Case Studies For Writers

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May 31, 2019

How Death and The Dervish, by Mesa Selimovic, helped me fix my plot holes

By Dalia Lepa.

            “That was how he took revenge on the world, by not showing his bitterness.”

Oh, you lover of books. You live in an era where the modern day attention span is about five minutes.
Do you remember Mesa Selimovic? Probably not—well he wrote a critically acclaimed novel circa 1966 called, Death and the Dervish. Sure, it was written in the “stone-age”, in a different time, for a different audience. Along comes me, present day impatient Dalia, who can literally summarize the whole plot in about 3 sentences. Don’t believe me? Let me try.



The book takes place in an undeclared city (probably Sarajevo) in Bosnia during the Ottoman Rule in the 17th century. Enter the Dervish, whose young naive brother is sent to prison for coming across some incriminating state files he wasn’t supposed to see. The Dervish is devastated. Fearing his brother might hang, he solicits the help of his rich charismatic friend Hassan along with a few others in an attempt to go against the corrupt powers of the day.
The book was over 400 pages! Why did I even bother reading it when all the Dervish did was lament his brother? Because I couldn’t stop myself. The writing and the story was so bloody good, it was like I wanted more and more of his cake. And what about this Dervish?
Definition of Dervish: Similar to that of a monk, lives a simple life, takes a vow of poverty and spends his days in meditation and prayer.
What did I even see in this Dervish? Me, a secular western gal! Well it certainly wasn’t boredom or holes in the plot. Because the writing was so good, I got pretty deep into the book, but then all of a sudden, about half way through, they hang the brother. So now what? The brother is dead, the book should be over? But no, the brother may be gone, but something makes me stay. Stay, because I am hooked. I want to know more. What becomes of the Dervish? And what happens to the Traitor who turned in the brother? Then there is that charismatic no good rich friend Hassan whom by this point in the novel I have come to adore. Tell me, does he save the day?
 And so I learn, the brother is not even the core of this story. I have been deceived by a clever well-devised plotline. ‘Genius’, I say to myself. So that’s how it’s done. A plot must be a well-oiled machine. And all the gorgeous monologue that leads up to the death of the brother was not just the ramblings of a washed up Dervish. Those were important words, littered with significance, biding their time in the novel until they were ready to breath more life into the story. 
I finally got it, and so, whenever I droned on, falling in love with my own voice, unlike Selimovic in this gorgeous novel, I realized that I was doing nothing to propel my story along. I knew that those useless, beautiful filler words that may have been some of my best writing, served no purpose. And though I loved them, created them, gave birth to them like one does a child, I knew, if I wanted to save my story, I had no choice, I had to do it. I had to cut them out and murder my own children.




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About the Author: Dalia Lepa

Toronto based unpublished writer (but very hopeful as I spend my days working on the published part).  Enjoy reading and writing fiction and any gorgeous prose I can get my hands on. Studied English Lit at UofT and Creative Writing at Humber College. As a lover of books & a real wordsmith I always say, what a better world it would be if there were more great stories? I also say a little kindness goes a long way, and I am always happy to read, critique, enjoy and encourage my fellow writers.  I take great inspiration from feedback and many mentors that have passed along some pretty great advice. There is always so much room for growth & encouragement. So keep writing :) It's rough out there. Don't give up! I certainly don't plan to!
You can find Dalia on Instagram: @dalia_lepa