July 13

4 comments

Your Friday Writing Challenge: Don Delillo (part two)

This is the second part of the writing exercise from Friday. Thanks to Jim for sharing his version of Delillo’s paragraph, and for everyone who liked the post.

Here’s the start of the paragraph (which we had seen on Friday):

At three p.m. Steffie was still wearing the protective mask. She walked along the walls, a set of pale green eyes, discerning, alert, secretive. She watched people as if they could not see her watching, as if the mask covered her eyes instead of leaving them exposed. People thought she was playing a game. They winked at her, said…

Here is the full paragraph:

At three p.m. Steffie was still wearing the protective mask. She walked along the walls, a set of pale green eyes, discerning, alert, secretive. She watched people as if they could not see her watching, as if the mask covered her eyes instead of leaving them exposed. People thought she was playing a game. They winked at her, said hi. I was certain it would take at least another day before she felt safe enough to remove the protective device. She was solemn about warnings, interpreted danger as a state too lacking in detail and precision to be confined to a certain time and place. I knew we would simply have to wait for her to forget the amplified voice, the sirens, the night ride through the woods. In the meantime, the mask, setting off her eyes, dramatized her sensitivity to episodes of stress and alarm. It seemed to bring her closer to the real concerns of the world, honed her in its wind.

What do you think of Delillo’s writing? I like how the remainder of the paragraph keeps the scale of things low, and maintains our sympathy by stressing the protagonist’s affection for his daughter. One of the features of White Noise is how Delillo uses standard words (“detail and precision,” “real concerns of the world”) to convey a state of the unknown and mystery. These abstractions become ominous rather than vague.

PS Re-reading my own version of this paragraph, which I posted on Friday, I now think I cheated: mine seems a bit too similar to Delillo’s… Oops.

I did this specific exercise several mornings ago, and perhaps, at that point, I hadn’t figured out the “don’t read ahead” part of the challenge. Okay–for next Friday’s exercise, I promise not to cheat.

Daniel

Photo credit: “Incheon International Airport (summer 2013) 06” by myself (User:Piotrus) – Self-photographed. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


Tags

Don Delillo, writing challenge, Your Friday Writing Challenge


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  • I liked the exercise, but I was frustrated a bit by the lack of detail in the prompt. (I frustrate easily.) Also, I did not guess that the point of view was from that of the main character. So, I did a omniscient narrator take on the piece. I think, perhaps, that Don Delillo’s work would require a great deal of effort to read. Or, perhaps my brain is lazy. It is a work to savor–not fast food fiction, which I am used to consuming.

    • Hi Kirizar,

      Yeah, the lack of detail / context is probably my fault! Details like POV are probably something I should include going forwards 🙂 On the the other hand, if the prompt was productive, that’s good news.

      Overall, I’m delighted that three people tried it out on the first Friday…

      Delillo isn’t fast food, but I don’t think he’s that obscure. The style can creep on you, feel enchanting. I liked White Noise a lot more than many of the classic novels I’ve had to read for my exams. You can see another paragraph from the novel, even more strange and eerie:
      http://incompetentwriter.com/2013/03/03/american-prose-aspiring-to-be-poetry/

      • I can see the poetry of Don Delillo’s writing but will admit that I struggle to get his meaning from the excerpts. It is perhaps a failing on my part, that without context, I flail in the face of incomprehensible lyricism. It is also possible that staying up until 3:00 in the morning watching Carol Burnett reruns has had a deleterious effect on my brain. Unless it is slap-stick, I am just not functioning well enough to digest the words. I will try again another day when I have been kinder to my cerebellum.

        • Kirizar,

          It definitely helps to have read the book (which I did enjoy), rather than starting with the excerpts. But you’re right: there is something vague and indistinct about Delillo’s prose here.

          Your comment may me wonder whether being in academia has lowered my standards for comprehensibility! I read so many scholarly books where the writer mocks the idea that Ulysses or Gravity’s Rainbow is “difficult.” In such an environment, perhaps a reader (incorrectly) just accepts a state of routine near-confusion.

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