All the Pieces Matter: First look

So pieces matterthe book I am reading now is All The Pieces Matter, by Jonathan Abrams.  This is an Oral History of HBO’s The Wire.

(The book is due out in February but in full disclosure I received this eARC from NetGalley for a fair and honest review. (Thanks NetGalley!).

I’m about 70% of the way done with the book and it is great.  Just great.  I am a big Wire fan.  I’ve probably watched each part of it 10 times.  In my view, the storytelling is just perfect.  In fact, I model my own writing on the way The Wire developed, which means you go slow and you don’t have to explain everything.  You reward people for paying attention.  You collaborate with the audience.

There will be more on that when we get to the final review.  For now, a couple cool observations.

First, a lot of the people who wrote for the show were novelists.  That’s really interesting and it shows.  Simon didn’t want a typical TV cop show.  In fact, he didn’t want a TV show.  And he didn’t want to portray anything as fixed and anything solved.  He wanted to portray the bleak urban landscape, as he sees it.  It’s dark and it has integrity.

To do that, he hired novelists.  And he got what he wanted.  The show is like no other and is written with a novelist’s eye and a novelist’s use of language.  In fact, I believe that The Wire is literature.  If you can read Shakespeare as literature (and god knows, we do) then this is literature, too.

The other thing that is really revealed in All the Pieces Matter is the amount of collaboration involved in making a TV show as compared to writing a book.  You are inclined to think of the producers, director and actors…and maybe the scriptwriters.  But in this book you also hear from casting, makeup, director of photography, script supervisors…people from throughout the production.

It is a major difference.  A novelist works alone and puts him or herself into the minds of all the characters.  Each of these people has to interact with all the other people in order to make the art.  That’s a totally different assignment than writing.

With that in mind, there was a writer’s room, something you’ve heard about and seen on TV.  (30 Rock, for example).  That got me to thinking.  What if novels were written in a writer’s room…by six people spitballing ideas, arguing, fighting and then developing the story and the dialogue, and then doing re-writes as a group?

What a change that would be.  Like anything, I guess there would be advantages and disadvantages.  Would books ultimately be better?  You’re inclined to say no.  Who wants books to be like TV?  And, you have that kind of situation in these MFA Writer’s Workshops, and I’m not sure those things are doing anything to promote great literature.

It is also counter to the mythology of the lonely writer, sitting, half drunk and totally self-loathing while banging out their misery in a darkened room.  So you’d lose all that tragedy and self-pity, too.

But, what about The Wire.  A Writer’s Room produced The Wire, so it has to be possible, right?

Finally, as a last thought, I’d suggest that it is very possible that 99% of novelists could not work in that environment without losing their minds.  Being 100% in control is one of the beautiful parts of writing fiction.

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