On Easy Street? (In Medias Res)

A Fitting Place?
A Fitting Place?

With the plethora of good advice, from grammatical niceties to beat sheets, from POV to first versus third person, none of it helps me at this moment. I am struggling with the whole damn fangle of a book that will insist on escaping from enclosure between covers. Rather like trying to bury a corpse that thinks it has a veto  when it comes to incarceration.

But my good husband who only reads-and re-reads- the classics sometimes has his uses. He thought after much dinner table discussion of the stray hairs and neglected detail, that this perhaps might help me, and insisted on reading it aloud over post-prandial wine. For once he was spot on. I thought there may be others for whom this high vantage perspective might prove useful.

A flourish of authority
A flourish of authority-Anthony Trollope.

“In Medias Res”

Perhaps the method of rushing at once “in medias res” is, of all the ways of beginning a story, or a separate branch of a story, the least objectionable. The reader is made to think that the gold lies so near the surface that he will be required to take very little trouble in digging for it. And the writer is enabled,— at any rate for a time, and till his neck has become, as it were, warm to the collar,— to throw off from him the difficulties and dangers, the tedium and prolixity, of description. This rushing “in medias res” has doubtless the charm of ease. “Certainly, when I threw her from the garret window to the stony pavement below, I did not anticipate that she would fall so far without injury to life or limb.” When a story has been begun after this fashion, without any prelude, without description of the garret or of the pavement, or of the lady thrown, or of the speaker, a great amount of trouble seems to have been saved.

Was it here that it happened?
Was it here that it happened?

The mind of the reader fills up the blanks,— if erroneously, still satisfactorily. He knows, at least, that the heroine has encountered a terrible danger, and has escaped from it with almost incredible good fortune; that the demon of the piece is a bold demon, not ashamed to speak of his own iniquity, and that the heroine and the demon are so far united that they have been in a garret together. But there is the drawback on the system,— that it is almost impossible to avoid the necessity of doing, sooner or later, that which would naturally be done at first. It answers, perhaps, for half-a-dozen chapters;— and to carry the reader pleasantly for half-a-dozen chapters is a great matter!— but after that a certain nebulous darkness gradually seems to envelope the characters and the incidents. “Is all this going on in the country, or is it in town,—or perhaps in the Colonies? How old was she? Was she tall? Is she fair? Is she heroine-like in her form and gait? And, after all, how high was the garret window?” I have always found that the details would insist on being told at last, and that by rushing “in medias res” I was simply presenting the cart before the horse . But as readers like the cart the best, I will do it once again,— trying it only for a branch of my story ,— and will endeavour to let as little as possible of the horse be seen afterwards.

Extract from Trollope’s ‘The Duke’s Children’ Chapter Nine.

I bow to the Master and bid you adieu.Trollope shooting-pony

The Book that Wrote the Life.

Coming ‘Out’.

The Book that Wrote the Life.

OK I shall sit here, with easy access to the Mosque just in case I decide to join. Something. I like to keep options open.

Sitting pretty
Sitting pretty

Let me introduce myself. I am a book of the square kind (at the moment) though I am being pulled about and recorded, even as I speak. I have been ‘e’d in two formats, and they follow close on my heels, jockeying for supremacy. As if!  I have decided to get out from under my author (who is looking both old and tired, and to be honest getting a tad monotonous) and look about myself, and wave to friends, and stick out my tongue, if I feel like it.

I shall not be confined to politesse as she is. She seems to think she is responsible for me. I can’t think why. I did all the hard work.

All these authors to-ing and fro-ing, lugging the fruits of their labours imagine that we, books, are their inspired creations. They take credit for us! They eye up each other’s offerings with envy or contempt, or competitive interest; better cover, lousy title, curling in the sun, falling apart in the rain, thin for the price, and that’s before they even look at what they call content.  Dreadful word. Nothing contented there. All we books are the un-contented. We are the dreams unfilled, the hopes shattered, the fantasies to replace the humdrum lives, and here’s the rub. Those lives are what we wrote. More sustained in energy, more consistent in patterning, more tragic, more varied with villains, more triumphant with victory than any incidental genre-specific book. Comparing a book with the life in which it was written is a bit like judging a family’s cuisine by dropping in unexpectedly for tea. You might strike lucky with crumpet or Bucks Fizz. It’s unlikely on a weekday. The high points are seldom recorded are they? Manufactured by Mills and Boon and those feed formula to babies. Life is never as simple or bland as that pap. Good news is no news.

(Incidentally and strictly entre nous…that why I made sure my author buried inspiration in hard graft…I had no intention of ending up with Patience Strong, or…and I probably should not knock the English heroine… Beatrix Potter. Children are no longer innocent enough, more’s the pity. Besides I never was one for joining and inspiration is ten a penny now, MindBodySpirit books a’topple and priced three for two.  I lusted after concentration, with a scorpion sting in its tail…not what you imagine in scientific theory..a seduction right at the end, the reader does get the girl, or vice versa…but I digress)

Now, like one of those group confessional ice-breakers, I suppose I am supposed to say what life I wrote. Can I think about that? Let the others go first. Since I am hosting this party I have that prerogative. It’s only polite. You’ll be sorry you asked once I begin.

I admit we books know envy too. I, for one, look over Kahlil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’ with unashamed lust. I would have preferred to look like that, to fit as easily into a pocket, to be translated into every language, and darling, the immortality! I would also have preferred to be a first folio of Will Shakespeare’s, and have your actual monetary value too…not that that is important except when it comes to kudos. Kudos gets read with respect. It gets quoted. Nothing better than a spot of verbatim!

But here is another rub, we are limited by the minds in which we find ourselves. The vocabulary may be narrow, clichés may abound and be resistant to persuasion, the smorgasbord of experience only offering curried or pickled, varieties of cup cakes or bland bland. We have to work with life and, as they say in cliché, (do you speak cliché?) life’s a bitch. Sometimes it preserves one perfect event, like a forgotten piece of crystallized ginger still in syrup, that gets woven into a masterpiece like To Kill a Mockingbird —and there’s a book that served its author well. Put up her feet after one well crafted story, and all terribly likeable people; broke all the rules about a crime that never happened. It shouldn’t have worked but it did. That’s life. Never can tell. Does that not make my point? Life has an infinite variety whereas books have… what do they reckon? Six plots?

I must admit, I am enjoying being ‘out’.

She has served me well, and I would not hurt her feelings deliberately, but I think I can make my own way now. She really is not good at this part…she is embarrassed by me. She seems to imagine she will have to answer for me. I keep saying, ‘let me do the talking’, and she never did give over…so I have commandeered this applecart… (to be continued)