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Thursday, July 28, 2022

'Socially acceptable schizophrenia'


"Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia."  - E.L. Doctorow

Doctorow, whose novel Ragtime won every major writing award and was the precursor to many other great works to follow, once said that it is the historian's place to tell us about a time in history or an era, and it is the novelist's role to tell us how we would act and feel if we lived during that time.

His characters exemplified Hemingway's admonition that when writing a novel, the writer should create living people – “... people, not characters.  A character is a caricature.”

I thought about Doctorow and his marvelous work recently while talking with a radio interviewer about my new book Rainbow Rock.  “You really put us into the time and place,” the interviewer said.  “Did you feel an obligation to make that real to us, so that we would know?”

And I used Doctorow's words above as part of my response, saying THAT is, indeed, the writer's obligation.  It is not acceptable to be “mostly right.”  We must be completely right in what we share if we are to remain true to our craft and to the great writers who have led us along the way.

“Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader,” Doctorow wrote.  “Not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”


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