The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Brave New Writing Challenge

by Tricia Dower

I’m tackling a list of classic books a character I’m creating has finished. Since her knowledge of the outside world comes primarily from these books, I didn’t think I could do her justice without having read them. (Of course, writer-as-god that I am, I get to draw up the list.) I figure if nothing comes of my novel, I will at least be able to brag about how well-read I am.

My list includes children's classics like Through the Looking Glass and Heidi as well as the more grown-up Anna Karenina and The Dubliners. I read many of them centuries ago on the way to earning an English degree. But luckily for me, I’ve mostly forgotten what they’re about. (This happens to me with movies and TV shows, too. I can watch an Inspector Morse episode half a dozen times and still not remember whodunit.)

I recently finished Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It’s been on my bookshelf for years, so I must have read it, right? I don’t think so. A friend recalls its having had a big impact on her in high school but she can’t remember why. She thinks it would be a great book to re-read as an adult. That got me thinking about my character and whether her take at age 15 on a book such as A Tale of Two Cities (I’m reading that now) would be the same as mine as an adult. I was required to read a pile of books between the ages of 13 and 21, and the parts that compelled me most were the sensational bits about what my young mind had trouble imagining: adultery, murder, suicide, vampires, treachery, oppression, sadism, incest. Beowulf, Madame Bovary, Animal Farm, Mutiny on the Bounty, Dracula! Now most of what I read is all too imaginable. What’s compelling is the sense an author makes of it.

So what would impress my heroine about Brave New World? The chilling nature of Huxley’s engineered paradise, a loveless, sinister place with designer drugs and shallow sleep-programmed emotions? Or the anguish of the “savage” John, who wants a kind of romantic love not possible in that paradise? How does the life she’s been living affect her comprehension of the book? And how much difference does it make that she has read it more than fifty years before me? (The novel starts in 1955.) I’m enjoying the challenge of sorting that out.

Another character will be heavily influenced by movies. I’m betting that forcing myself to watch what she did—The Thing? Creature From the Black Lagoon?—will be just as rewarding.

Image: A first edition of Brave New World available for a mere $8,500.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good morning Trisha. Have you ever read The Giver by Lois Lowry?

"Given his lifetime assignment at the Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas becomes the receiver of memories shared by only one other in his community and discovers the terrible truth about the society in which he lives." Newbery Medal, 1994. A 15 year old should have read this one. A classic. Lili

Thu Mar 05, 10:34:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, Lili. I haven't read The Giver. I should have mentioned my novel starts in 1955, so the books have to have been written before that.

Thu Mar 05, 12:18:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Lili said...

OH, too bad. I would imagine C.C. and Ashley have had the opportunity to read it. A good read. I look forward to this new one from you.

Thu Mar 05, 01:02:00 pm GMT-5  

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