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Tag: fiction writing

On the assumptions that are considered universal

Cecilia Tan on certain parts of the literary establishment: “The power to ‘show, not tell’ stemmed from […] writing for an audience that shared so many assumptions with them that the audience would feel that those settings and stories were ‘universal.'” (Found via this.)

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On distractions from writing

“I don’t always have the luxury to set aside a couple of hours for writing, so in the past when I did get to set those hours aside, and failed to focus, I could be especially harsh on myself. A real writer wouldn’t get off track like this, I told myself, hoping to guilt myself into focusing. Except when I thought these words, instead of feeling like getting back on track, I just began to feel less like a real writer.

“So I tried a new approach. I went with the distraction. I decided that distraction did not have to be something to beat myself up over. It could be an asset. It could even be a kind of craft tool. After all, the more I let my mind wanderings play out, the more I noticed that most of my thoughts also had to do with narrative: A plot twist in the news. A rejected suitor on The Bachelorette’s desperate attempt to rewrite the story of who he was. If I gave it time, all of my distractions funneled themselves into something like fiction. A part of my mind kept monkeying toward story, even when it was avoiding the story I actually was trying to write. When I let these distractions happen, and didn’t fight them, they often led me back to an interest in narrative, and eventually an interest in my narrative, the story I was trying to tell in the first place.”

—Lee Conell (x)

On writing a novel

“Oftentimes in early drafts, the book is propelled forward by pure longing, which is to say that what I’ve successfully created is a need in the heart of the character. But that need is itself an empty space, and in later drafts I need to flesh out the nature of the need: where did it come from and why is it still unfilled?”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

On second person

“I’ve made a lot of use of second person lately, and I think one of the reasons why it attracts me is that it’s direct communication with the reader in a way that no other POV is. I know a lot of people aren’t overly fond of it, and I think a lot of the time it’s not done particularly well, but as a stylistic tool I love it. This story felt very immediate, and of course it’s an old idea that one thing that happens in the moments before death is a turning-inward, a taking of inventory. You have your last moments of communication with yourself as well as others. So it felt natural to go that way. I didn’t really think about the specifics of why until now, honestly.”

—Sunny Moraine (x), about “What Glistens Back”

Overquoted but still potent

“Nabokov writes prose the only way it should be written, that is, ecstatically.”

—John Updike, apparently about Pale Fire

On art and advocacy

“I don’t believe that art and advocacy really can coexist. If you want to advocate a position, write nonfiction, give a speech. Art is supposed to be a seduction, and good fiction is supposed to invite the reader in to decide for him or herself how they feel, so I never try to push anything on anybody.”

—T. C. Boyle in an interview with The Coffin Factory Inc., found in Tweed’s

On talent, craft, and the ineffable

Lee Henderson: Have your ideas about what makes for good writing changed since you began publishing?

Elyse Friedman: I don’t think so. Talent is the most important ingredient. Then mix in as many of the following as you can: pain, loss, experience, intelligence, guts, sense of humour, empathy, soul, taste, fearlessness, originality, audacity, pizzazz. Craft is probably the least important part, though it’s exciting when all the elements come together.

this interview

Interesting. I’ve always treated it as an article of faith that craft is the most important ingredient, or perhaps hard work. It’s hard to admit how important uncontrollable elements like talent and courage are.

 

On the terror and hurt of writing

“To be honest, this story terrifies me for two reasons; one, because it’s written in blood; and two, it’s written about blood. I hurt myself writing ‘Jonny Appleseed.’ I write because I need to—because I haven’t ever seen or heard this story before[….]”

—Joshua Whitehead

On making unconventional art

“There’s this idea that at some point you master how to tell basic stories, and then you can tell masterful stories. But that’s not true. You never master how to tell a basic story. In fact, you never master any part of writing. Mastering something implies that you can do it again and again, without flaws. […]

“Nathalie Sarraute never wrote a ‘standard’ novel with regular rising tension and beginnings and ends and all of that regular stuff, and I don’t believe there’s any evidence that she was capable of that. I don’t think that a person improves as an artist by producing work that they don’t care about ‘just for practice.’ I believe that you always, from the beginning, have to be aiming at doing something that interests you. And some people just aren’t ever going to be able to interest themselves in the standard forms and models for fiction.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

On the purpose of a first draft

Shitty first draft” is a misnomer

A rough draft isn’t just a shitty story, any more than a painter’s preparatory sketch is just a shitty painting. Like a sketch, a draft is its own kind of thing: not a lesser version of the finished story, but a guide for making the finished story.

Once I started thinking of my rough drafts as preparatory sketches, I stopped fretting over how “bad” they were.

—Wrex (x)