Friday, May 16, 2008

Books about Books

I've mentioned before that I like the Brenda Ueland book If You Want to Write. She's encouraging and energetic, and reading her book is like having coffee with a friend who happens to know a lot about writers. Now I'm reading another venerable book on writing, John Gardner's The Art of Fiction. His style is more academic, which makes sense because he taught writing for years. He amazes me with his ability to break apart the process and offer suggestions about each step and how to put it all back together. He talks about basic facets of writing, like vocabulary and sentence structure, and more challenging things, like "profluence," which I understand to be the forward motion of the story, plot basically, though not all plot moves forward, as in some experimental, surrealistic stories where the stasis is the plot, thinking here of Gardner's description of Waiting for Godot, a classic drama built on the idea of stasis. As I read, I think often, gee, I must remember that bit of advice as I'm constructing the next story--the one in my notebook that has come to me in pieces as I'm drifting off to sleep.

Reading about writing entertains and educates me. However, when I sit in my big chair with the notebook in my lap, I don't think about the lessons from other, more adept writers. I think about my characters and how they got into the fix they're in and how they will get out of it. I hope that the new techniques I learn will seep in, creep in, find a niche and take root, but I don't want to write by checklist. That would interfere with the discovery of what a particular poem or story might be. For instance, the one I'm working on has a comedic tone, but a serious undercurrent to it. The challenge of allowing both elements to survive fascinates me, as do the two main characters and the bizarre situation they are grappling with. I am holding back a little before I commit the story to print, because I figure that with one more night's sleep, I'll have all I need to start fleshing out the bones, to take Mike and Lou out of the notebook and put them in the computer. Wish me luck.

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