Just a short post today. Last night I went to see Jamaica Kincaid at the Free Library of Philadelphia. She read from her new novel See Now Then and, to no one's surprise, she was quite wonderful.
During the Q&A afterward, she addressed the question of narrative. Specifically that what we think of as a well-made narrative is actually quite a recent invention. For most of human history, we got along without it. Speaking of Moses, who died without seeing the promised land, she said:
"You could never get away with that today. What?! After all he's been through? There's no clooosure, you don't get any sense of clooosure."
Which brought to mind something I've been meaning to say here for some time: All you new writers should stop writing formulaic stories! You know the ones I mean. The main character's name is dropped in the first paragraph, the plot builds gracefully to a moral climax, there is an apotheosis in which the protagonist achieves closure. Or else dies tragically. Which is to say that you're giving the reader exactly the story he or she is expecting.
I know that this is what you were taught to do in your writing classes, workshops, and retreats. But that's only meant to be a jumping-off spot not a final destination. Once Picasso was capable of drawing a recognizable dog, he moved on. So should you.
Because a hundred years from now, nobody is going to be reading that predictably well-made story of yours.
I'm only this cruel to you because I want you to be great.