Intimate Storytelling

Now I know why TV shows have long breaks between seasons. After word-binging for past few months, you guessed it, I'm out of steam. Instead of flowing productivity, my writings have been reduced to irregular acidic belches.

In effort to recuperate, I saw John Irving talk before reading any of his work.

Then, while reading "A Widow For One Year", I thought that I heard his voice between the lines. The way he wrote echoed the way he talked. This goes well with Seth Godin’s theory against writer’s block, that in order to write consistently, you only need to do it a lot, a lot.

It made me wonder if good writing requires good speaking.

If this is true, well, I'm kinda screwed. English has been classified as the snobby language in my system and I can't practice it without sounding like a total dick. When I tell stories in English, I can't reach the same notes of intimacy as I do in Indonesian. 

This post being in English, I might as well be a bold dick about it too. There's just no such thing as an effective story that isn't intimate. Intimacy is the kick makes the audience tick. Intimacy allows the audience to relate, react and retweet. And there’s tedious craftsmanship in this Story-Storyteller relationship; a good story needs to be studied and repeated (or, as writers, rewritten) a lot, a lot before it loosens up and reveals its best, funniest and longest secrets.

Then again, though my Arabic is useless in formal situations, I was never at loss for Arabic words when I'm angry or horny. (Or trying to be funny.) This unfortunate fact cancels the hypothesis that in order to write well one must also verbalize well. I barely passed high-school Arabic grammar, but I get as sincere responses for my Arabic statements as I do in Indonesian -- if not worse, since neither English or Indonesian can be as offensive as Arabic.

Neither can my version of Arabic, for its generous use of profanity and grammatical incongruity, be spoken outside of the most intimate societies.

To summarize, since the interestingness of narrative depends on intimacy, regardless to language, I wonder if the more intimate a story, the easier it's delivered. And the easier it is delivered, the less likely that anyone else can tell "A Widow For One Year" the way John Irving did.

The less likely that, if I may hope and fear, his readers will tag his stories as “the random belches of an out-of-steam writer.”

Talk to me. How do you tell your stories? Does telling it in a different language change the tone? How many times and languages does it take to tell or rewrite a story until you get it right?

Follow up

This quote by John Irving addresses the issue concerning “pretty language” in fiction. Someone tweeted the link right after I published this post. Because the Universe is awesome like that.

I don’t enjoy novels that are boring exercises in show-off writing with no narrative, no characters, no information—novels that are just an intellectually discursive text with lots of style. Is their object to make me feel stupid? These are not novels. These are the works of people who want to call themselves writers but haven’t a recognizable form to work in. Their subject is their technique. And their vision? They have no vision, no private version of the world; there is only a private version of style, of technique. I just completed an introduction to Great Expectations in which I pointed out that Dickens was never so vain as to imagine that his love or his use of language was particularly special. He could write very prettily when he wanted to, but he never had so little to say that he thought the object of writing was pretty language. The broadest novelists never cared for that kind of original language. Dickens, Hardy, Tolstoy, Hawthorne, Melville: to such novelists, originality with language is mere fashion; it will pass. The larger, plainer things they are preoccupied with, their obsessions—these will last: the story, the characters, the laughter, and the tears.

Also, see Chiara’s comment in the comments section.

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