Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The Devil is in the Detail - Heather Dyer

‘The trivial is sacred’ - OSHO

I think it was the poet Blake Morrison who said, ‘Try and write about The Meaning of Life, and you will end up staring at a brick wall. Describe a brick wall accurately and you may incidentally say something about the meaning of life’. Note his careful use of the word ‘accurately’, here. If you can get close enough and be truthful enough about your subject, you might find big ideas in something very small.

If you are looking for a place to begin writing, try starting with small, specific images and objects that interest you. There’s a reason why you’re drawn to these things: perhaps they are symbols that reflect things buried in your unconscious. If you could interpret these images the way that dreams are interpreted, you might reveal what your unconscious wants you to know. You don’t need to interpret the images though, just as you don’t need to dissect a seed to find out what it will become. Just plant it, and see what grows.

For example, you might have the urge to describe the box of buttons that you used to play with for hours as a child, while your mother was working late. You don’t have to know that the piece you are going to write is about loneliness. You just have to describe the box of buttons – get right inside it and see where your thoughts wander. Perhaps it will be in writing this story that you will first realize that you’ve always felt lonely. Maybe only now will you realize that this feeling has affected all the decisions you have ever made. And when you look back at your initial image – that box of odd buttons; each one lost, alone, waiting for a garment to belong to – you might marvel at the wisdom of your unconscious in choosing the perfect symbol to portray your loneliness. But you don’t have to know this in advance. To begin with, all you need to concern yourself with is describing the box of buttons.

This technique can also be applied when you’re stuck in the middle of your story. Instead of trying to look further ahead and predict the ending, try going deeper into the story. It’s like drilling down to tap into an underground river; direction and flow can be found if you drill deep enough in the right place. So, hover above your story. Look down upon your settings, see the characters walking through various scenes, and hear snatches of their conversations. What draws your attention? By digressing in order to describe the details more accurately, more authentically, you might find that you unearth a truth about a character, a setting, or a situation that leads you in the right direction.


Sue Purkiss said...

I like the way your post focuses on the detail, too. Lovely and very useful!

Sue Purkiss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
C.J.Busby said...

Lovely post, And just wanted to say - my ten year old daughter absolutely loved The Girl with the Broken Wing! Favourite read for a while.

Richard said...

Robert Pirsig talks about the same exercise.

She came in the next class with a puzzled look and handed him a five-thousand-word essay on the front of the Opera House on the main street of Bozeman, Montana. ‘I sat in the hamburger stand across the street,’ she said, ‘and started writing about the first brick, and the second brick, and then by the third brick it all started to come and I couldn’t stop...’

Pirsig, Robert (2011-11-30). Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance (p. 181). Random House UK. Kindle Edition.

For every event there are an infinite number of valid explanations. It follows that there are an infinite number of things to be said about any object, and an infinite number of ways out of any plot hole. Stuckness, as Pirsig expounds is to be welcomed, because it is only when you are stuck that you really see and, so long as you don't fear it, it inevitably leads naturally to a solution.

Heather Dyer said...

Thanks Sue - and Cecilia, how lovely to hear that! Richard - thanks for the reference, it's been a while since I read that book, must go back to it.


tracy alexander said...

All right, Heather, I'll give it a go. Can't see the end anyway so may as well hover.

Ann Turnbull said...

I know this post isn't really about bricks, but it was exactly right for me today because I couldn't think what to write about, and that brick wall idea was an inspiration. I've always loved the local brick our Victorian house is made of, with its extremely varied and yet distinctive colours. I didn't immediately rush out and start describing it - but that was only because it was raining! When it stops raining I'll be out there, on the front lawn, with my notebook. So thank you, Heather; and thanks also to Richard - I've never read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - but I will now. (I've also got a jar of odd buttons in my sewing corner...)