So, I was able to move beyond Sherlock Holmes and dive into War and Peace, allegedly the best novel ever written. Part I, the first 118 pages, reminds me of Downton Abbey set in Russia, complete with vaulted-ceilinged homes filled with Russian high society, and dinner served with a footman behind every dining chair.
I wanted to read Tolstoy after reading about the term “defamiliarization,” first coined in 1917 by Viktor Shklovsky, who wrote:
“The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.”
Shklovsky illustrated the idea of defamiliarization with examples from Tolstoy:
In ‘Shame’ Tolstoy ‘defamiliarizes’ the idea of ﬂogging people in this way: ‘to strip people who have broken the law, to hurl them to the ﬂoor, and to rap on their bottoms with switches.’ [Shklovsky 1917, 56]
Why all this talk of defamiliarization and Tolstoy?
The whole point of all this thinking about defamiliarization is that it gave me a new lens through which to look at my own work. As I work on the new novel, I’m trying to find ways to shake up the prose, and re-look at how I see things with words. What can I do to make a sentence, a character, a voice, jump of the page?
Do what Tolstoy did: slow down and show the object, situation or character not only in vivid detail, but in a way that will slow the reader down, make her see with fresh eyes, even make her question what she sees.
Reading inspires me. It teaches me. Reading leads to writing. I haven’t been writing since my book has been out to publishers, but Monday is my writing day, so I’m going to get my butt in the chair. Reading Tolstoy ought to at least help me take a fresh look at my prose. Even if I don’t write like Tolstoy at the end of the day, I may do a better job of writing like me.