Story, Not Information: Making Shapely Fiction

Shapely FictionI was looking for a primer on the elements of fiction to help Henry with his English homework, when I ran across Making Shapely Fiction by the late Jerome Stern of Florida State University’s creative writing program. This is one of those read-worn books I forget about but end up running across about twice a year, pull off the shelf, and curl up with. It’s always a pleasure to re-discover it. Continue reading

The Habit of Writing: More Than Carefully Arranging Words

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I don’t write new work every day, but I’m constantly at work on my writing, no matter what type of writing it is–and it’s mostly revision. An essential feature of my approach to writing is mental work and engagement.  What I want to touch on today has to do with the routine or habit of writing, and in particular, writing fiction. Continue reading

Amateur

calendarIf my blog were a physical thing, it would be buried beneath stacks of dusty books, junk mail, cups of spare change, dirty coffee cups, tissues and various odds and ends.  It’s naturally been a crazy couple of months, so something had to give. I was concentrating on other kinds of writing, and every creative impulse was directed elsewhere. I apologize for my slacker ways. Summer began at the end of June after the protracted school year due to the extraordinary blizzard cancellations last winter, and with it came a house full of bronchitis that lasted for over two weeks. Our home transformed into a sanitarium, our own Magic Mountain, except no magic or mountain, just misery.

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Wordle Frequency & Frobisher

Remember the novelist, Frobisher, in David Lodge’s Small World (1984) whose favorite word turns out to be grease and all variant forms? This, along with some other facts about his style, paralyzes him from writing. It’s a shocking thing to discover which words we latch onto.

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The Conventional Character Traits Of The Fictional Detective

Fictional detectives don’t fundamentally change over the course of a story. They may hone a skill, become savvier, gain experience, but their personalities remains intact. They may undergo an experience that requires transformation, permitting them to overcome personal flaws or weaknesses. Conversely, such an experience may weaken or challenge them, making them vulnerable in a new way. But what draws readers to appreciate  fictional detectives and to care for them and their success in the course of the story, even over the course of a series, remains consistent.

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This Is A Work Of Fiction

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Various friends have read and commented on versions of a short story that began in September last and grew into something entirely different over the six months of its evolution. No one yet has had the nerve to tell me that it’s pap and ought never to see the light of day. They’re leaving that happy task up to the journals. However, one question each reader asked with a sense of astonishment is, Did you really do this?

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Revision Is Premeditated Murder

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – wholeheartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

Arthur Quiller-Couch, On the Art of Writing, 1916


My short story is in a wonderful tangle at the moment because I began to revise before I completed it. At the time this made all kinds of sense, primarily because the story required some tinkering on point of view. My experiment on expanding the point of view to two characters’ observations, thoughts, impressions and emotions seemed like a good idea at first but as the story progressed, one character’s perspective began to dominate. The draft needed some clarity in this respect. It was an easy fix that would have taken little time to correct. Then, I should have been on my merry way.

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