What I’m Reading: The Ode Less Travelled

I’ve just started Stephen Fry’s “The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within”. I think I’m going to like it.

But how well or badly we were taught English literature, how many of us have ever been shown how to write our own poems?

Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to rhyme. Don’t bother with metre and verses. Just express yourself. Pour out your feelings.

Suppose you had never played the piano in your life.

Don’t worry, just lift the lid and express yourself. Pour out your feelings.

We have all heard children do just that and we have all wanted to treat them with great violence as a result.

Well, exactly.

There’s not much to be said about her.

I’ve just signed my first official contract to have my first ever story published: it’s pretty damn exciting, I’ll tell you what.

It’s also incredibly strange. They asked for an author’s bio (to be written in the 3rd person) and story notes (written in 1st). What could I possibly say about myself that doesn’t sound boring, pathetic, or isn’t just flat-out false?

She lives with her parents and a cat in Michigan…

She’s recently taken on a second job as a grocery store cashier…

If she could be a tree, she wouldn’t be a tree, because whimsy is for people with hope…*

In the end, I went for something both simple and true:

Ms. Gaertner is an aspiring writer just dipping her toe into the world of published fiction. Look for more of her work coming soon from Post Mortem Press’ upcoming zombie anthology, New Dawn Fades.

Certainly less-than-thrilling, but 100% true, and it gets a plug in for my other big writing sale of the year. That should do it, right?

(* Ok, this last one wasn’t true: I am a very whimsical person, and just filled to the brim with hopes and dreams! This one was just plain funnier than anything else I came up with.)

“And they were all miserable. The end.”

In a discussion about genre fiction in my writers’ group, a romance writer listed her qualifications for a work that fits under the umbrella of “romance”. There were only a few guidelines: the story must focus on a romantic relationship of some sort, and it must end happily. I don’t know why, but that last qualification surprised me. I’ve read quite a few romance novels, but I don’t write in the genre, and I’ve certainly never tried to sell anything in the category of romance. It must end happily? It must?

“What would a story that focuses on a romantic relationship but doesn’t end happily be called?” I asked.

Her answer: “something else”. (I’m convinced that there is such a thing as a “tragic romance”, but I do believe my friend is right that it would not be sold under the modern classifcation of “romance”.)

I suppose that’s why I don’t write romance: my brain doesn’t default to “happily ever after”. Sure, I like to read happy endings (at times, I crave them!) but the ideas that come to me when I write so seldom lend themself to walking off into the sunset. In fact, my endings hardly resolve anything at all:

-a girl leaves the only stability and familiarity she’s found in a world gone mad to follow a man she’s not sure she knows anymore…

-a woman reflects sadly on a love that’s now lost through all of time…

-a man is resigned to his fate…

This is how my stories tend to end: ambiguously. (And just a bit depressingly…) There may be hope, or the promise of a better life ahead, but the story always ends before that point is reached. Even if I picture my characters happy in their futures, it never occurs to me to show it: I always leave them at that fork in the road, without any hint of which turn they’ll take.

I appreciate this tactic in stories I read: to me, the more interesting part of the tale is not always the resolution, but rather, the key decisions that lead to the resolution. The real struggle is not in slaying the dragon, but rather in deciding you’re going to try. (After all, how does one conjure that amazing mixture of arrogance, bravery, and stupidity that leads them to believe they can take on a magical fire-breathing creature many times their size and win?)

Of course, now that I’ve noticed my failure to write happy endings, I’m going to have to give them a try. (It’s a gaping hole in repertoire, and it needs to be filled!)

But tell me, gentlefolk: do you like tragic endings, or would you prefer them to be happy? Does it not matter as long as things are wrapped up and resolved? Do you like it when the author leaves things ambiguous?

It’s time to die!

How to Kill a Character, @ omnivoracious.

I can’t say that I’ve ever killed off a character: but after reading that article, I’m kind of itching to! I’ve certainly done plenty of other evil, unpleasant things to my characters: death just seems like the next logical step.

While I myself don’t find death to be any sadder or more shocking than any number of tragic or terrible things that could happen in a story, the taboo of character death certainly makes one stand up and take notice when it happens. The death of a beloved character is almost always memorable.

Some of the ones I remember include:

  • Beth from Little Women (I have to admit: I sobbed over that one!)
  • Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby
  • Paul Atreides from the Dune series
  • Romeo and Juliet from Romeo & Juliet
  • Almost everybody in Hamlet (I’m beginning to think including Shakespeare is cheating…)
  • Winston Smith from 1984
  • Phineas from A Separate Peace (Ok, I cried over this one, too…)
  • Catherine Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights

Which have I forgotten? Which literary deaths were most memorable for you?