Tag Archives: writing blogs

Mystery and Manners, The Nature and Aim of Fiction

Mystery and Manners, The Nature and Aim of Fiction  by Flannery O’Connor

Review and Commentary,    February 20, 2017

dante_gabriel_rossetti_-_la_pia_de_tolomei

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.”

9007970

 

Provoke your writing! You can read the full essay The Nature and Aim of Fiction below (pdf).

The Nature and Aim of Fiction – Salem State University

Experience her short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”

ggmmdmb0

 

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 StructureSteven 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

Comments are welcome.

dante_gabriel_rossetti_-_la_pia_de_tolomei

4 Comments

Filed under fiction, Reading Fiction, short stories, short story blogs, writing craft books

Steering the Craft of Fiction

Steering the Craft, A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story  by Ursula K. Le Guin

Book Review and Commentary  May 17, 2016

Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_La_Pia_de_Tolomei.jpeg

 

Are you a storyteller? Have you been writing for a while now? Steering the Craft is a comprehensive but short guide for writers who are not beginners, but those who need direction about their narrative prose. Ready to target some of your writing weaknesses?

Filled with lots of exercises (I’m not big on writing exercises but these are better than most), this book can function as you own private writing workshop. There’s a wealth of examples of writing achievements by authors like Alice Walker, Jane Austen, Dickens, Grace Paley, Virginia Woolf.

In Chapter One, Le Guin asks you to listen to the sounds of your writing. Listen to the forward movements, pace, rhythms, the silences. How does the changing sentence rhythms express the emotions of the characters? The examples here are breathtaking.

Of course, she touches on punctuation and grammar, but more importantly she touches on the ‘fake rules.’ Yes, she recommends breaking the rules. Every grammar bully should read this book.

“Craft enables art.” Learn how to bring deeper understanding to your craft. Le Guin goes beyond the mechanics and execution and shows you how to elevate your writing. On page 46, Le Guin discusses the famous F-word. When will that word strengthen or weaken the prose? When will it trivialize or invalidate? Good advice here. If first person vs. third person, passive voice vs. active voice has you in a jumble, these chapters will set you straight. What is “pathetic fallacy”? What is the skeleton of a sentence?

plot

Do you know the difference between story and plot? When I think of all the writing I’ve done over the past 20 years in fiction, the difference between story and plot is always a fascination and so important to understand.  Is story plot? Is story action? Aristotle addressed it and so did E.M. Forster in Aspects of the Novel (1927): This is the famous example of the King and the Queen. In Chapter 9, Le  Guin gives us a counterweight opinion.

Le Guin says “The story is not in the plot, but in the telling. It is the telling that moves.”

Le Guin’s Steering the Craft is a “story boat, magical, and knows its course. You, as writer, will help it find its own way to wherever it’s going.” Come aboard!

imgres

///////////////////////////////////

UKLbyMarianWoodKolisch

 

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin is an American author: novels, children’s books, and short stories. She writes science fiction and fantasy. She has won the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards.

 

If you are interested in learning more about Le Guin’s thinking about breaking the rules of writing, see About Writing, On Rules of Writing from her website: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/AboutWriting13-OnRulesofWriting.html [Photo credit: Copyright © by Marian Wood Kolisch].

Paris Review, The Art of Fiction, interview with Ursula Le Guin.

Famous quote: “Listening is not a reaction, it is a connection. Listening to a conversation or a story, we don’t so much respond as join in — become part of the action.”

 

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////

My Recommended List of the Best Writing Books I’ve Read.

owlimages

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)

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 StructureSteven 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

 

Next writing book on my list to review is

How to Write Like Chekhovedited by Piero Brunello and Lena Leneek.

dante_gabriel_rossetti_-_la_pia_de_tolomei

10 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, fiction, Fiction Writing, Reading Fiction, short story blogs

Writing Wild!

Writing Wild by Tina Welling

Book Review and Commentary   May 2, 2016

Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_La_Pia_de_Tolomei.jpeg

If you’re a nature lover, you will love this book. It goes beyond the act of writing and into the depths of conscious awareness. Using your intuitive nature creates a deep partnership with the natural world, so says Tina Welling. She is a novelist (three novels published by NAL), nonfiction author, an active hiker and cross country skier. And a skilled communicator with nature.

The goal of ‘writing wild’ is in the recognition of knowing ourselves through our natural world. Welling believes that while we receive nourishment from the earth, the earth receives nourishment from us. It is within this bond, within this exchange, that we can create our highest art.

The act of writing wild weaves inner and outer environments, the writer becoming conscious of this interconnectedness. How to do this? Welling suggests ‘spirit walks.’ Walking is figurative because the writer is to “set your butt on nature itself.” Sit on that log or flop down into the snow: breathe deeply, use all your senses, recall feelings or emotions.

This approach goes further than just observing nature or recording impressions. We are looking to create a new experience in this process of spirit walk. And there is a path to follow: naming, describing, interacting. I like how Welling asks us to follow Nature’s rules of creativity. Imitate the stillness of a mountain, follow the weave of a spider web, experience how a snowflake travels and lands on the earth.

Until reading this book, I did not really notice the degree of day becoming night in light transitions. Because Nature is pure energy, it can be your writing partner, says Welling. She has a section on mistakes that worked, releasing locked energy, and chance and synchronicity.

Welling knows from her own experiences with nature, that “what we create then creates us.” I found this whole book and its theories circular and very agreeable. How does all this directly help your writing? This approach and her exercises create a conscious clarity, insights, focused developments, which direct an ordered thinking of language, clean prose, and sensory data. And this is the authentic realm of the writer.

This is a book that teaches how to pay attention, open your heart, touch the hidden secrets, and speak. Skills that all serious writers need.

Visit Tina Wellling Website.

 

Tina Welling, author. CREDIT: David J Swift

Tina Welling, author. CREDIT: David J Swift

 

 

writingwild

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Recommended List of the Best Writing Books I’ve Read

owlimgres

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)

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 StructureSteven 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

 

 Next writing book on my list to review is

Steering the Craft, A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story

by Ursula K. LeGuin.

header_NEW-CROP-Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_La_Pia_de_Tolomei

10 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, fiction, Reading Fiction, short story blogs, tales of terror

On Writing. Fiction

On Writing. Fiction

Book Review and Commentary,  January 21, 2016

header_NEW-CROP-Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_La_Pia_de_Tolomei

 

 

41O3ebvsQSL._AA160_ On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King is #15 (at this time) on the Amazon Best Seller List in Reference/Writing Fiction paperback books. With over 2300 reviews (3% having 1- and 2-star reviews posted by disappointed and angry readers), I found this book to have little value in “how to” actually write, but great value in the thinking behind King’s writing processes. By reading this book, you will not learn to write effectively or how to write horror stories, but you will learn King’s perspective on how his stories emerge and what he values for his creative writing adventures.

I have over twenty writing books on my shelf—twenty-five editing books. I’m always reading and studying writing books on story, plot, characterization, themes, narrative, and the mechanics of creating stories.

So, what is writing? King says it’s telepathy. He believes that writing is the purest form of telepathy of all the arts. He advises not to “come lightly to the page.” Serious business? Absolutely. The act of narrative is a creation after all. King speaks of his Muse (and yes there are muses—believe). My own muse is unlike King’s who is a “basement guy” that inspires him. Mine is a woman and she exists outside my windows. I can’t see her but the light and the sky stream thoughts to me and without a window or a walk outside, I wonder if I can write at all without her.

It’s true that King addresses vocabulary, grammar, passive voice, nouns, verbs sentences, adverbs, description, and the mighty pace and beat of a story. Sure he recommends Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. Most writers know these basics; what is more helpful is how King speaks about the seduction and magic of writing—about letting go of the fear and self-doubt.

I love that King is more of an “organic writer” than a planner and plotter. Probably because that’s how my writing process works as well. “Stories pretty much make themselves,” King says. I agree. He prefers the “situation” of the story to flow from his intuition. “The story is the boss. Write fast to outrun the self-doubt.”

King advises against writing out plotlines, story outlines, and all that predestination. In The Secret Miracle, The Novelist’s Handbook, edited by Daniel Alarcon, Stephen King is quoted as saying he “never” outlines. Some people believe the old axiom that ‘plotting and spontaneity of real creation are not compatible.’ For organic writers this is often true.

Another book on writing is Steven James’ Story Trumps Structure. Here, Steven James echoes King’s standard for organic writing. James tells us to ditch the outline and follow the rabbit trail. “Let scenes evolve … trust the narrative force to reveal the story.” Steven James believes that using “uncertainty” is an essential ingredient if you desire to make art.

On Writing is friendly and inspiring with common sense advice. I loved King’s philosophies and creative perspectives, but there wasn’t a lot new or progressive and was rather thin on character development. A favorite writing book of mine on creating characters is David Corbett’s The Art of Character, Creating Memorable Characters for Fiction, Film, and TV.  “Without an intuitive grasp of the characters, you can all too easily fall into the trap of reducing them to simplistic automatons or “plot puppets,” acting in accordance with ideas or story necessities rather than behaving with the complexity of intention that real individuals possess.” That makes sense to me. King seems to agree with this approach when he says that he wants his characters “to do things their way.” I like that he lets go of controlling his characters to live and breathe themselves into the story.

The reason I read On Writing was because I thought there might be some insight about writing horror vs. suspense or writing horror vs. mystery. King had nothing to say on this. Author Steven James points to a difference between suspense and horror. James sees suspense as “always emotional” and makes the reader afraid to look away. “A murder is not suspense. An abduction with the threat of a murder is.” In horror, the reader is full of fear to look at the action but wants to see it (Do we really want to see this guy beheaded? Horror readers do and enjoy that fear. Interesting paradox ). A horror writer awakens the readers’ inner violence but within the safe confines of fiction.

I’m not a horror writer; my stories are supernatural suspense, ghost stories, and mysteries. And while I like the threat of murder, I don’t want to witness the bloody stabbing in gory details.

So, what did I get out of King’s On Writing? King’s prime rule is to read a lot and write a lot. Learn from the master storytellers. Not newsy advice, since most successful writers tell you to learn from the best writers and read, read, read and write, write, write. King emphasizes a writer must have razor-sharp honesty, discover your muse, and follow your intuition. Dispel self-doubt and run with your stories. Here is his most valuable point about writing in just two words: “getting happy.” I think the gift in this memoir of King’s is telling writers to discover your own true path to your stories and have fun doing it. There are no magic tricks to successful writing, horror or otherwise, but writing in itself is magic. King is famous for saying “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

Clearly, if you as a writer are feeling the magic as you discover your stories and write them out, then your readers will too. Storytelling is an exertion of power, isn’t it? To write fiction is to allow characters to live in our psychic space. And then they live in the readers’ psychic space. Telepathy, as King describes.

I think the last word here goes to Ray Bradbury because it’s so true: “First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!”

Zen and the Art of Writing, Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury is next on my to-read list and review.

 

OwlBooksimages

My favorite list of the best writing books I read:

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

Chicago Manual of Style

The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein

 

Here’s the famous Rolling Stone Interview with King.

Ten Writing Tips from Stephen King, from MentalFloss.com

StephenKingOfficialWebsite, StephenKing.com

StephenKing.com/Library

 

header_NEW-CROP-Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_La_Pia_de_Tolomei

Rossetti: Pia de’ Tolomei

If you have a writing or editing book you’d like to add, please feel free to comment.

16 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, fiction, horror, horror blogs, literature, novels, Reading Fiction, short stories, short story blogs, Stephen King, tales of terror