not warrant multiple visits to a therapist) but I do have penchant for surrendering them to the flames of unearthly passion which often is expressed through literal explosions. On one level, this is a metaphor for the uncontrollable demands of lust or loyalty. Or there could be a very disturbing psycho-sexual pyromaniac in me. Hmmm.

7. Margins. Mostly in my plays, I have characters who are gay or transgendered, minority or marginalized. I like giving them a voice, given the fact that I’ve met and spoken to many different kinds of people, some of them close friends. The fact of the matter is that they should be treated no differently from the dominant set in terms of sexual preferences. People are still people under skin color or choice of lifestyle, prone to the same demands of passion.

8. Dialogue. I started out in my writing life as a playwright, and so I am no stranger to dialogue. In my prose, I keep dialogue as my silver bullets, consciously using them sparingly, often to elucidate certain character-defining moments. There is a certain delicious depth to the words people say, and the very choice of words to place in a character’s mouth is one of my favorite parts in the writing process.

9. Short-form experiments. With stories under 3000 words, I consciously attempt to experiment with different styles of writing, prioritizing different things, veering away from my established “voice”. I write shorter, terse sentences. I write about subject matters that are not exactly the first things I’d normally care to write about. I play with structure. The point of all this is to force my other writerly muscles to grow, learn new lessons in my craft, and kick myself down the path towards improvement. I think that an author should, like wine, improve over time, and I’d prefer for my writing style to alter as I grow older, to be more attuned to my aging sensibilities. There are things I look at now that as a young man thrilled me; now they fill me with melancholy. If my writing is not reflective in some degree, no matter how small, of me, then why am I writing?

10. Speculative fiction. The last thing I’d care to write is a social realist thing in the mode handed down to me by my literary predecessors. I champion works of speculative fiction that challenge the dominance of the staid formalists who seem to think that the plight of the poor or the martial law era is are the only things worth writing about. I believe in the power of story, that incredible sense of wonder that gives one pause. I’d choose it over dry didactic nationalistic drivel any day. There certainly must be a place in the canon of Philippine literature for stories of the imagination that go beyond the aspirations of citizen and country.


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