Mystery and Manners, The Nature and Aim of Fiction by Flannery O’Connor
Review and Commentary, February 20, 2017
How does a writer write? Flannery O’Connor addresses this question in her essay The Nature and Aim of Fiction. O’Connor’s grasp of writing is 5-star quality. In her short 39 years, she wrote 2 novels , essay, reviews, and dozens of award-winning short stories.
O’Connor demands intelligence but also art. She says, “When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one.” So, we are left to understand that the meaning of a story must be embodied inside it. Clearly, we must experience the meaning of the story, not just state or label it.
The guidance in this essay is aimed at “story-writing” and offers precise insights about the creative process. No techniques here, O’Connor instructs that stories are organic and grow out of the material. If you are a seasoned writer, or a new one, this essay is a fast read and full of writing wisdom. I like her thoughts about “incarnational art” and the “process of understanding.”
She devotes a whole paragraph to “anagogical vision.” Curious about what that is and how it can affect your writing? Do you know how “dramatic unity” functions in a story? These 10 pages are invaluable!
We all like to think that our fiction writing is an escape from reality with our fictional characters and fantasy worlds. Think again, says, O’Connor: “Writing fiction is a plunge into reality and very shocking to the system.” She reminds us that competence by itself is deadly. “What is needed is the vision to go with it.”
“One thing that is always with the writer—no matter how long he has written or how good he is—
is the continuing process of learning how to write.”
Provoke your writing! You can read the full essay The Nature and Aim of Fiction below (pdf).
My Recommended List of the Best Writing Books I’ve Read.
How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career by James Scott Bell (book review here)
Creating Characters, The Complete Guide to Populating Your Fiction, by the Editors of Writer’s Digest
(book review here)
Dialogue, The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, & Screen, by Robert McKee (book review here)
The Annotated Dracula (Bram Stoker), Annotated by Mort Castle (book review here) (Also The Annotated Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) Annotated by K.M. Weiland)
How to Write Like Chekhov, Advice and Inspiration, Editor Brunello and Lencek (book review here)
Steering the Craft, A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, Ursula K. Le Guin (book review here)
Writing Wild, Tina Welling (book review here)
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg (book review here)
Method Writing, Jack Grapes (book review here)
Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury (book review here)
On Writing, A Memoir, Stephen King (book review here)
More Craft Books I’ve Read and Recommend:
Writing Fiction, A Guide to Narrative Craft, by Janet Burroway. All the basics of how to write: the writing process, show vs. tell, characterization, fictional atmosphere and place, story structure and plot, point of view, theme, and revision.
Story, Robert McKee
Story Trumps Structure, Steven James
The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner (I reread this book once a year, it’s that good)
Making Shapely Fiction, Jerome Stern
The Art of Character, David Corbett
Getting into Character, Brandilyn Collins
The Secret Miracle, the Novelist’s Handbook, edited by Daniel Alarcon
Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande
The Faith of a Writer, Life, Craft, Art, Joyce Carole Oates
If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland
Reading like a Writer, Francine Prose
Elements of Style, Strunk & White
Best Editing Books for Writers:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King
A Dash of Style, Noah Lukeman
The Grammar Bible, Michael Strumpf & Auriel Douglas
Line by Line, Claire Kehrwald Cook
The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein
Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Second Edition, Ernest Gowers
Chicago Manual of Style
Words Into Type, Third Edition, Skillin & Gay