Like I said, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my next longer piece of fiction. This is always the hardest part, coming up with an idea. “It’s not about what you write– it’s how you write it” might be a writer’s anthem, but still, there’s definitely merit in writing that presents a fresh, new idea.
How do you make an old story fresh, or a new story relatable? How do you avoid writing what hundreds of people have already written?
One thing I know for sure is that I want to write in the vignette style. Some of my favorite works of fiction are written this way– Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies and Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. I love how vignettes allow for multiple perspectives on a common theme, and let the writer flip through time effortlessly. There’s also something poetic about a series of vignettes, because each one is pretty brief. Sometimes a never-ending chunk of text, no matter how amazing the writing, is exhausting. Vignettes let the reader and writer breathe.
I’m a fan.
But what to write about?
Right now I’m at that stage when ideas are still forming; for a moment they’re immensely exciting and I can’t wait to put pen to paper. Then the feeling fades. What was I thinking? I can’t write about that. Whoosh. Off to the trash.
When I was younger, I always saw fiction as a total escape from my suburban life, a chance to travel outside the bubble. I wrote about things I had no experience with: flappers from the 1920s, a drug-abusing mother, children with mental disabilities, a quirky New York City coffee shop. I want my new work to fall closer to home. I’ve found that good fiction writing always involves opening up somewhat. Fiction doesn’t have to be based on your life, but on some level it has to be based on your experiences.
Much of my family history lies in Brooklyn, N.Y. My grandfather (mother’s father) grew up in an Irish tenement in Brooklyn in the 1930s and 40s. My father grew up in Brooklyn Heights in a Jewish neighborhood in the 50s and 60s. People usually think of Brooklyn through its context with Manhattan, but for those who grow up there, Brooklyn is its own entity, harboring a history and character independent of “The City.”
When I think of Brooklyn I think of rising housing prices, veganism, the Brooklyn Bridge, trendy bars, artists’ studios, and hipsters. The Brooklyn I see is totally different from my father and grandfather’s Brooklyns. My story would be set only partly in Brooklyn, and would not be focused on history, but it would be interesting to somehow show the area’s development through the lense of a modern-day 20-something-year-old.
Sparknotes of a book that’s not written:
Vignettes/Flashbacks. Brooklyn. Manhattan. Midwest. Social Networking. Newspapers. 9/11.
I’ll elaborate on the other themes in a later post. Vague, I know, but let’s see where this takes me…