Life of Pi – In Medias Res

I saw a trailer for the new movie “Life of Pi” so I, of course, had to check out the book by Yann Martel. I downloaded it on my nook and am I already on the tenth chapter. Some of my friends on Facebook complained that it was a book they were forced to read their first semester of college; that it was confusing and boring and no one understood what was going on half the time.

As I am hardly a quarter of the way into the story, I cannot say much about the actual story just yet, but what I am impressed with, is the writing and the depth behind the words that are being said. I don’t often read novels that have significant meaning to them lately, (I know shameful of me) but when I do – I make sure they are good ones.

Although I am very impressed with the author’s intelligent writing, I can agree that the narrative is long-winded and the first person narrator takes forever to get his points across, whatever they might be. As a reader, however, I am trusting that there is a point to this story and am going to follow it faithfully on as I am anxious to see what happens. The author himself has promised a story that will make you believe in God, and perhaps that is a hook just like any other. However…

View from overlook at Harris Hill, NY.

My creative writing teacher in college always encouraged us writers with a Latin phrase, “In medias res,” which means in the middle of things. It is a literary technique that some writers use to grab the attention of their readers by starting off their story in the middle of the action, or near the end. The result is very little exposition, but it is an exciting technique, because it allows the reader to experience what is happening to the characters they are reading about; and as a writer, you are forced to show your readers what is happening through action and various sensory details.

Life of Pi does not do this.

Well, at least not yet. There is an opening chapter with a brief glimpse of what the first person narrator thinks about certain things, and some of his experiences after something traumatic has happened to him, but it is mostly telling. It also reminds me of some early nineteenth century literature, where the narrative just goes on and on and on, because of some unforeseen need from the narrator to express something very near and dear to his or her heart and nothing can stop the flow of conscious thought.

Perhaps I’m doing that now…hmm. Anyway

While I think Martel’s style of narrative can be tedious to some, it is also thought-provoking. He says some amazing things. I’m terribly sure I’ve heard this somewhere before, but the author says in his introduction:

“If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.” (Martel).

How true! But I wonder how amazing would this book be if it were written with the idea of impressing its readers? If the action and scenery behind the narrator’s reflection actually mirrored his thought process? (Perhaps this is where the movie has numbed our mind with visuals.) Some could argue that it is not about the experience but what he or she has learned along that journey…

I, on the other hand, just yearn for a story where I am immediately scooped up and taken for a ride of a lifetime. A quick, sensory detailed read where I am lost in the character’s voice and story and cannot wait to see what happens on the next page. Perhaps this is why I love Young Adult fiction so much, because teens are not impressed with literature that confuses or bores them. They want that quick fix of great writing, of a story that wraps itself around your subconscious and you can’t hear or see anything else for a few days.

Perhaps the lesson here is no matter the style of writing, a great story is a great story, but a narrator should not bore its readers. They want to be entertained, they want to love the story that you are trying to tell. Don’t bury a great story in yards and yards of exposition. Show them!

Fifteen Minutes of Fame – Words Worth a Thousand Images

Spent the majority of the day watching my niece and after the pancake and bacon making, the Lego Star Wars, and the playing on the playground, aunt Amanda is whooped! So, thought I might relax on some of the research of eBook making for the day, and focus on another very important interest of mine: Writing.

In my creative writing classes over the years, we used to take at least 15 minutes of the beginning of class to do a little creative journaling, usually inspired by a prompt that the professor provided on the board. A couple of months ago, I discovered this webpage:

It is a website that lists hundreds of writing prompts for free. Although a trifle simple perhaps, the fun is in not knowing what might spark the imagination just by scrolling through the various numbers on the page.

I usually like going through until one sparks my interest, but tonight I’m going to just pick a number at random by scrolling over the page…

#200: Create a story based on this plot: gets trapped in the bathroom on Valentines Day:

Hmm…now, let’s see what I can create out of that. I’ll give myself 15 minutes and will write it now, and will leave it mostly unedited…like I would if I were writing in my journal (Beware of run-ons):

For some reason, Buffy the Vampire Slayer seems to come to mind…I imagine a girl crying, make up running down her face, dark hair, a bruised eye and red lipstick that’s been smeared a bit at the corners, giving her a grim smile…

Veronica wiped at her wet cheeks and her wet lips and then grimaced as she looked at her fingertips. The lipstick that she had carefully applied that morning was sticky and wet from her tears and looked like blood — she was just thankful enough that it wasn’t her own. Who knew that her date at the Valentine’s dance would turn out to be a Vampire? One really couldn’t tell these things…and who would know that he had a vampire posse, or was it a horde? attack everyone in the school cafeteria? She was sure she saw Mrs. Collins taken down by one of the monsters in the large, pink cake next to the punch bowl and Mr. Peters, the Principle, watching, with a fork dangling in the air somewhere half-way between his mouth and plate– his piece of chocolate, pink-slathered cake smeared on the floor next the blood running out from the crown of Mrs. Collins’ head. Her friends had all fled to their cars, but she, the idiot, just had to use the bathroom and first dates were usually rough the first time…right?

There was a tap on the door of the bathroom, the creek of the door swinging open and she heard footsteps and she very quickly tucked her feet up on the toilet she was crouched on. It could be one of them…ran the thoughts in her brain. I’m next…I’m another, quick, snack…. But the door swung open and she was almost knocked  to the floor when someone with large, red, hair poked their head in and said loudly, “Well, hi!”

The head belonged to a young girl, with very, carrot-colored hair and a lot of it. It ran down her back, in a mass of curly, wriggling, orange ripples. The girl had to at least be twelve years old, a startling difference to Veronica’s own fourteen–whoever decided to combine the school into seventh through ninth graders were idiots, but that wasn’t what startled her. The girl had huge, blue eyes and she was wearing a too-cheery smile, the grin stretched widely across her face, white and fixed and planned…

Well, that’s that. Fifteen minutes and I’ve got a poor Vampire-attacked Veronica and a mysterious creepy-clown-like twelve-year-old. *Insert sinister grin here, haha*  Well, the cliff-hanger is kind of lame, and while not great, original plot writing, and very raw and unedited– where was that comma supposed to go again? The point is this: the imagery!

I forgot how great it feels to lose yourself in something that is completely different from other writing projects and I am very proud at the detail that such writing creates! Curly, wriggling, orange ripples and pink-slathered cake notwithstanding!

What a great way to get the creative voice flowing! By remembering that sometimes the simplest writing can create such alive, evocative images. And images are very, very important in great writing.

Occasionally, I am going to post in this blog with my random image-worthy creative writing prompts and here might be a way that can inspire other stories, OR, it’ll help to remind me to keep the visual images flowing on current projects.

Oh, and there is always that other thing: It’s fun!