Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The "Unwavering Band of Light"

I love Kurt Vonnegut's book Breakfast of Champions.   In this book, a modern artist is one of the main characters, and he paints minimalist paintings featuring an "unwavering band of light" which represents all that is "alive and maybe sacred" in all of us.  The artist's paintings are simple straight lines painted on canvas.  

In my first novel Paper Tiger (okay, it's my only completed novel), the main character connects with a wacky and passionate art teacher who pushes her to explore her creative voice. Toward the end of the book, the teacher has her student create a sloppy, expressive collage.  Then she cuts a small window out of cardboard and has the young girl "frame" small, essential areas of her collage (using the cardboard window as you would the viewfinder of a camera). The girl moves the frame over different areas of her artwork until she finds one perfect curve of red sliced by a sliver of yellow.  Then, she creates a giant painting of this one small area--the essence of everything that she has learned over the course of a year.  The painting itself is rich and painterly--not a simple minimalist rendering--but it's structure remains that one curving arc.

I just read a great post by the Disco Mermaids in which Robin talks about the theme of her book which magically presented itself to her--kind of like Vonnegut's "unwavering band of light."  It's a tricky and often elusive thing to find--that essential thing that makes our artwork or book exist and breathe.  

I do believe that once you find that fundamental core in your writing, you can and should exploit it.    This makes the cutting and revising process so much easier, almost sublime--everything that supports the soul of your story should stay and be made stronger, while those extraneous plotlines and characters should be eliminated . . .but, you can always leave some Jackson Pollock splatters in there--as long as they give support to the story at its heart.  

(photo:  Onement 1 by Barnett Newman 1948)


Katie said...

SF - This is soo rich and good! I love the idea of a singular soul to our stories that we have to dig in and find - or yet, that IT finds us!


Katie said...

You know, I've been thinking about this post this morn, and I'm gonna get deep on you for a sec.

I think sometimes, as creative peeps, we can get overwhelmed and sometimes distracted by the craziness of life. And we may, at times, feel like we have lost our way. So I like to think that instead of spinning our wheels to find the right path -- sometimes,if we can just be still, and relax - the path will present itself to US. Just like in Robin's story.

(maybe that's what I just said? - oh well)

namaste :-)

Christy Raedeke said...

Oooh, I'm going to go get "Breakfast of Champions" today - it's one of those books that's been on my to-read list for years.

The excercise your MC does in your manuscript sounds fascinating!

Disco Mermaids said...

Wow! This was beautifully written, SF!

The funny thing about the theme in my book, is that it was obvious to Jay and Eve when they read it. But it wasn't to me. (And I wrote the dang thing!)

I think I had a preconception about what I thought the theme SHOULD be but it didn't naturally go that way. I just had to follow the lead of where I was already taking myself. (That sounded really weird.)

Can't wait to read your book. Sounds fascinating!


hardystudios said...

Christy, Breakfast of Champions is really great--especially if you've read other Vonnegut books. I may have inspired myself to read it again.

Thanks Robin! I love it when the "magic" happens in writing . . . in any part of life, actually. It is funny how you need to get outside of yourself sometimes to see the obvious.

I'm feeling a namaste . . . but Katie already said it. So, ditto.

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