Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Good fiction...

Good fiction sets off a vivid and continuous dream in the readers’ mind. It is “generous” in the sense that it is complete and self-contained: it answers, either explicitly or by implication, ever reasonable question that reader can ask. It does not leave us hanging, unless the narrative itself justifies its inconclusiveness. It does not play pointless subtle games in which storytelling is confused with puzzle-making. It does not “test” the reader by demanding that he bring with him some special knowledge without which the events make no sense. In short, it seeks, without pandering, to satisfy and please. It is intellectually and emotionally significant. It is elegant and efficient, that is, it does not use more scenes, characters, physical details, and technical devices than it needs to do its job. It has design. It gives that special pleasure we get from watching, with appreciative an impressed eyes, a performance. In other words, noticing what it is that the writer has brought off, we feel well served: “How easy he makes it look!” we say, conscious of difficulties splendidly overcome. And finally, an aesthetically successful story will contain a sense of life’s strangeness, however humdrum its makings.

--John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist, p. 40

When I first ventured into fiction writing I was warned, “You’ll never read books the same again.” That person was right. When I read, I find myself critiquing sentences, studying dialogue, taking note of language and theme. Yet every once in a while I discover a book so vivid and alive that I forget I’m reading. This is indeed a joy for a writer! The important thing is that when you find a book such as that, study it. (After you read it once for enjoyment of course!) While the author makes it look easy, you’ll most likely note that “less is more”—only what is vital to the story makes it’s way into those pages. Gardner says that stories like these are “elegant and efficient.” I like that.


Blogger Jim Thompson said...

Tricia, this is worth taking to the bank. I will print it and read it over regularly, as it strikes at the heart of story telling. Thanks.

8:28 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home