Writing is a strange beast. Everyone can do it, but very few can do it well. And those that can do it well often have very little cognizance as to what it is about their process that makes it click — F. Scott Fitzgerald died thinking he was a failure despite writing arguably the greatest book of the 20th century (The Great Gatsby). But author, intellect, and all-around bon vivant Salman Rushdie has a good take on what makes great books work: they capture the moment around the character and incorporate it into the story, which helps drive the story forward. It might not seem to many like a massive change, but Rushdie accurately points out that this is what made Gatsby work so well: the novel’s ability to capture the moment of the Jazz Age. It’s that ability to write layers into the story that separates the wheat from the chaff. If you’d like to read more of Rushdie’s work, his latest work is The Golden House.
Read more at BigThink.com: http://bigthink.com/videos/salman-rushdie-the-difference-between-pulp-fiction-and-lasting-literature
Transcript: First of all I would say that it’s always been the case that there has been two kinds of process, there’s been that instant process where people are trying to make work that has a huge impact at the moment and they don’t give any consideration really to its enduring quality. I think in the world of books there clearly is a sort of a best seller writing, which exists for that quick hit, you know, it exists in order to sell a million copies very quickly and for everybody to read it on the beach that year and then throw it away. I mean that’s a perfectly reasonable way to approach things. But if you do the other thing, which is to hope that people will read your books long after the moment in which they were written then you have to bear in mind certain things that do endure.
One of the things… the thing that endures most of all is human nature. Human nature is a great constant; it’s always the same in every country in every time. The reason why we sitting here in the 21st century in America we can watch a play written by the a 16th century English playwright – William Shakespeare – and it still says something to us… is because what those plays understand and have in common with us is an understanding of how human beings work, what it is that motivates us for good or evil. So I think at the center of the business of creating something enduring is to never lose sight of the human figure at the heart of it, never lose sight of the human scale. The moment you become too grand, too kind of wide angle in your portrayal of the world you lose the sense of that individual in the middle of the crowd. So in a way you always have to know where Waldo is and the crowd has to be about him in the end and it’s his presence that orchestrates and gives meaning to the crowd. So that’s one thing I would say that you really need to have as deep an understanding of human nature as your gift permits.
Beyond that there are things that have caused work to endure. One of the things is if you are able to capture a moment because one of the things that we do as readers is we read the past through its literature. So if we want to know something deep about Napoleon’s Russian campaign, for example, we read War and Peace, which takes us into the reality of that moment in Russia perhaps as no history book can because it takes us into the human experience of it, the lived experience of it. But I think more recently a book like The Kite Runner would be a book that would do that for the lived reality of Kazakhstan, which is something that people see on the news quite often as a place where explosions happen. But what literature can do is take you into the lived experience of that place that makes it valuable for a long time.