Lynn Freed, on the writing of fiction: “If it is done right, someone will be hurt.”

The role of ruthlessness itself—the sort of pathological ruthlessness that even the mildest of writers can reveal when having to choose between truth and decency—this, I would say, is primary. It involves not only the obvious indecencies, the revelation of bathroom habits and petty adulteries, but, more than this, the revelation, through the story, through the characters in the story, of the human condition itself—its sadness, its absurdity, its loneliness, its familiarity. Is there a safe and decent way to accomplish this? I don’t think so. If it is done right, someone will be hurt.

Have read Reading, Writing, and Leaving Home: Life on the Page, by Lynn Freed. An impulse buy a few weeks ago. A tiny book, part-memoir, part elaboration of the craft of fiction. Most of the essays, I think, were previously published as stand-alone. It makes for light reading–glimpses of family, little misunderstandings, feuds, divorces, inappropriate story-telling that ruptures marriages. Light, little things.

Lynn Freed is gutsy. I like that. A lot of writers these days play nice. If not with their own poetics, then in consideration of their audience–young writers who would have picked up their books: I must inspire, or some shit like that. What I like most about Freed’s examinations of her own writing, and the motivations behind it: It’s all selfish. Not necessarily narcissistic, mind you. But, selfish. Occasionally, avaricious. True, I wrote on margin upon margin.

Revenge, for the purposes of fiction, concerns power. The power to expose, the power to reorder, the power to understand. The word itself is cognate with ‘vindicate’, one of the meanings of which is “to claim for oneself one’s rightful property.” Revenge in the broadest sense, is the action generated by such a claim. It is the power behind the impulse to write fiction, and its objects lie within the writer. They teem about, competing for attention . . . But to find the proper object among the times and scenes and characters which, potent as they may be, are yet chaotic, distorted by memory, without story or focus—this is the challenge that a writer faces.

The proper object of revenge must be worthy. And, to be worthy, it must be either trouble or love. Without the potential of one of the other, there is no torque to discomfit the writer into getting the fiction right, into setting herself free so that the fiction can say again and again, and always in the present: This is the way it is.

And, now, for something relevant to SashaLand right now:

“Who cares?” I kept asking myself—a deadly question in fiction. The answer was—the answer always is when one has to ask it—No one.

True. Of course. Better find a slab to engrave that on.

3 thoughts on “Lynn Freed, on the writing of fiction: “If it is done right, someone will be hurt.”


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