Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, December 13, 2011 18 comments
While laid low with a cold over the weekend, I rewatched the old Winona Rider version of Little Women, an odd mix of wonderful and terrible acting, and a sentimental journey for anyone who writes.

For some reason, this watching I was most struck by Prof. Bhaer's opinions about Jo's first novel. He assented that yes, sensational, exciting stories sell. But Gothic romance seemed to not admit any of Jo's best qualities: "There is nothing in here of the woman I am privileged to know." I'm not entirely sure if Alcott intended this as a smear on pulp fiction; perhaps so, perhaps not.

But whether you write literary realism or more fantastical work, I think there's something to his assertion that the very best books, the one that are loved for generations, are works of extreme courage. "There's more to you than this," the professor says, "If you have the courage to write it."

In Jo's case, she doubts that her life experiences are worthy subjects of fiction. The most courageous thing for her is to expose her "quiet" upbringing for all its humor, beauty and drama. But another writer might have been raised in an environment that shunned imagination and was always thoroughly Philistine. In his case, it would take great courage to write light, humorous fantasy. In so doing, he'd have to own up to suppressed desires and embrace what he fears others might not value as much as he does. Honesty is the supreme act of courage.

Do you have a story you lack the courage to write? I do. It's been niggling at me for years, and Prof. Bhaer's wise words have again it pinned front and center on my imagination's notice board. Even the holiday busyness hasn't been able to push it into a closet it this time. For once I have a sense of just how the story wants to be told. So here's to courage!

What does courageous writing look like to you?
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18 comments:

  1. Since everyone's experience, desires and talents are different, I think the key word, as you said, is honesty. Whatever one writes must ring true.

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  2. I should watch this movie again. Great reminder to write the story you want to tell instead of the story that people think will sell

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  3. I'm ashamed to admit that I've never read Little Women. Courageous writing looks like never giving up to me, though. :-)

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  4. I'm all for courageous writing. I can't wait to hear more about this story you've wanted to tell.

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  5. I've never seen this movie.

    Good question. I know what I'd like to write, but don't think I'm good enough yet. But I don't think it's courage I'm lacking as much as experience.

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  6. That's a wonderful definition of literary courage. I only hope I have the courage to write some of the stories brewing in my head...

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  7. Little Women is a great book, and I love this movie adaptation! It's a good one to watch around the Christmas season. :)

    I think courageous writing is anything you write honestly and from the heart, no matter the genre, no matter if it'll be published.

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  8. I think courageous writing is when you stretch and dare to pen something you might not normally. But I think we are courageous too, when we continue to learn and write, and put our words out there for others to see. Wish you the best with this story!

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  9. I think being willing to expose emotion and your vulnerability. To write that story that once got put off because you didn't feel you were ready. I've got one of them too!

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  10. Tricia: Exactly--courageous writing will look different for each writer. We all have different demons that prevent us from writing true.

    Carrie: Yes, I found that idea encouraging.

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  11. Shannon: The movie is an okay adaptation, though it tones down Alcott's strong opinions about what maturity looks like, for instance. But you have to at least skim the scene where Jo and Laurie meet for the first time. It is some wonderful YA witty banter before there was even such a concept as adolescence.

    Melissa: I suspect it will push at least one of my current projects onto the back burner for a while. Sometimes you just have to ride the wave of enthusiasm.

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  12. Theresa: A great point--sometimes the stories we long to tell take experience and development of our "writing chops" to do them justice.

    Deniz: As each project stretches you a little more, courage does come.

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  13. Laura M.: "writing from the heart"--from a place of emotional truth--is something that can be so hard but so rewarding. And readers CAN tell the difference.

    Karen: To stretch and to dare are worthy goals. I think it was Anne Lamott who said that if you aren't a little scared when you sit down to write, you're not yet getting to the meat of your story.

    Laura P: When you ARE ready, the story has a way of invading your life. So brace yourself. :-)

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  14. Oh, Little Women is my all time fav book. It was the first book I read, as a child, where I was swept away by the characters, the era and the story. Courage is an underused word in the world of writing but I say go for it and write what your heart dictates!

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  15. I think courageous writing is any writing that is hard. There's always an easy way out, but taking the challenge to do the more difficult writing is courageous. That might mean writing in first person for the first time, or adding a new plotline that's going to upset the whole story and mean tons of rewrites.

    Writing is always hard, but choosing the rockier path shows courage.

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  16. Pat: It's a unique book for the era--I'd argue it's the first genuinely YA book. I just wasn't prepared for the film version to set off a chain reaction in my life right now, with the holidays fast approaching!

    Stephanie: It always takes courage to stretch ourselves, because it means stepping out on wobbly new foal legs. There's a good chance we might stumble a bit before getting it right.

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  17. A great post - and even more beautiful the comment thread!

    Courage is hard, but I think the best books tackle hard things. I've got an idea simmering in the back of my mind. It is bigger than I am, and bound to be some trouble. I'm not ready for it yet, but someday I will be.

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  18. Heidi: Fascinating comments here, aren't there? The big stories of our lives take time and care. When you are really ready to tell your big story, I believe it will come sit in the center of your mind and heart and demand your courageous work.

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