I 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
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
I finished Every Contact Leaves A Trace by Elanor Dymott this morning and highly recommend it. It’s foolish to start a good mystery at 1:30 a.m., but I didn’t expect that I would not be able to put it down. I wanted to learn what trade-off Dymott made when she chose not to sustain the tension she created with a masterful use of the present tense and a narrative voice that conveyed tremendous emotion with paradoxical constricted affect, and I wanted to know just how unreliable that narrator was. I’d like to think the protraction of the novel was a device that permits the reader to experience the magnitude of the narrator’s grief, but instead, Dymott chose to indulge a great, and at times, exasperating, reveal, when she could have produced a gem so brilliant at half the length, she would have stood next to Ford Maddox Ford rather than in his shadow. It is, however, an exceptional book, precise, and, at times, gorgeous. If Dymott only gets better, I can’t wait to read whatever she writes next.
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?
“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.