I don’t often quote a movie I haven’t seen (and won’t) but I read a review of “Resurrecting the Champ,” and saw what may be the only gem within it. (The reviewer was not impressed). At least from a writer’s standpoint.
The line is apparently uttered by the cantankerous newspaper editor (somebody in Hollywood puh-lease give us a newspaper editor who’s not crusty, rude or feisty. That character profile has been done to death), portrayed by Alan Alda. He says this to the hapless main character played by Josh Hartnett; a sports writer in need of a big break: “Your copy is unimpressive; a lot of typing, not much writing. The truth is, I forget your pieces while I’m reading them.”
Now there’s a quote to scare a writer silly. I can’t think of anything more terrifying than punching keys and thinking I’m creating word art only to find out I am merely punching keys. It is bad enough to write something forgettable, but is there anything worse than writing something that is forgotten even as it’s being read?
How does one write something forgettable? We must know if we are to avoid doing it. Well, the trouble is it’s hard to note what makes a book forgettable because we have forgotten those books. You can’t make a respectable list of things NOT to do when nothing comes to mind to comprise the list. Example: “Mmmm. What forgettable books have I read?. . . “
. . .
. . .
The thing to do then, is note what make a book memorable. What makes a book invade my being with sentences and settings, characters and conversations, that tattoo themselves on my mind in ink that does not fade? Why do Peace Like a River and The Kite Runner and Life of Pi and The Poisonwood Bible and The Glass Castle linger in my memory, creating rivulets of emotion when I see their covers in Barnes & Noble or in someone’s hands on an airplane or on the shelf in my living room?
What is the difference between a book I don’t remember and a book I can’t forget?
I would say that, based on everything else I remember that has long since passed, we remember what mattered to us. If it mattered, we remember it. That explains why our earliest childhood memories are usually traumatic or euphoric.
So actually, it’s really rather simple, this task of being an author who is unforgettable:
Write what matters.