Saturday, April 23, 2011

A novel idea

In 1977, a friend of mine handed me his "novel," which, in reality, was a poor man's autobiography. I read it with interest, since I already knew most of the story. In many ways, my friend did a nice job. In others, his novel came wanting.

There was no dialogue to spice the narrative. And it was all narrative. My friend said that his father was a mean man, but he didn't give examples. He didn't talk about family dinners and how he was bullied, how his dad showed favoritism among the children, whether his dad beat him.

If he'd written about beatings, he could have talked about his dad's choice of "weapon." Was it a strap, a belt, a switch? Did he choose the closest thing to hit him?

Were the beatings (if there were any) spontaneous or planned out? What was his dad thinking? And what was he thinking when his dad got in those moods?

We didn't learn any of those things. We only learned that he was a mean father.

On the other hand, we didn't hear about his dad's kindnesses either, since Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, the Marquis de Sade and Adolf Hitler all probably had generous and warm sides to go with the death and carnage. No one is all good or all bad, and we didn't hear about it.

And how did his father's rantings or whatever affect his mother and his brothers and sisters? Was his twin sister a help in those times? How did his father treat her?

There was so much to tell, a rich tapestry, if done well.

I explained to my friend that you need to show me, not tell me. And we talked a lot about how to weave one story line within another. He was surprised that I knew so much about writing. I don't know why; I'd read literally hundreds of novels and non-fiction books up to that point, and, frankly, I have a knack for this stuff.

Did his "novel" ever get published? Who knows? If it did, I just hope he added some dialogue and a few more details.

He was a great friend, but he needed an even better editor. I wasn't able to help him then. I could now. If only...

Contact: I can be reached at or Also, my Twitter handle is EDITORatWORK.

(a book of great stories about the Intimidator)
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Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie

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