If you get stuck, just write like William Faulkner
March 10, 2013
This is another of the occasional pieces I am doing for readers and authors, which features snippets from great writers.
William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury has stood the test of time. Originally published in 1929, it languished in relative obscurity until Random House 1946 included its Modern Library collection. With that publication, The Sound and The Fury took its place in the literary firmament where it has remained ever since.
In other words, it only took the book seventeen years to gain a wide readership. So Indie authors, take heart.
The book image featured in this post is my own copy. Back in the day, when I was a poor seminary student living in Fort Worth, Texas, I would squander what little money I had scavenging used book stores. I know that is when I purchased the book because my habit was to write the date I bought a book inside the front cover. This one says, “Stephen Woodfin, 15 Sept 75.”
That date puts me in a garage apartment next to the railroad tracks, an apartment so diminutive that the address required me to append a 1/2 to it. 1424 1/2 Wayside. (Don’t even ask me why a seminary student would live on Wayside street. That inquiry is beyond the scope of this post. I think it was yet another of example of God’s weird sense of humor.)
Anyway, back to Faulkner.
I have to admit that his writing has always been difficult for me because of the dialects he uses. I’m from the South and speak several southern dialects, but the ones I find in The Sound and the Fury are those of another part of the country, and they often evade me.
I suppose that is one of the reasons I shy away from dialect in my own writing. I would understand it, but I’m not sure my readers would. The last thing I would want would be to have the reader stop in the middle of the story because he was grappling with dialect.
But, let’s look at the opening paragraph of The Sound and the Fury.
Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. They were coming toward where the flag was and I went along the fence. Luster was hunting in the grass by the flower tree. They took the flag out, and they were hitting. Then they put the flag back and they went to the table, and he hit and the other hit. Then they went on, and I went along the fence. Luster came away from the flower tree and we went along the fence and they stopped and we stopped and I looked through the fence while Luster was hunting in the grass.
This is going to sound like blasphemy to some because the styles of Faulkner and Hemingway are often juxtaposed as if they were polar opposites, but if I had not known the origin of that passage, I might very well have guessed it came from Hemingway’s pen.
But what do I know?
(Stephen Woodfin is an attorney and the author of six novels.)