I’ve noticed that most blogs seem to be focused exclusively on non-fiction (news, personal anecdotes etc.)
I write, and read, both fiction and non-fiction, and recently re-discovered a wonderful, perceptive and hilarious essay on writing fiction, called the 39 Steps (http://www.mississippireview.com/Center/the39steps.html). It’s not entirely inappropriate for writing non-fiction as well, including blogs. Some of my favourite ‘steps’:
1) Step one in the great enterprise of a new and preferable you in the house of fiction is: Mean less. That is, don’t mean so much. Make up a story, screw around with it, paste junk on it, needle the characters, make them say queer stuff, go bad places, insert new people at inopportune moments, do some drive-bys. Make it up, please.
12) We can’t care about sand mutants; if you do, or think you do, kill yourself.
13) Coherence is a big part of the game. Make sure the story is coherent, that the scenes flow each from the last, that the reader has the clearest sense at all times of what is going on. Err on the side of clumsiness to start with; back away later.
21) If you write a sentence that isn’t poignant, touching, funny, intriguing, inviting, etc., take it out before you finish the work. Don’t just leave it there. Don’t let anyone see it.
22) To repeat, there is no place for rubbish & slop in the highly modern world of today’s fiction. Every sentence must pay, must somehow thrill. Every one.
23) Also: Obscurity is not subtlety; intentional obscurity is pinheaded and unkind.
29) Apropos the big issues, note that parents don’t sit around getting heartbroken about abortion, they get heartbroken because they killed the baby.
30) Or, because the baby was born with fins for hands. It’s the particular.
33) No characters named Brooke or Amber.
This essay was written by the gang at USM’s Center for Writers, which is headed by my favourite author, Frederick Barthelme. A couple years ago I wrote to Frederick and asked him how he made his characters’ dialogue so realistic, and he told me he dictated it first, had his secretary transcribe it verbatim, and then tinkered with it as little as possible. Try it — it works.
If you’re interested in reading some great fiction, here’s a link to Frederick’s bio and bibliography and some of his on-line works: http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/english/ms-writers/dir/barthelme_frederick/index.html His short story collections are all wonderful.
And in the unlikely event you’re interested in reading my fiction, it’s here: http://howtosavetheworld.ca/aboutTheAuthor/

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2 Responses to ON WRITING

  1. Charly Z says:

    Any guide to improve writing skills piques my attention. Thanks for the link to the 39 steps. I’ll give it a read as soon as I get a chance.

  2. gammasync says:

    The 39 steps have moved to a different page:http://www.usm.edu/english/center/the39steps.html

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