George Carlin, Who Art in Heaven

by wjw on June 26, 2008

Last night Bravo re-ran an Inside the Actor’s Studio featuring an interview with the late, extravagantly lamented George Carlin. James Lipton asked Carlin his version of the Proust Questionnaire. Among the questions was, “When you die, what would you like God to say to you?”

“‘At last we’ll have some fun up here,'” Carlin said.

I trust the Deity is now rolling in the aisles.

A member of the audience also asked Carlin about his method in putting together his concerts, and and it turns out Carlin has— (had! I should say, I’m not used to thinking of Carlin in the past tense)— anyway, Carlin had an interesting method. He kept something like 2000 files of things he was interested in, and they were divided roughly into three groups.

The first was Words. (Carlin was pretty obviously interested in linguistics.) The second was Big Questions— politics, philosophy, religion, teleology, etc. And the third was Life— the amusements and frustrations of dealing with ordinary existence, of cars cars, people, home appliances, television talking heads, and other minutia.

What struck me about this was that this is very good advice for a writer of fiction. Fiction is all about the words, and you should pay very close attention to them. Fiction is about life, and if your characters aren’t anchored in real life they lack that which will make them come alive in the reader’s mind. And if fiction isn’t about big ideas, why are you bothering?

George, a tip of the sombrero to you. You’re going to make my writing better.

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