My father was a Flint guy, Great Depression edition — blue-collar even when he was in management, hands-on, patriotic, optimistic, and altogether typical of his generation. As a young man, he played baseball, drank beer, smoked whatever cigarettes he could afford, and helped save the world for democracy. [Read more…] about Remembering My Dad
When it comes to exercise, I’m a Mark Twain kind of guy. At his 70th birthday party, feted by 170 people in the Red Room at Delmonico’s in New York City, Twain said, “I have never taken any exercise, except sleeping and resting, and I never intend to take any. Exercise is loathsome. And it cannot be any benefit when you are tired; I was always tired” (The New York Times, Dec. 6, 1905). [Read more…] about Loathsome, tiresome exercise
Nobody called it “Black Friday” then. It was just the day after Thanksgiving. I don’t know when it became the high holy day of American consumerism. [Read more…] about The Day After Thanksgiving, 1977
A person need know nothing about writing to dispense this advice, and it is often non-writers who do dispense it. Sometimes with charity, sometimes with malice. The young writers who listen to the advice may be hurt a lot more than helped. At best, the young writers add to the world’s stockpile of coming-of-age fiction. At worst, the young writers produce no fiction at all. They fear to be exposed as innocent and ignorant.
I was in the second category. I knew I could write, but what did I know to write about? Not much, it seemed. So I pursued experience instead. Such a course keeps you busy, but it’s a losing game. For one thing, you aren’t writing. For another, some experience just can’t be had. That’s most obvious with science fiction or historical fiction. How are you going to experience life on a distant planet or in 12th Century Europe?
Well, you aren’t. Yes, you can read and research, but in the end it isn’t your big pile of facts that will matter. Facts can be accumulated by anybody. In the end, as a fiction writer, you have to create a story out of the facts. You have to create virtual life. To do that, you have to make things up. You have to lie. I don’t care how well you know a place, a person or an era, in the end, to be a fiction writer you have to make things up and the things that you make up must seem as real to the reader as the things you don’t. The story could be set a thousand years ago or next week or at the end of time, but to work it has to seem real; the reader must buy in. The reader must care.
Simply telling the truth isn’t enough. Piling up facts isn’t enough.
People may think they read novels to learn something, but they don’t. They read novels to feel something.
If the truth contributes to the feeling the reader gets from your story, fine. If not, then to hell with it. Make up something that will get the job done. A story is an emotion-generator or it is nothing.
When readers finish your story, they should feel as if it happened to them. If instead they just think it may have happened to you, the writer, then it is a failure. They shouldn’t be thinking about you at all, really, except to find more of your stories.
A fiction writer is an artful liar. If you know enough to make up a convincing lie for your target readers, a compelling and emotion-producing lie, then you know enough, period.
Write about what interests you, what moves you, and then recognize that your job is to be skillful enough to allow strangers into the world that you create out of a few facts and many artful lies.
For the past few years, the university has been doing a “common reads” program wherein a committee picks out a Serious Book for everyone to read and discuss, and possibly for faculty to squeeze into their courses somehow. Usually I score a free copy of these books, but this year I missed out — a rare thing where me and freebies are concerned. Being a Team Player, I went to Amazon to see if I could buy a cheap Kindle edition. As best I could remember, this year’s book was called “Submission” or “The Submission” or “The Submissive.” Let me tell you, when it comes to novel titles, a definite article or a couple letters at the end of a noun make a big difference! For a few minutes, as I read the reviews of two novels called “Submission” and a trilogy called “The Submissive,” I was thinking, hot damn, we’re getting somewhere now. They weren’t the kind of books I normally read, mind you, but like I said, I’m a Team Player.
Well, it turns out the real common reads book is “The Submission,” which appears appropriately Serious and not the least bit pornographic.
I plan to get to it right after I finish the trilogy.
So I have been writing stories this summer, or trying to, and have published a few very short ones (100 words each) on this blog.
It might be good to consider what I mean by a “story” and whether a passage as short as 100 words can make the grade.
My definition is traditional. A story is a usually a narrative, and usually focuses on a character who is facing a problem, a challenge or a conflict. In a strong story, the challenge somehow defines the character. Or, rather, how the character responds to the challenge defines him or her. [Read more…] about What is a story?