Thursday, June 6, 2013

Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut

As a writer, I can vouch that a primary writer’s worry is whether or not our fictitious worlds are plausible. Believability is key. Never mind that a story exists as a façade of ink and paper, or e-ink and screen, or voices. We want the story to transcend the medium and transport the reader into a world as vivid -- more vivid! -- than the "real" one.

To let the construct of "story" show is like revealing your panties on the playground.

Sometimes, I wonder why authors go through all this trouble to shroud the fact that we work in words and metaphors. Readers know the seams are there. We can either spend all our time muting the seams and hiding our undergarments. Or -- like an open-raftered building, or a pinup magazine -- we could let the supports become the show.

You want to know why most writers don’t drop the veil? Because it’s a hell of a lot easier to putty over the cracks than it is to incorporate them.

Kurt Vonnegut figured out how to make the workings of a story become the story, like a watch with a transparent back or a Japanese chef who cooks at your table. He figured out that his voice drives his stories, and that people read them not for Billy Pilgrim or Kilgore Trout, but for Kurt Vonnegut. The author is the main character, his antics the reason to follow the other characters.

So in Breakfast of Champions, he made himself an actual character. The author-within-the-story decides who should meet whom and what calamity should drop next. And in the best commentary on writing I’ve ever read, the characters he creates enact themselves against him, despite his being the Creator of this little Universe.

By the rules of writing, I should not believe for a moment that this story is "real." My disbelief should never be suspended. And yet... I still care. The book still compels me to read. I still cannot wait to see what happens, even after Vonnegut tells me what will happen.

The strip is no longer the tease. The seams become the show. And the fireworks are no less spectacular, no less magical, even though I watched them get lit.

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