Daniel Handler (“Lemony Snicket”) is Bewildered

Daniel Handler spoke at Hugo House last night on “Writing as Burglary.” Great topic. He basically said that you should look at the novels and writing you admire and take everything apart like a clock, examine it closely, steal bits that you love. You should know the very center of what you love about a work — a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter — then diagram it and use it.

Quote Handler, quoting others: “T.S. Eliot said ‘Good poets borrow, great poets steal.’ But Oscar Wilde said it first.” And this: “Barry Manilow did not write the song ‘I Write the Songs.’ It’s a COVER.”

It was a very funny, enjoyable evening. But my favorite takeaway is this concept:

Childhood = Bewilderment, and stories are the acknowledgement of that bewilderment.

This is 100% the reason that I started writing YA. Only I would add:

Adulthood = Continuing Bewilderment 

My favorite stories are those that capture the chaos and confusion — the bewilderment — of life. They don’t moralize or teach lessons. And true to form, my favorite YA authors (including A.S. King, Andrew Smith, and more) do “weird” exceptionally well. To me, it’s a critical element of writing good YA lit, and just interesting literature for anyone, really. Think on it.

Here are the rest of my notes from that part of the talk:

  • Childhood = this bewildered state of affairs. “You were born crying because you didn’t know what was going on. You were crying because you were coming out of a woman. That’s the first thing that happens. And then, if you weren’t crying already, someone hits you!”
  • That’s why the strangest literature you will ever read is children’s literature. Because Bewilderment – you don’t know what’s going on. That is childhood.
  • Stories give us a sense of ACKNOWLEDGEMENT – it doesn’t teach a story or lecture. It acknowledges that bewilderment of growing up.