Encouraged by some friends I have been writing some fiction. When I say ‘encouraged’ we are talking about it in the male friendship sense of ‘get on with it you stupid bastard’. They are now asking to see what I’ve produced but I’m waiting to rewrite a couple of the stories. Like curries, writing is best left in the freezer and returned to after a few days.
Writing is hard for lots of reasons. It’s easy to get discouraged, especially when you enjoy the good writing of other people. Dipping into Raymond Carver can be dispiriting if you are trying to write a short story. But it works both ways. I wrote one story after reading a particularly poor effort by a guy called Michel Faber. I’d been recommended one of his books by my Kindle, which is a marvellous thing in a number of ways, not least in getting me to look at what it is possible to get published. (Not all of his stories are badly written. But some are).
I’ve also been trying to avoid formulas, but then again a formula is not necessarily a bad thing if you can bring something fresh and interesting to it. I had one of my regular insomniac episodes last night and ended up re-watching As Good As It Gets. It’s not a promising film when you look at its elements. It appears to be a formulaic rom-com with all that entails; a love / hate relationship, apparently unlikeable male lead, troubled female lead, gay best friend, wise mother, thrown together by circumstances, each on a journey, crisis in Act Two, falling in love after all, knowing reference to Edward Hopper. Bish bash bosh.
It is also blatantly emotionally manipulative, not least in its use of a sick child and cute dog. But what lifts it beyond the formula is the script and the performances. It gets away with using a formula because also has an edge. A spoonful of medicine to help the sugar go down. It gets away with the sentimentality in the same way that It’s A Wonderful Life does, by having a dark heart.
So I am encouraged and the next test will be to see what other people think.