The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, May 15, 2006

Did You Hear the One About the Pirate, the Ghost and the Naughty Nun?

by Andrew Tibbetts

In my effort to be a serious, professional writer, I’ve become a serious professional reader of serious professional literary journals. And I’ve been well and truly sobered. The contemporary Canadian short story cannot be accused of whimsy, of arousing undue levels of exhilaration, of causing the reader to rush out the door, skip merrily about the neighbourhood, spread sunshine to all and sundry. No, we tend to focus on what’s dreary. Don’t get me wrong- we are very good at it. I’m not sure any other culture has observed ennui with such precision; even the French usually get up to something sexual or have a bit of pate and wine, between moods.

A typical Canlit short story might focus on a woman doing the dishes, consciousness streaming. The writer bounces among the characters’ memories of her dreary rural childhood, worries over the state of her collapsing marriage, and loving descriptions of the greyish soap scum ringing the submerge line on her wrists. Eventually she comes to some vague epiphany, folds the dishtowel and looks out the window. The sound of television leaks from the other room.

I appreciate this stuff. I really do. I’ve written some of own. I’d just like to suggest variety. It might cleanse the palate between helpings of despair. To that end, a dozen suggestions:

1. Pirates
2. Depressedchicklit isn’t better than Chicklit; it’s worse.
3. Voice appropriation- do it! If you are a straight, white male thirty-something writer, don’t write about straight, white male thirty-something writers. Try blatino lesbian parapalegics.
4. If you are going to include gay characters, let them get some. No more fully-rounded-three-dimensional-characters-that-just-happen-to-be-homosexual. Put your pen where the genitals are, or stay away.
5. If a pall hangs over a couples’ marriage, don’t write about them.
6. Naughty nuns
7. Rural Canadians can download Ghostface Killah, subscribe to Heeb, or have a case of particularly fine Beaujolais shipped to them.
8. Urban Canadians aren’t all alienated.
9. Realism isn’t just the dull bits. Parties, vacations, fistfights- these things really happen. If your character is sitting around doing nothing, wait until he gets up before you start writing. Or keep it short, toss some weather in and call it a haiku.
10. Consider alternatives to realism. We have plenty of characters that are haunted, but no ghost stories. If your character’s bitter, have him sprout thorns. If she’s depressed, have her dissolve into a puddle of phlegm. Consider demons.
11. Under no circumstances allow a character to have an epiphany while doing the dishes. Characters needn’t learn; most of the time most of us don’t.
12. Nobody lives their life like they are inside a contemporary Canadian short story. If they did- admit it!- you wouldn’t sit beside them on the bus. Feel free to write about people who thrill you.


Blogger Anne C. said...

I think second person is the new kitchen sink.

Mon May 15, 04:45:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I'm doomed. I don't know how to write about happy marriages.

Mon May 15, 11:57:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Pirates! I love it, and I'm glad you were the one to mention the dreariness, and not me. Who knows, maybe you'll also be the one starting a new trend where everybody will be "getting some" as the dishes pile high.

Tue May 16, 10:19:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger MelBell said...

This was funny as hell.

Tue May 16, 10:20:00 pm GMT-4  

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