Monday, August 17, 2009

Conviction, Not Just Conflict

I've been reading John Irving's "A Son of the Circus" and came across the following passage that really hit home. In this scene, Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla is reading a book that completely drawing him in -- and it's at a time when he feels an urge to have a more creative endeavor in his life. He's completely inspired by the power of this particular writer. (Eerie flashback to me reading Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany" circa 1996.)

"But more than technical virtuosity separated Dr. Daruwalla from Mr. James Salter, or from any other accomplished novelist. Mr. Salter and his peers wrote from a vision; they were convinced about something, and it was at least partly the passion of these writers' convictions that gave their novels such value. Dr. Daruwalla was convinced only that he would like to be more creative, that he would like to make something up. There were a lot of novelists like that, and Farrokh didn't care to embarrass himself by being one of them."

I love the line that this author was "convinced about something." It hit home for me, especially as a firm believer of Socratic ignorance, the idea that "All I know is I know nothing." I am a humble person and I'm just smart enough to know that I don't know everything and have so much to learn everyday.

I always allow myself room to consider the other point of view, but this often leads me to be a waffler, which can be all sorts of types of frustration. I think this makes me easy to get along with, but it just might mean I'm also a pushover. Either way, I don't really mind. See what I mean?

But, when it comes to writing a book, Irving shows me, the author is best advised to have a conviction about something. Perhaps a big idea: That other thing that the story is about, the stuff that bubbles underneath the conflict. Hope. Honesty. Betrayal.

I have to say, I'm still picking away at what I'm convinced of in my current WIP. I can see this as a big problem this far along in the game. Or I can be grateful that at least I've learned this lesson now instead of two weeks from now, or two years, or never. See how waffling can do some good?

Anyhoo, this conviction is something I don't quite have figured out for this book, but it's something new to add to the to do list. And when I write my next novel, it's something I will know to consider up front.

What are you convinced about (or still unsure of) in your current story?


  1. The overall theme of my book, I've always been convinced of, but the smaller picture eluded me. Finally, after hearing me moan that I'd written a book about nothing, a friend gave me a virtual smack AND a perfect description.

    I think, sometimes, it's not that we don't have a conviction, it's just hard to define.

  2. Linda, it is hard to define. When asked point blank, what is your story about, I often have a hard time describing it. Something I have to get better at! Glad to know you found your perfect description.

  3. I did too, every time someone asked what my book was about, my rambling description sounded so lame and boring. In fact, I found my self saying, "It sounds boring, but it's really not." :-)

    Trouble is, even my perfect description sounds better coming from my friend's mouth than it does mine. SIGH

  4. I'm working on nailing my pitch for a conference in a few months. I may need to borrow your friend!