Tagged fiction

Mailbag: Following Detail, the Loss of Handwriting

It’s that time of the week, writers — time for me to respond to your comments! This week I’m talking about following a detail into your fiction and the loss of handwriting. Let’s get to the comments!

James Thayer said:

This is such an important topic. John Gardner in The Art of Fiction speaks of details as “proofs,” rather like those in a geometry theorem. The novelist, he says, “gives us such details about the streets, stores, weather, politics, and details about the looks, gestures, and experiences of his characters, so that we cannot help believing that the story is true.” Details should be specific and concrete. A detail is concrete when it appeals to the senses.

Thanks, James, for reminding us of that important tenet of detail: a concrete detail is not only specific, but also sensory. Remember to use your senses, writers, rather than speaking generally about heartbreak or joy. What makes an experience joyful? What does the character’s body experience? What sensory experiences are in the air or on the tongue?

Eva said:

I used to doubt my ability to write details. I’ve always considered myself a dialog writer. A few years ago I took a class with a marvelous teacher who somehow managed to get me to unlock the details. the results were a surprise to even me, the person writing them.

Inspiring, Eva. Many of us think we can’t do some particular part of writing, so we avoid it carefully. There’s no reason why these skills can’t be learned and honed — that’s what craft, and this blog, are all about. Play to your strengths — but stretch those strengths, too.

After the jump: responses to the loss of handwriting.

Read more

Mailbag: Fiction and Non-Fiction, Anxious Readers

In this week’s mailbag post, I’ll be tackling a few different reader comments on various posts. Let’s start with a comment on my post, What’s the Difference Between Fiction and Non-Fiction? I made a few arguments about order, randomness, and structure that differentiate fiction and non-fiction. Here’s what Mary Lou Wynegar said:

I found this to be an excellent article that provoked me to really think deeply… In a world where many are our worst critics I can thoroughly understand why one would be afraid to tell their story in an non-fiction format verses fiction. Fiction is safer. To tell your story you open your self up to being ridiculed, judged, (why didn’t she do this, why didn’t she do that, and so on.) One has to be strong within themselves to know they can withstand the pressures that society may throw their way in knowing that they did the best they could at the time. And that is the whole point, and reason for sharing their story ~ so others may learn from their mistakes, or triumphs.

Thanks, Mary. That’s an aspect of non-fiction I didn’t tackle — the tremendous courage it takes to share it. Not everyone is cut out to be a memoirist; being one necessitates putting the darkest parts of your life out on display for the world to see. Other writers prefer to shadow those aspects of their lives in disguised forms in fiction. That, too, takes courage. But if you think you want to write non-fiction, do heed Mary’s advice here and remember its costs! If you’re ready to be honest with yourself about what has really happened in your life, then non-fiction might be for you.

Now let’s move on to a post I wrote about keeping your reader anxious at all times. One commenter had a very interesting response. S0BeUrself said:

This tactic speaks to the success of gambling. Your book is the slot machine, the reader its player. The more you give your audience, the more they’re likely to stay seated, waiting with baited breath for the big pay-off. Used effectively, it’s almost unethical.

Great way to think about the hook of anxiety in plot, S0BeUrself! Definitely, this power of keeping a reader engaged through keeping him on cliffhangers is very strong and can even be used to manipulate people in the wrong situations. It’s a little fiendish, all these tricks we writers have to hold readers. Let’s just hope they continue to be used in ethical ways!

After the jump: more thoughts on other posts!

Read more