Interview: Etgar Keret in The Rumpus

I love almost everything about this interview in The Rumpus with Israeli writer Etgar Keret.

Keret is known for his surreal short stories, and I appreciate his idea that “everybody’s life is potentially surreal.” This resonates with my own views, but it also seems very appropriate, given that Keret’s writing often starts with a seemingly normal, mundane premise that veers violently, strangely into the unknown. For instance, his story “Crazy Glue” explores marital infidelity by having the wife glue herself to the ceiling of the couple’s home. I’m really interested in the turn his stories make, and it strikes me that it’s a very similar kind of turn to the one Keret describes experiencing while visiting New York. I’m curious how one–as a person generally, but especially as a writer–can cultivate the openness Keret seems to have, the facility for not passing by those “gateways to surreal worlds” that present themselves in everyday life.

I’m also cheered by the story he tells about being discouraged from writing by a classmate when he was in college. For one thing, this is encouraging because I do believe that success isn’t measured solely by talent. Sometimes the people with lots of talent can’t stick with it, and the people with a modest amount of talent and a lot of persistence are the ones who are able to go the distance in the end. As Keret says, after being told he should give up writing, he just kept on writing: “I went home and kept writing stories. I never wrote because I felt I was good at writing. I wrote because I felt I had to.” That drive, I think, is what distinguishes promising writers from good writers. The really good writers keep working at something they find challenging, not because of what others will say, but because they feel they have to.

Point of View Exercise

This exercise is intended to help the writer develop a deeper understanding of two characters by exploring what is gained and/or lost through shifting point of view in a scene.

  1. Come up with a scene with at least two characters in it. (You can also use a scene from an existing story you’re working on.)
  2. Write the scene from the first person perspective  of one of the characters.
  3. Rewrite the scene from the first-person perspective of a different character.
  4. Now rewrite the scene in a third person omniscient perspective that has access to both characters’ perspectives. Switch between the two throughout the scene.

In working on this exercise, you might ask yourself: What are the respective limitations of first person and third person omniscient perspectives? What are the affordances of these points of view? What  does one character know or notice that another cannot? What can you accomplish by writing in third person that you can’t do in first, and vice versa? Does one perspective yield more productive results in this particular scene? Why? Are you more comfortable writing from one perspective than the other, or from the point of view of one character than the other? Why?