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Thread: Is constant disaster really a prerequisite, and what's the deal with Bukowski?

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
    Join Date
    Oct 2017

    Is constant disaster really a prerequisite, and what's the deal with Bukowski?

    Hey there.

    *Spoiler alert on Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski*

    I'm new to the board, and I'm new to this kind of writing, too, so hi. I've been a graffiti writer for many years, but this is something else!

    So, I was told to read every day, and write every day. I did. This week, I read Charles Bukowski's "Ham on Rye", and I did not like it. I see why people give his writing credit; this is my question: how do people enjoy reading this story? I was depressed after.

    I will read dreadful stories and pitying the characters suffering for hundreds of pages on end, if there is a least some salvation at the very last page. But Bukowski is just one long defeat - what drives anyone to recommend the story? (Maybe it just reminds me too much of myself in ways).

    And then my second question is: in fiction, is it really necessary to have constant disaster through your book until the last part? Can't we have just a bit of fun?

    Can't we be allowed some brief hold-ups of temporary joy, before all hell breaks loose again? For instance, when I read 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami) I loved the story, but throughout at some point I was thinking: "Reading these books is like holding your breath. He creates tension to make me hold my breath. Great. Then increases the tension to make me scared shitless, I'm amazed and turned pages feverishly."
    But I felt like he was making me hold my breath all the way to the bitter end, always adding tension, which at some point overdid it for me. I would like just a few chances to gasp just the tiniest snippet of air - not filling my lungs, just tasting air for five milliseconds - before plunging into more disaster. Staying with my breath-metaphor, I loved the ending and I loved the books but 4/5 through I felt like the story had suffocated from holding my breath too long.

    It's just too much without the contrast of occasional joy, for me personally. Am I the only one?

    How I'd write my books would be with the tried-and-true constant tension, of course, but when the protagonist finally manages to overcome something, and achieve something, as I reader I've often felt like I did not get to enjoy it before being shoved into the next disaster, and felt mistreated this way.
    I wanna treat my readers differently, but is that the worst idea ever posted on this board?

    Sincerely and excitedly cheering from Denmark

  2. #2
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin insolentlad's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2017
    Florida Panhandle
    Won't address the Bukowski thing, don't know the story. But tension: I agree that it can be overdone (as anything else). I'm inclined to give the characters and readers an occasional interlude to relax and enjoy themselves before hurtling them into the thick of things again. If nothing else, it is an opportunity to explore who they are in a different setting. Oh, there will still be danger lurking in the background but they can't be thinking about that all the time.

    And it's a good place to slip in that sex scene too!

  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW thereeness's Avatar
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    Oct 2017
    I recently received some critique from my critique partner that I agree with: I tend to add too many action/fighting/run for your life scenes and that can take all the tension out of them. There's definitely a need to add some time for the characters to relax and enjoy themselves. Think of it like, would you still be a sane, competent hero after dealing with one drama after another? I know I wouldn't. I'd end up a gibbering mess and completely shut down and that's why I'm not a main character XD But yeah, definitely agree that characters, and readers, need down time. A chance to release the breath they've been holding. Otherwise, those thrills? Not so thrilling after a while.
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  4. #4
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Oct 2017
    Thank you for your answers!

  5. #5
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Oct 2011
    Lost in space. And meaning.
    I don't know Bukowski, but I've certainly read plenty of novels where the tension ebbs and flows throughout the story. Resolutions of one conflict can lead to a temporary reprieve when the characters get a bit of breathing room, experience insights, regroup, experience romantic encounters, etc. I don't think tension and conflict are entirely absent, but the pattern where the tension mounts steadily for the entire novel with no variation isn't universal in the novels I've read.

    I suppose it's a matter of what works for the story at hand, but readers also vary in what they prefer. Some readers hate it when there are breaks in the middle of the story, or where there are side plots that need to be dealt with. For me, if the pace is too furious throughout, I feel a bit cheated at the end, because I didn't really get to know the characters or their world. This means I don't care about them, and the stakes, as much as I otherwise would.

    I also tend to prefer stories with optimistic endings, where narrative justice is served. This doesn't mean it must be blissfully happy (though that varies with genre), but bittersweet is not the same thing as completely awful for everyone involved in the story. Some stories are about a downhill spiral of a character and its inevitable consequences, but those kinds of stories aren't my general preference. That might be why I'm more of a genre fiction reader, though.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 10-14-2017 at 10:19 PM.
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  6. #6
    The Anti-Magdalene KellyAssauer's Avatar
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    Mar 2006
    Bukowski has never been an easy read for me. He certainly is in a different school of writing. The thing that I've found myself left with after reading Bukowski, however, is an appreciation for how he manipulated my emotions. When a writer can do that, I need to find out how they did it - and see if I can do it myself. Generally speaking though, you need to write what is comfortable to you. Constant tension throughout is not something I want to read. There is an audience for that kind of storytelling, but I'm not writing to it. I am of a school of thought that suggests that the growth of a protagonist can come in many different forms, and the very last thing I ever care to read is a sex scene. They rarely, if ever, have anything to do with the story. I skip right over them. I guess I'm trying to say that you may have a lot of different answers heading your way from writers who do not define tried-and-true constant tension the way you do, or consider it in the same way. Be comfortable with your own writing. That's the key. I'd say Bukowski seemed to be comfortable with his... and do note that I do not mean 'be content' with you're own writing. That's something entirely different. =)
    Last edited by KellyAssauer; 10-14-2017 at 10:31 PM.
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  7. #7
    Banned for Trolling
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    Oct 2017
    Not contractually obliged to like everything you read, and Marukami to my mind is the written equivalent of Muzak.

    Bukowski is being true to his subject. Anything else would have been a cop-out.


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