1. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    The secret to Beat Generation style writing

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by OurJud, Sep 2, 2016.

    I make no secret of the fact my writing is heavily influenced by writers of the Beat Generation, and while I can't claim to be any kind of authority (not even nearly) I have read a good few of them.

    Despite this I find it hard to put my finger on exactly what it is they're doing in their novels. I try to reflect their style in my own writing but find I'm automatically drawn to a more conventional story-telling style with an unfolding plot. It's almost as though I don't have the courage (let alone the skill) to describe the mundane in the way they do, because we're constantly being told this isn't done. If it doesn't drive the plot, leave it out. Don't be self-indulgent. Don't tell us about the weather unless its relevant. Or as someone once said, Fiction is like real life with the dull parts cut out. But writers like Fante, Keroac and Bukowski didn't subscribe to these notions, thankfully.

    And yet, when you finish reading these novels you're left in no doubt you've just been told a story, and that there was a purpose to their ramblings and descriptions of the mundane. And what's more, if you're a fan of the style, you've been stimulated and entertained in a way no conventional novel will ever do.

    Yes I can write about the mundane, but whereas their prose reads like poetry, mine would read exactly like the subject matter; mundane and pointless.

    So is it simply my lack of skill and word-power that stops me from pulling it off, or is there some other secret to Beat Generation writing?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    One of the things to remember is that a lot of their work is mythologized retelling of their actual lives. Especially Kerouac. Also, are you living a life that would inspire you to write like them? Yeah, they didn't all have shit lives (again, Kerouac, came from a pretty cush background as did Burroughs), but they had a purpose to what they were writing. There was a lot about their lives, and how those lives were examples of the cultural paradigms in which they lived, that they found deeply unsatisfying and suffocating in how much of what was expected of them and of what they expected out of life seemed like arbitrary lies. Remember also, that the American cultural landscape was changing dramatically. The 50's, as it is sold to us today, isn't at all what they were experiencing then and represents one of the most furtive attempts at revisionism to be found in American culture.

    I don't think its profitable to try to imitate their writing because everything that led up to those works is part of a different time and set as contrast against a very different antecedent. I would say that I think it is very profitable to dig into what they were trying to say (each in their own way) and try to discern from that what in your own life is worth getting onto the page in a way that's real. Ginsberg is quoted as saying something to the tune of "There was no 'Beat Generation'. That's a term that got made up later to try to describe us. When we were in it, we were just some guys trying to get published."
     
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  3. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    For what it's worth: I have the exact same kind of trouble in my WIP. I can't emulate the voice/style of the works I've read and fallen in love with, I have to find my own way.

    I will never be able to go that close to this kind of writing which is justified - because I don't have the experience, the lifetime behind it. Just find your own way, write in the manner that comes easily. If you feel your words, if you feel them hitting you that will be enough.
     
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  4. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree it would be futile and silly to try and capture the essence of those times, especially when my settings are in a totally different country with its own unique culture, but I maintain their style is still relevant today. They told of times in their lives in a simple, matter of fact way, free of plots that bog down conventional fiction. And yes, maybe they were based on their own lives and experiences, but they were still largely fictionalised events they were telling.

    I have no real interest in plots - as I've said countless times elsewhere on the forum - and feel that my only writing outlet is this kind of stuff. I'm not trying to emulate these writers because I think it's cool or hip, I'm trying because their stuff talks to me in a way no other fiction does. And if not having had their life experiences means I'm wasting my time, then I'm wasting my time.

    Quite a scary thought.
     
  5. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    No, it is NOT. You can't ever recapture the past, which you have never lived through. That doesn't mean that the past must be forgotten. Or should be forgotten. If you feel this past, if your heart is in it, then your style, and your words will transfer this feeling. At least that's what I hope for.

    Don't let the past bog you down. It is the NOW that matter. Styles may have changed, yet the meaning has remained the same. Carry on, regardless.
     
  6. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    But I'm not trying to recapture a 'past'. If I was doing that I'd be writing about a down-and-out in 50s New Orleans. I'm only trying to capture a style.
     
  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Because they were talking to us about themselves, and about what they genuinely saw and experienced rather than what was being sold as "the truth".

    Of course you haven't. You've had your own. That's not a waste of time. What I meant in my prior post is that I feel (having also been a fan and spent a period of my life worshipping them) that they were talking to us in a way that was as honest as they could muster, even when honesty felt mundane, as you mentioned earlier. If you want their style, I don't think that this part can be done away with. I think it's part and parcel. I don't know if this is what you are doing in your writing, so I ask, are you?
     
  8. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    But what is a 'style', but transfer the meaning behind it? You have to engage the reader, in a manner that makes them understand what you feel.
     
  9. Meet
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    I Believe the Writers attempted to bring order out of chaos by using Experimental Techniques such as the cut-ups.
     
  10. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know. I don't think so. The only way to do that would be to write autobiographically. But I don't want to write my biography because I've not led a life worthy of recording. I suppose what I'm trying to do is write the biography of a fictional, but interesting character.

    Perhaps I am, in the words of John Fante's Arturo Bandini, just a phoney.
     
  11. Albeit
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    I agree that the now of our lives is the place from which we create, yet there is little stopping us from tapping into what we remember from long ago or even what we imagine as we take a gander forward.

    Regardless, the now will always remain the perspective rooted in the ever lasting moment.

    I read the beats extensively before my 20's and initiated many of my close friends to their writings. I think that I was just hoping to see & feel everything the same way the beats did at that age. Everything mattered and everything was alive.

    The secret of the beat generation's writing can be speculated upon, but not defined to a tee. There was too much to the context to properly convey and explain what made this movement what it was and how & why their artistic expressions spewed out of the conventional context so beautifully & wildly.

    One thing for sure about the long gone beat generation, it was youthful energy that spurred on their movement. Youthful energy & looking for change. Their ideas, like some of us also seemed to be accompanied by a ferocious focus on the now of their lives.
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2016
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  12. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think you're selling yourself short, mate. Are sure there's nothing worth knowing there, or is being honest harder and more... dangerous than you're ready to do? I'm not trying to be a twat with that question, I mean it as flatly and plainly as possible.

    You know about the Beat Writers, so you should know who these guys are:

    [​IMG]

    Lafcadio Orlovsky (left) was Peter Orlovsky's (right) brother. Peter Orlovsky was Allan Ginsberg's recognized partner and lover. Lafcadio became ill, both physically and mentally, early in life, (as did their other brother Julius as well) but for a brief moment he was angelically beautiful and filled with potential that was never realized. That brief moment is worth writing about and he and Peter figure in Kerouac's books. They had not conquered the world; they had just lived and someone saw value in acknowledging that life.
     
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  13. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is homosexuality considered 'dangerous' these days? That is what you're asking me, right? If I'm gay and in denial?
     
  14. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    ...wha? :wtf: No. I don't care if you're gay. I'm not pointing to anything specifically. I mean life can be hard to be honest about. I know there are some slices of my own life that I think would probably make for good story, but I don't know if I'm brave enough to be honest about these things, especially - and most importantly - to myself as I write them.
     
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  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    @OurJud, let me try this again, because I feel like maybe you feel attacked by me, and that was the furthest thing from my mind. You said you feel like you haven't lived a life worthy of writing about. I challenge that because I feel there has to be something in your life that's worth engaging on an honest level as a writer. I mentioned Lafcadio because I know about him and his life, which, when viewed from the outside, might seem like it amounted to nothing and was wasted, but he was written about because someone saw the value in him. One of the deepest stories I have ever read is A Home at the End of the World, which is a tragedy of sorts, in that the characters in the story only ever almost succeed at life, love, happiness. If you were to measure them dispassionately on a merit based scale, you might come to the conclusion that these people aren't worth knowing, let alone writing about, but that's not the case. They are written honestly, and I mean like naked with every flaw and shortcoming and imperfection and everything that all of us, each and every one, tries to hide. It's a fucking phenomenal book. It's sad and painful, but it's real and it's honest.

    I think the key words in my prior post got missed, man.

     
  16. OurJud
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    Yeah, sorry about that. One of the symptoms of my depression is neurosis and acute vulnerability. It gets sometimes that I read all sorts of things into innocent comments.
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2016

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