Writer's Rehab #3: To Write Like a French Ninja

Let's do another bedtime reading and commentary with this book, today, as rehab never truly ends. Again, the book is How Fiction Works, by James Wood. So in the second section, Mr. Wood talks about...

Gustave Flaubert.

This guy. The original French ninja writer. A quote?
"An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere"- Gustave Flaubert
Ever hear me say, "The writer should be invisible to the reader?"

This was the guy. He put a lot of previous styles and thoughts together, and formed the basis for the perfectionist style. I swear my education failed me, a great mind in an education patched together from the leftovers of various places and patchwork degree programs. If I would have know about him earlier....

If I would have know about him earlier I would have read him and understood why I do what I do. You know, going through life reading X, Y and Z and being 'influenced' by them without understanding it was A, B, and C where the true style actually came from? Living a life filled with happy accidents, and tracing when you want to know how to draw.

I want to draw that! Not copy or mimic, but to create something myself.

You have to go back to the source. To understand why, the original style, and the first time something was put together. If you sing music, go back to the beginning of the genre and listen. If you write books, research the style in which you write. You will find the truth in the source material, always.

He loathed purple prose. He disliked inserting the author's opinion into the work. He rejected sentimentality and cliche. He advocated composed and insightful writing. He holds the truth of the matter in high regard. He knew when to pull the narrative back and get out of the way. The stagehands did not cast shadows on the curtains for the audience to see.

In short, he knew how to respect the reader's time.

Some of you in the know may already know this guy, but remember I am dealing with the legacy of not knowing because as time goes on I realize how much my education was a product of a broken and politicized system that was not interested in teaching students the great things which came before. Thousands of years of writers with an influence lives on in the words we write today. Let's ignore that and focus only on modern writers, and then I get this feeling my education came from some cramped store stuck in a mini-mall.

Then again, I would rather self-educate that go that far into debt.

Note that there is controversy around this guy, and a bunch of writers in his era that people admire more (Jane Austen) or have differing opinions about his realist style and who was 'the best.' If you go out repeating my discoveries be prepared to put up a weak defense, as I would recommend diving in yourself and doing your own work to form an opinion - because it shall likely be different than mine and rightly so. Controversy, opinion, and difference of thought is the ink writing is made from. Even I see some faults in putting only this writer on a pedestal and proclaiming him to be 'the one.'

He is 'one of' but an extremely important one.

Mr. Wood's book spends quite a while on Gustave, and it makes me want to put How Fiction Works aside and dive more into this French realist writer. This is one of those books which stands on the shoulders of giants, and I feel you would be doing yourself a disservice should you read the book, say 'that's nice,' and then never question or go deeper into the writers upon which this book stands. I am planning on reading Gustave's Madame Bovary with an eye towards these realist concepts and tearing them apart for my own education.

If I were to rely only upon Mr. Wood's thoughts and opinions on Gustave my education would not be as deep. It would also be build upon the words of others, and I would never have a chance to dive in and possibly discover something else that would enlighten me greater.

It is why I wish to only mention Gustave and the realist style, but not really go as deep into Mr. Wood's view of him and repeat that here. I need to form my own opinions, knowing what I know, and being exposed to this one truth. My goal now is to go back to the source and discover that truth for myself, but more importantly, what does this truth mean to me? Or is it even the same truth that Mr. Wood sees and proclaims, though they are great observations from a great book. At this point, I do not know.

There may be something else there.

It is so important to go back to the unaltered sources in the matter of education. The source is the only place new thoughts can germinate and grow. Again, this goes back to education. We get a lot of these degree programs I feel base their instruction off summary books, sort of like a cheat sheet education where one mind comes up with all the meaning and that summary is taught to generations of students down the line.

No one is given a chance to think for themselves. The opportunities for discovery are pulled back, and lazy overviews replace encouraging free and open thought. And here we are back in the mini-mall education where it feels like a cell phone salesman is trying to educate you.

So I may put How Fiction Works down for a while and come back to it after Madame Bovary.

I know this breaks up my coherence on my writer's rehab, but I don't want to be limited to one book or one path of recovery. If I see a trail less taken, I may just decide at that point to follow it and see where it takes me.

Such is the nature of discovery.