The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Late Bloomer Not Bitter, Not at All, Not at All

by Andrew Tibbetts

I think it’s great that I came to fiction writing later in life. Of course it bugs me when another sixteen-year-old wins the governor-general’s award, or when I see on the newsstand Granta’s special issue, ‘Best Young Novelists Under Twenty-Three’ sitting pretty beside the New Yorker’s ‘Geriatric Fiction’ issue featuring ancient writers in their thirties. But since that happens only every other week, I’m mostly fine.

The good thing about turning to fiction after you’ve done all those other things is that you have all-those-other-things to write about. For example, I had a job in a donut shop once, making donuts. I could, if I wanted, write a novel set in a donut shop. I have the inside track. I’m hip to the milieu. I’ve got the scoop, the drop, the paradiddly-do. I made that last term up.

Also, I have a lifetime of reading behind me. So, it’s doubtful I’d experiment with a novel full of footnotes because I’ve read things full of footnotes and I know what it’s like to read something full of footnotes. Even worse: endnotes. (okay, so far, my novel is set in a donut shop and it doesn’t have footnotes or endnotes!)

Also, I know some other art forms. I studied music before I studied literature. I have a whole slew of forms I can pilfer from the one for the other. For example, the rondo form. It’s often used in classical music for a quick movement to end things with a bang. The form is ABACA, in its simplest version: i.e., you alternate repetitions of one material with episodes of different materials. In my donut shop novel, I could alternate scenes in the donut shop with scenes featuring what the various other characters get up to in their home lives. A common variation on the rondo form, is the arc-rondo. In this piece, the contrasting episodes are reprised in reverse order: ABACABA is the simplest. So for example, in my donut shop novel, we alternate donut shop scenes with the manager at home, the donut maker at home, a customer at home, the donut maker at home again and the manager at home again. See the shape! It’s very musical. (One of the things musical forms do is provide shape for abstract materials. If I’m going to write my donut shop novel in realistic mode, I’ll need something to help shape the material in lieu of hard-driven plot.)

I also studied theatre before literature. So, I could approach each scene in my novel like an actor, making sure to have the juicy dramatic things in there to help crank up the scenes. For example, an actor always thinks of ‘the moment before’ so that their character enters a scene already in the middle of something. In my donut shop novel, for example, my customer enters and sits down and the scene begins with a bit of chit-chat with the manager. Because I’ve been an actor, I’d think “where am I coming from?”- I’m not sure all writers think about things like that. Maybe they do. But, there are thousands of other examples I could give you about how thinking like an actor will help you develop characters. Only, I don’t want you to write novels as interesting as mine. (After all, I’m ancient. I only have a few more decades to make my mark.)

So, in my donut shop novel the customer enters wiping tears from her eyes, the manager quickly tucks some kind of postcard into her pocket and from the back room the donut maker hangs up the phone saying “I told you not to call here” and we’re off to a jolly start.

I don't have youth and beauty to thank for this but rather my advanced years and thrilling life experience. Stay tuned!

(donut courtest of


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

If you're ancient, I must be dead. Quick, hold a mirror to my lips. I agree with you, though, that starting late gives you so much more to write about. My daughter asked me if I regretted not having started writing when I was young. I said no, because I wouldn't have had the same stories to tell.

Wed Mar 05, 06:56:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I don't know about you, Tricia, but I feel like I can "catch up". It might be a crazy feeling but it's how I feel.

Wed Mar 05, 07:22:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Considering it takes a new young writer her whole life to write and perfect one book, and then averages a few or many many years per book following, you can indeed 'catch up.' The question is, could they ever catch up to you?

Wed Mar 05, 08:24:00 pm GMT-5  

Post a Comment

<< Home