Ferrante: My Brilliant Friend

Elena Ferrante is an enigma. She–we assume the writer is a she since that is how she has identified herself in the few anonymous interviews she has given–has never appeared publicly. To date, while there are rumours of who may be the person behind the name, whether it be their real name or a nom de plume, no one has ever officially identified themselves as the Italian author. All we are left with then, as a reader, is a wonderful writing style that tackles the complexity of  a female friendship set in the Naples region of Italy.

Ferrante’s story revolves around two women: Elena, who most likely is a stand-in for the author herself, and Lila, her best friend. Elena serves as the narrator of the novel which focuses on first their childhood, then their adolescence. The remaining books in the series spend time on their adult lives together. In short, Lila is an obstinate, non-conforming girl while Elena seems to have an unusual fascination with her friend which borders on an inferiority complex. It’s debatable who the titular “brilliant friend” is in this book. While Elena is the clear scholastic one, Lila is shown time and again through the words of Elena herself to be a brilliant thinker who has the gift to view life in very different ways from others.

Ferrante’s original work was written in Italian and then translated. Since I do not know Italian, I am going to assume that the translation is faithful to both Ferrante’s original meaning and writing style. If we can move forward under this assumption, I thoroughly enjoy her unique writing style which is highly narrative, with only scarce use of dialogue. I also enjoyed the work because it is far from formulaic, the story being more character driven, taking the time to show us the complex friendship between the two women, and how they fit into their small, poor community in Naples in which they were raised.

My Brilliant Friend is the first in a series of four novels, followed up by The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child, to be released in English in North America in September 2015.

I highly recommend you give this first novel in the series a read.


Half Way Reflections

As I near the halfway point of writing the first draft of my debut novel, I thought this might be a good time to sit back and reflect on the things I have learned about the writing process.  I fully expect that whatever I have learned so far, this is only the starting point for my maturation as a writer.  I have to give myself permission to stumble as I find my voice.  I have to accept that my first novel (and my fiftieth, if I ever become that prolific) will be less than perfect.

These are some general notes about what I have gleamed so far from the process.

Tension–Tension is everything, really.  But I struggle with it because my story is very character driven.  So I keep having to remind myself that my characters don’t need to be hanging from cliffs at the end of every scene to create tension.  On the other hand, I do need to always keep in mind the goals I have set for my characters (even the ones they don’t know are their goals yet!).

POV–I think I have the POV thing down okay.  I try my best not to head hop and think I have so far skillfully avoided that.  I;ve tried to play around with POVs with the non-main characters, not because I want the reader to be necessarily sympathetic towards them, but sometimes its useful to see the two MCs from the perspective of others, who mostly view them very different than they view themselves.  ( A point that is likely true of ourselves, by the way.)  When I get to the editing part, I’ll have to see whether the scenes as I wrote them work in that POV or not.

The Subconscious at Work–The more I write, the more I find that my subconscious is at work filling in details that at the time seem weird but when I write later scenes, all of a sudden I get this eureka moment where I understand why my brain did that.  In a way, it comforts me knowing this process is happening silently in the background, because to me it means I am evolving as a writer.  My brain is thinking as a writer.

Music as Muse–I have found more than once that music has influenced my writing of this novel.  Many scenes have been imagined out while listening to music.  I find I don’t even have to really think hard, the music, the emotion, the power of it all, bring images in my mind of my characters and helps me understand their emotions perfectly.  It is my job, then, to transcribe these emotions as I feel them onto the written page so that you, the reader, can feel them also.

Plotting vs. Organic Writing–I have to say I have taken quite a hybrid approach towards writing.  I first started writing this novel basically just writing scenes out with the characters, getting a feel for them and their mannerisms.  Struggling to find my voice.  After writing enough that I felt I knew where the story was kind of starting, I started planing out at a high level what I thought the story was about.  I then wrote more scenes and planned out more of the novel.  Now at the half way point, I have to change some key elements of the second half thanks to some surprising developments as I write.  I guess this is all part of the process.  I wonder how much will change when I am done my first draft and go back to edit?

Those are my thoughts for now.  Happy writing.

The Tao of Writing

I’m a writer. Or am I?

What makes a writer? Well, one would think that the simple act of writing makes one a writer. But simply throwing random words on the page isn’t writing. Writing is about evoking emotion in the reader, about creating worlds and characters out of thin air and bringing them to life. There is a certain thrill in that from the writer’s perspective, knowing that each word you write gives your characters skin, and blood, and bones, and a beating heart, so that later when you inevitably break those same character’s hearts in a love story or spill their blood in a violent confrontation, or eventually give them a triumphant victory after numerous failed attempts, it becomes real. It is earned.

So, I’m writing a novel. I don’t know if I will be successful at it, but I’m going to try my damnedest. Why? Because inside everyone is a powerful story that needs to be told. Maybe one day, you can enjoy mine.