Friday, October 29, 2010

James M. Cain on Words and Writing

"The only way I can keep on the track at all is to pretend to be somebody else – to put it in dialect and thus get it told. If I try to do it in my own language I find that I have none. A style that seems to be personal enough for ordinary gassing refuses to get going for an imaginary narrative. So long as I merely report what people might have said under certain circumstances, I am all right; but the moment I have to step in myself, and try to create the impression that what happened to those people really matters, then I am sunk. I flounder about, not knowing whether I should skip to the scene at the church or pile in a little more of the talk at the post office. The reason is...I don't care what happened. It doesn't matter to me. Narratively, I do not exist, I have no impulse to hold an audience."

--James M. Cain, quoted in The Baby In the Icebox and Other Short Fiction, ed. Roy Hoopes.


  1. Nicely ambiguous. I can't think of a way to paraphrase that and have it make the same sense.

  2. I agree, Ron. I like how it seems that Cain himself is struggling to put this into words. It is hard to pin down weaknesses in one's own style, and I think he makes some pretty interesting observations about himself.

  3. That's definitely Cain's strength - letting his characters talk.

  4. Yeah, it's a relief to know that someone like Cain was floundering around himself.

  5. I can't imagine writing this well when you couldn't step into the shoes of your characters. More amazing than ever.


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