Fiction is Just Plain Naked

It doesn’t get any starker than the written word. Via Gutenberg or der Kindle, the printed page is plain and raw and naked. No razzle-dazzle about it. Nothing frilly. From Homer to Dickens to Twain to Wolfe, you get the same flat page, the same gray effect. The jumble of Arabic characters plays the same from one to the next. A page is a page is a page. Like any other.

All that makes writing one damn pure form. It’s an art form in plain brown wrapper. The very nature of the medium itself is generic. Newsprint is newsprint and 20 pound bond is 20 pound bond. Fonts may vary, sure. But Baby Ray Chandler has no more hold on Arial or Times Roman than Dr. Seuss. “Green Eggs and Murder” would look the same no matter who wrote it.

Maybe it’s not the greatest revelation since Poe discovered the detective story, but this purity struck while catching an old, British cop series. I’ve been watching a lot of these shows, and it hit me how they get away with murder, art-wise. There’s a gazillion things going on while I’m viewing these inspector detectors. There’s the meal I’m shoving into my mouth. There’s construction noise that blots out dialogue and sound effects. There’s a host of distractions that block the sound and pulls my eyes away from the screen.

But I keep watching. Maybe the characters have sucked me in. Or maybe I’m weary enough to blank out and keep watching as a way to filter out the rest of my day. There’s so much going on at one time to keep you lazily engaged. It’s so damn easy. It doesn’t necessarily take a lot to make the program good enough. It takes a lot less commitment to plow through 30, 60 or 90-minute chunks at a time.

But a book. It’s just you and the words. The pages are all the same. The words are all the same. And that’s all the author’s got. You can draw parallels between cinematography and direction and the writer’s techniques, but they don’t play the same. The author’s got those black and white hieroglyphics and nothing more.

I’m not trying to make a case for one art form as any better or worse than any other. The simplicity of writing just gets me. My keyboard’s no better or worse than Little Stevie King’s keyboard. My pen and paper is just as good as Joyce’s. My typewriter’s no less significant than Nabokov’s.

The bare-bones nature of this medium staggers me. Vonnegut’s blank page has got nothing on mine. Sure.


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