Vivid and Sustained Dream 01/12/21

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jordan Harper’s newsletter, which you should all subscribe to.

Jordan is the author of She Rides Shotgun, a fast-paced crime thriller that won the Edgar. It’s about a father/daughter bank robbing duo on the run from some nasty people. It’s pulp, it’s fun. Jordan’s an Ellroy disciple, so you know the prose is tight and mean.

The newsletter is packed full of excellent, actionable advice for getting things down on paper today. I particularly like the bits about writing it down first, then worrying about making it good, and having beginner’s mind.

But a few things really stand out to me.

The first is this, which you can find on Jordan’s “spirit board” for his new novel: “IT’S A DREAM. IT’S A WORLD BIGGER AND BRIGHTER AND PULPIER THAN OURS.”

The idea of a “vivid and sustained dream” is the piece of the puzzle I’ve been looking for. I’ve been trying to put my finger on what’s been missing from my own books. Every time I sit down to write them, I feel like I lose steam. The problem is, of course, that I’m breaking the dream. I’m worrying too much about the characters, the plotting, etc. What I need to focus on is keeping the dream alive.

Love it or hate it, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Too Old to Die Young is a vivid and sustained dream. Remember, Jordan never said anything about other people necessarily having to be interested in your dream, or to stay aboard for the whole ride if it gets boring (I loved the show, by the way).

Another example is a game I picked up at the Gamestop only 7 years after it was released: Grand Theft Auto V.

I bought Red Dead Redemption II at the same time, and while that is a beautiful and immersive experience…

…I keep coming back to GTA. It’s pulpy, it’s nasty, it’s colorful. It moves quickly, there are fewer consequences for your actions, and there are these great, subtle flourishes on the radio or in the dialogue that add just the right level of immersion to the whole experience. It is, I think, one of the best art experiences I’ve had in a hot minute.

From a video game! Who’d have thought?

It is a vivid and sustained dream, and it never lets up. When you’re in its world, it is attempting to entertain you at every turn.

There’s something to take from that, I think.

Is it possible that modern novels are a bit…boring?

Much to think about.

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