Your Questions Answered: Taking It Apart
In ‘Sunday In The Park With George’ we see an artist gradually assembling the component parts for what will become his most famous painting, ‘Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte’, by Georges Seurat.
We’re fascinated by how things are created. Yesterday, reader Anchovee says it’s a shame that I should pick apart a successful film into its components. But to find out how an engine runs so smoothly, sometimes you have to dismantle it and study the pieces. It’s what writers do all the time.
The reason why journalistic training used to involve a year of local court reporting is that over the year you start to see patterns in who comes up before the judge and form conclusions about them. Sadly, that training was demolished, although I imagine it survives in the good American newspapers, which leave Britain’s in the dust for factual reporting, especially the New York Times. We need to find patterns below the surface and learn how to use them for our own ends.
If we can’t see these invisible patterns, we never come to understand how things are constructed. Often, what comes out of such study is an indication that the creator has stuck to their guns and not compromised in any way. The creation of something special requires sacrifice. How many artists and writers went mad in the process of unlocking such secrets?
But let’s be realistic. In the modern world this is not often possible. I look back at my non-bryant & May books and am unhappy in some way with almost everything I’ve written. I’ve added elements to please readers and editors that would not have otherwise been in them. But once the words are in print, once the paint has hardened, once the ink on the musical annotation has dried, your work is imprisoned. John Fowles famously rewrote ‘The Magus’ because he was not happy with it. Is the new version better? I honestly can’t remember. I suspect not. Perhaps one’s first instinct is the best even if it contains flaws.
Creators are required to be impatient; content is needed, publishers push for dates – but the biggest impediment comes from the creators themselves. We convince ourselves that we need to make money, hit deadlines, get out there. Sometimes it would be better to work more slowly.
For me, the Bryant & May books are not hard to write because I understand the formula – so I test myself by constantly changing it. With standalone books there is no formula and you’re working in untried areas. I can’t say that ‘The Sand Men’ is like any book I’ve read myself, something which was picked up by the Los Angeles Times as its biggest strength.
I rarely write to commission because I don’t work for the money. I want to keep learning. One problem that confronts all career writers is that our work goes one of two ways as we age – it gets lazier and simpler, or it demands more of the reader. I want to make sure I take the second route.
One of the most demanding writers I’ve read lately is Brigid Brophy, who refused to compromise in anything she wrote. She is one of the great unsung heroines of literature. If I could be like her, I’d be a very happy author. I think Brophy’s time may have finally come. Sadly she is no longer with us.
So there you go, Anchovee – that’s why writers pick things apart.