2 Different Ways to Write a Book: Beach Reads, War & Peace, F. Scott Fitzgerald | Salman Rushdie

2 Different Ways to Write a Book: Beach Reads, War & Peace, F. Scott Fitzgerald | Salman Rushdie


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. In the way that now if we look back at these
so-called jazz age it’s very difficult to do that without seeing it at least partially
through the eyes of Scott Fitzgerald because he was so skilled at capturing the nuances
of that moment, everything from how people dressed and what slang people used to what
were the things going on in their heads, so what were the ideas and feelings that were
swimming around inside them. Every age has that, every age has a group
of things that at any moment that are bugging people and that orchestrating the way in which
they think. And if you could capture that moment then
that can do two things, it can at the time that you do it can give the reader the pleasure
of recognition that the reader reads the book and says oh yeah this is what it’s like. And then say 30, 40, 50 years later people
can read the same book and think oh yes this is what it was like. So on the one hand it has an immediate pleasure,
the pleasure of recognition, and then later on it has that pleasure of finding that moment
captured like captured an aspect available to people in the future. So I think those are some of the things that
if you’re looking for work that lasts that are very important. There is also just the question of language
skill. There’s a lot of writing that we still look
at because it developed our idea of what the English language could be. That’s also something, of course, that at
the time of Shakespeare English was in a very fluid state. Shakespeare himself spelt his name many different
ways. There wasn’t even a fixed orthography at
that time. But out of that moment of enormously fluid
language Shakespeare created, in a way, created English. He created a way of using this language that
we all still use. I mean we all use hundreds of expressions
out of Shakespeare and most of us don’t even know they come from Shakespeare they’ve
just become a part of the English language. So there is that that ability to reimagine
the language and by doing that to enrich the language. And that goes along with formal innovation,
another thing that makes work last, and this is not just in literature it’s true also
in painting, in music and so on is that there are works which make you see the form itself
in a new way. In the way, for example, in painting what
the impressionists did, which is to try and represent the way in which the human eye actually
sees rather than everything being in sharp focus all the time. That’s not how we see. The way we see is we see something in sharp
focus and around it there are other things not so much. So that idea of depicting in oil something
closer to the way in which vision happens initially was rejected. In fact when the first impressionist exhibition
happened the term impressionism was used as an insult that these painters weren’t really
very good at painting they could just give an impression of something. And so to go from that to have those painters
as being the bedrock of any great modern art collection shows you how work that was considered
to be in a way outrageous at the time in which it was made changes the language, changed
the language of art and therefore, of course, has enormous in enduring quality because everything
that came after it could not have been like that if it had not been for that moment. So both in terms of language and form the
question of radical innovation often is a guide to whether work will endure or not. And in literature there is the other thing,
which is the well told story. I think these days especially perhaps that
element of literature is a little under valued, people don’t talk about story as being the
thing that drives the work of art. But I’ve always thought that it is that
that’s the engine, especially if you’re going to try and write something kind of big
and ambitious and if you’re going to build a big car you better put a big engine in it. If you’ve got a big car that’s underpowered
it’s not very pleasant to drive and the story it seems to me is the big engine that
makes a big book work. And as human beings we have a real narrative
program, we like to understand ourselves through stories. So a book that puts story, narrative very
much at the heart of what it’s doing is more likely to stick in our heads because
we remember a character and what happened to him or her, we care about it. The work makes you care and I think that’s
the last thing I would say is the question of affect that you have to – it’s very difficult
I think to create long lasting work in which people don’t care about the people in the
work. There is a kind of cold writing that sometimes
does work that has a kind of power because of it’s unemotionality, but mostly people
want an emotional connection with what they’re reading and if they don’t have that it’s
less likely that they’re going to remember it.

12 comments

  • InkEyes

    :-O it's Salman Rushdie!! What a surprise.

    Reply
  • AcridDread

    I AM THE CLIT COMMANDER !!!!!!!

    Reply
  • XXL-Beats

    Da ting go skkkkrrrraaa, papakakaka
    Skivipipopop and a poopooturrrboom
    Skrra, tutukukututoom, poompoom
    You dun know, Big Shaq

    Reply
  • UNFORTU NATE

    I love lit

    Reply
  • Azwoh

    Never mind the construction noises in the studio

    Reply
  • Rasmus n.e.M

    Thanks to this video I was able to make a list of things I have to accomplish before becoming the writer I want to be.
    Of course, in the utmost literal sense, I am already one, and in a less yet still literal way, I am also one, because I write as much as I can on a daily basis, however, according to mr. Rushdie's advice and my intuition there are still a few(four) skills I need to master before I can self-proclaim my writing to be any good:

    -Humans: How are they, how do they act, how do they communicate, and most importantly, why?

    -Story: What is it, how to create it, and what is a good one?

    -Language: How does one keep the balance between logical, intelligible, and inventive?

    -Points: Why do you want to write a book and not a fable, which states its point at the end? Is it to avoid having a point at all or is it to make a more complex one?

    Reply
  • Josephat Kibet

    A great analysis. I understood this.

    Reply
  • Satori Ankh

    Off topic: I love the way he moves his nose!

    Reply
  • confusedwhale

    It's weird hearing the sirens in the background. It… Distracts.

    Reply
  • DeDraconis

    Is anyone else just freeze framing every nose twitch and going back frame by frame to find the strongest angular shift? No? Come on.

    Reply
  • Zionist World Order

    rushdie(how is he still alive? Threats on his life were mere hype thats how) and dawkins? Says alot about Big Think that makes me dismiss future videos from this source.

    Reply
  • Angkar I

    That drilling noise around 6-7mins thou

    Reply

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