Thursday, May 24, 2007

Be Still, My Heart

Madame de Senonnes,
by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1814.

Ingres is best remembered for his portraits of Parisian high society.

Critics claimed he had had a superb eye, precise and detailed - but that his work lacked heart.

Baudelaire ( the poet) said Ingres was " a man with a system who believes that a happily contrived and agreeable artifice, which ministers to the eye's pleasure, is not only a right but a duty."

We see this sort of technical lavisness in prose - works which are polished and elegant in their presentation but leave us cold. Writing that leaves us with a "meh," though we may not be sure precisely why. Mechanically perfect prose - but when all is said and done - mechanical, assembly-line impeccable, without heart.

To use the oft-repeated agent's explanation, we just don't "fall in love with it."

In our efforts to refine and burnish our prose, let's not remove the heart and the passion.

BTW: Charles Gramlich, whose exciting Sword 'n Sorcery books are just out, has provided me with the perfect excuse to avoid leprechauns in my WIP - pitcher plants. ( Heh, heh.) Thank you, Charles.

And Cynthia has up on her blog a brilliant and charming "Ode" to Miss Snark.


Erik Ivan James said...

Isn't it true in life, that the best moments were filled with heart and passion? The best books we've read too.

Bernita said...

Hearts is trumps, Erik.

Robyn said...

I hesitate to admit this, but I've read some fan fiction I enjoyed more than some novels for that very reason. The fanfic had heart.

Bernita said...

I know what you mean, Robyn.
Intensity, vitality, energy - heart.

Rick said...

This is why I'm skeptical of the revise, revise, revise! school of writing advice - it risks draining the life out of the work.

mmecfmwh - the word verification thingie sounds Welsh.

spyscribbler said...

I agree with Rick. I'm not much of a reviser. If it has heart and pacing and rhythm, a polish will do to take the rough edges out. But how would I know? I can't see my own work with an unbiased eye, LOL.

You said it best: "Hearts is trumps."

Sam said...

I wouldn't mind an Ingres to hang on my wall...
What's really fun is finding an author who writes well and with passion, like Ray Bradbury or Dorothy Dunnett. (I'm sure there are lots more, but I'm being a blog butterfly and flitting!)
Personally, I can't bear a ton of passion without technique or talent. Why not just throw paint (or words) at paper?

Bernita said...

Like any good advice, Rick, it can be taken too far.
You can't deliver a soul-filled product by committee.

Too much cold water can douse the blaze, Natasha.

Bernita said...

Eh, Sam, I'm not suggesting an either/or, just commenting on an imbalance.
BTW, though it's not to my taste, there are successful artists who do seem to just "throw paint!"

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Picture plant????

Bernita said...

No, "pitcher plant," Bonnie.
They are carnivorous. Heh, heh.

Charles Gramlich said...

I know what you mean about the mechanically perfect prose but without the heart. I see it sometimes in writers who have, perhaps, written too long, who know the motions but no longer have anything really to say.

takoda said...

Oh gosh, Bernita, this thread comes at a perfect time for me. EE just posted my beginning, and everyone offered excellent feedback. And there was someone who suggested I get a book by? was it Noah Lukeman or something like that? It was a good suggestion, but...

I wouldn't be able to write if I had a list of rules in my head. I know I should eventually 'study' the art of writing, but just the thought of it makes me seize up inside. I'd rather keep with my fantastic critique group, and keep on reading the very best in children's literature, than to invest in a "How-To" book.

I really enjoy your blog. I might not comment often, but I think it's brilliant.


writtenwyrdd said...

I hadn't read MS's blog for a week or so, so your mention was the first I'd heard she was retiring the blog. So sad!

Falling in love with a book is a special treat, isn't it?

raine said...

Know exactly what you mean.
When I was playing, I knew many musicians who were technically perfect, could hit every note exactly right. But if they had no heart, no passion in their playing, they never really progressed very far (many of them wound up teaching, actually...).

Am curious about how the pitcher plant relates to the leprechauns,'ll simply have to get this book published, y'know. :-)

Bernita said...

Exactly, Charles, written with a Prufrockian air of ennui, "I have seen it all already, seen it all."

Thank you, Takoda. I am glad you enjoy it!
That's one of the reasons why I liked Miss Snark - she wasn't trying to sell a how-to book. Her blog was a gift.
Myself, I tend to apply "the rules" more on revision. Books can be very helpful for the mechanics though.

Eh, Written, I fall in love a lot!!

And one sees it in singers too, Raine.
It's like this, I can justify not having any of those nasty little buggers in my book on the basis that NA flora is inimical to them - traps and eats them, so they didn't emigrate with the banshees and the dullahans.
Thank you, I have to finish it first.

Scott from Oregon said...

"Heart" in prose. Now there's an interesting concept.

Does the "heart" come out in the characters and story, or in the "voice" of the writer telling the tale?

For me, even more important than heart is rythm. I want my reading material to have musicality and appease my mind the way music in an elevator does on the way to the dentist.

If the rythm is polished out of a piece, it feels like I am driving a car in need of a wheel alignment.

I hate being pulled.

Bernita said...

I suspect, Scott, that "heart" ( or soul) shows in all three.

LadyBronco said...

I wholeheartedly agree with rick.

When all you do is revise, the chances of you carving out the heart of your story increase exponentially. Yes, one would wish to cut unnecessary words, but some of those words have value, and need to stay.

IMHO, a good writer will know the difference.

JLB said...

I think the same can be found in any art.

When studying dance, I often recognize that I am usually the most uncoordinated in any group, but that what I feel about the movement is always intense and meaningful for me regardless.

I have often found it frustrating that I cannot bring my technical skill as a dancer to a level with my artistic expression. However, I can also see how other dancers whose skill, elegance, style, and stamina are impeccable sometimes struggle to connect with their own inner rhythm and flow in a genuinely expressive sense.

sex scenes at starbucks said...
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sex scenes at starbucks said...

I've always thought the true soul of art is the resolution of the conflict between passion and technique.

It's not a conflict that ever goes away, it just goes deeper and deeper, and even with experts, the resolution is usually momentary and fleeting.

Such moments are priceless.

Prashanth said...

Chanced on this superb blog. What a beautiful pic. Irrespective of the painter's own and seemingly oft-analyzed attitude to his art.

Bernita said...

Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, Lady B.

"I think the same can be found in any art."
I think that is true, Jade.

Beautifully put, SS!

Thank you, Prashnath.
Certainly, one cannot dismiss technique.

Marie said...

Heart and passion, definitely. It's the same with music and art.