What 1 Movie & 2 Short Stories Taught Me About Writing

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love – stories by Raymond CarverAfter I saw the Australian movie Jindabyne recently, I decided to read the Raymond Carver short story on which the movie is based. It was fascinating to see how Beatrix Christian adapted the short, spare text of “So Much Water So Close to Home” to create a compelling 2-hour movie.

So often when we see movie adaptations of novels, we lament what’s been lost, even when it’s obvious something must be sacrificed when going from 500 pages of text to 90 minutes of film. Beatrix Christian’s task obviously was more of a fleshing out of what Raymond Carver left unsaid, between the lines, in his story. A talented pair of writers, both of them.

Having completed the one story, I had to read the rest of the collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. One story in particular blew me away with what Raymond Carver, again, with his tight, tight writing, left unsaid.

The story “The Third Thing That Killed My Father Off” begins:

I’ll tell you what did my father in. The third thing was Dummy, that Dummy died. The first thing was Pearl Harbour. And the second thing was moving to my father’s farm near Wenatchee.

We then get the thing about Dummy, but no more is said about the move or Pearl Harbour until the last paragraph:

But as I said, Pearl Harbour and having to move back to his dad’s place didn’t do my dad one bit of good, either.

Is it possible to read those lines and not wonder what it was about Pearl Harbour and about that move that did that narrator’s father in? Arriving at the end of “The Third Thing…”, I was reminded of one of my favourite writing quotes (which I used in an earlier post – The Joy of Cutting Words):

The last thing that a poet learns is how to throw away,
And how to make you thrill and creep with what he doesn’t say.
– J.R. Lowell

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