Read Like A Writer
There are two ways to learn how to write fiction: by reading it and by writing it. Yes, you can learn lots about writing stories in workshops, in writing classes and writing groups, at writers' conferences. You can learn technique and process by reading the dozens of books like this one on fiction writing and by reading articles in writers' magazines. But the best teachers of fiction are the great works of fiction themselves. You can learn more about the structure of a short story by reading Anton Chekhov's 'Heartache' than you can in a semester of Creative Writing 101. If you read like a writer, that is, which means you have to read everything twice, at least. When you read a story or novel the first time, just let it happen. Enjoy the journey. When you've finished, you know where the story took you, and now you can go back and reread, and this time notice how the writer reached that destination. Notice the choices he made at each chapter, each sentence, each word. (Every word is a choice.) You see now how the transitions work, how a character gets across a room. All this time you're learning. You loved the central character in the story, and now you can see how the writer presented the character and rendered her worthy of your love and attention. The first reading is creative—you collaborate with the writer in making the story. The second reading is critical.
John Dufresne, from his book, The Lie That Tells A Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction
Saturday, December 26, 2015
The Capitoline Venus by Mark Twain
[Scene-An Artist's Studio in Rome.]
"Oh, George, I do love you!"
"Bless your dear heart, Mary, I know that--why is your father so obdurate?"
"George, he means well, but art is folly to him--he only understands groceries. He thinks you would starve me."
"Confound his wisdom--it savors of inspiration. Why am I not a money- making bowelless grocer, instead of a divinely gifted sculptor with nothing to eat?"
"Do not despond, Georgy, dear--all his prejudices will fade away as soon as you shall have acquired fifty thousand dol--"
"Fifty thousand demons! Child, I am in arrears for my board!"
[Scene-A Dwelling in Rome.]
"My dear sir, it is useless to talk. I haven't anything against you, but I can't let my daughter marry a hash of love, art, and starvation--I believe you have nothing else to offer."
"Sir, I am poor, I grant you. But is fame nothing? The Hon. Bellamy Foodle of Arkansas says that my new statue of America, is a clever piece of sculpture, and he is satisfied that my name will one day be famous."
"Bosh! What does that Arkansas ass know about it? Fame's nothing--the market price of your marble scarecrow is the thing to look at. It took you six months to chisel it, and you can't sell it for a hundred dollars. No, sir! Show me fifty thousand dollars and you can have my daughter-- otherwise she marries young Simper. You have just six months to raise the money in. Good morning, sir."
"Alas! Woe is me!"
[ Scene-The Studio.]
"Oh, John, friend of my boyhood, I am the unhappiest of men."
"You're a simpleton!"
"I have nothing left to love but my poor statue of America--and see, even she has no sympathy for me in her cold marble countenance--so beautiful and so heartless!"
"You're a dummy!"
Oh, fudge! Didn't you say you had six months to raise the money in?"
"Don't deride my agony, John. If I had six centuries what good would it do? How could it help a poor wretch without name, capital, or friends?"
"Idiot! Coward! Baby! Six months to raise the money in--and five will do!"
"Are you insane?"
"Six months--an abundance. Leave it to me. I'll raise it."
"What do you mean, John? How on earth can you raise such a monstrous sum for me?"
"Will you let that be my business, and not meddle? Will you leave the thing in my hands? Will you swear to submit to whatever I do? Will you pledge me to find no fault with my actions?"
"I am dizzy--bewildered--but I swear."
John took up a hammer and deliberately smashed the nose of America! He made another pass and two of her fingers fell to the floor--another, and part of an ear came away--another, and a row of toes was mangled and dismembered--another, and the left leg, from the knee down, lay a fragmentary ruin!
John put on his hat and departed.
George gazed speechless upon the battered and grotesque nightmare before him for the space of thirty seconds, and then wilted to the floor and went into convulsions.
John returned presently with a carriage, got the broken-hearted artist and the broken-legged statue aboard, and drove off, whistling low and tranquilly.
He left the artist at his lodgings, and drove off and disappeared down the Via Quirinalis with the statue.
"The six months will be up at two o'clock to-day! Oh, agony! My life is blighted. I would that I were dead. I had no supper yesterday. I have had no breakfast to-day. I dare not enter an eating-house. And hungry? --don't mention it! My bootmaker duns me to death--my tailor duns me-- my landlord haunts me. I am miserable. I haven't seen John since that awful day. She smiles on me tenderly when we meet in the great thoroughfares, but her old flint of a father makes her look in the other direction in short order. Now who is knocking at that door? Who is come to persecute me? That malignant villain the bootmaker, I'll warrant. Come in!"
"Ah, happiness attend your highness--Heaven be propitious to your grace! I have brought my lord's new boots--ah, say nothing about the pay, there is no hurry, none in the world. Shall be proud if my noble lord will continue to honor me with his custom--ah, adieu!"
"Brought the boots himself! Don't wait his pay! Takes his leave with a bow and a scrape fit to honor majesty withal! Desires a continuance of my custom! Is the world coming to an end? Of all the--come in!"
"Pardon, signore, but I have brought your new suit of clothes for--"
"A thousand pardons for this intrusion, your worship. But I have prepared the beautiful suite of rooms below for you--this wretched den is but ill suited to--"
"I have called to say that your credit at our bank, some time since unfortunately interrupted, is entirely and most satisfactorily restored, and we shall be most happy if you will draw upon us for any--"
"My noble boy, she is yours! She'll be here in a moment! Take her-- marry her--love her--be happy!--God bless you both! Hip, hip, hur--"
"Oh, George, my own darling, we are saved!"
"Oh, Mary, my own darling, we are saved--but I'll swear I don't know why nor how!"
[Scene-A Roman Cafe.]
One of a group of American gentlemen reads and translates from the weekly edition of 'Il Slangwhanger di Roma' as follows:
WONDERFUL DISCOVERY--Some six months ago Signor John Smitthe, an American gentleman now some years a resident of Rome, purchased for a trifle a small piece of ground in the Campagna, just beyond the tomb of the Scipio family, from the owner, a bankrupt relative of the Princess Borghese. Mr. Smitthe afterward went to the Minister of the Public Records and had the piece of ground transferred to a poor American artist named George Arnold, explaining that he did it as payment and satisfaction for pecuniary damage accidentally done by him long since upon property belonging to Signor Arnold, and further observed that he would make additional satisfaction by improving the ground for Signor A., at his own charge and cost. Four weeks ago, while making some necessary excavations upon the property, Signor Smitthe unearthed the most remarkable ancient statue that has ever bees added to the opulent art treasures of Rome. It was an exquisite figure of a woman, and though sadly stained by the soil and the mold of ages, no eye can look unmoved upon its ravishing beauty. The nose, the left leg from the knee down, an ear, and also the toes of the right foot and two fingers of one of the hands were gone, but otherwise the noble figure was in a remarkable state of preservation. The government at once took military possession of the statue, and appointed a commission of art-critics, antiquaries, and cardinal princes of the church to assess its value and determine the remuneration that must go to the owner of the ground in which it was found. The whole affair was kept a profound secret until last night. In the mean time the commission sat with closed doors and deliberated. Last night they decided unanimously that the statue is a Venus, and the work of some unknown but sublimely gifted artist of the third century before Christ. They consider it the most faultless work of art the world has any knowledge of.
At midnight they held a final conference and, decided that the Venus was worth the enormous sum of ten million francs! In accordance with Roman law and Roman usage, the government being half-owner in all works of art found in the Campagna, the State has naught to do but pay five million francs to Mr. Arnold and take permanent possession of the beautiful statue. This morning the Venus will be removed to the Capitol, there to remain, and at noon the commission will wait upon Signor Arnold with His Holiness the Pope's order upon the Treasury for the princely sum of five million francs is gold!
Chorus of Voices.--"Luck! It's no name for it!"
Another Voice.--" Gentlemen, I propose that we immediately form an American joint-stock company for the purchase of lands and excavations of statues here, with proper connections in Wall Street to bull and bear the stock."
[Scene--The Roman Capitol Ten Years Later.]
"Dearest Mary, this is the most celebrated statue in the world. This is the renowned 'Capitoline Venus' you've heard so much about. Here she is with her little blemishes 'restored' (that is, patched) by the most noted Roman artists--and the mere fact that they did the humble patching of so noble a creation will make their names illustrious while the world stands. How strange it seems this place! The day before I last stood here, ten happy years ago, I wasn't a rich man bless your soul, I hadn't a cent. And yet I had a good deal to do with making Rome mistress of this grandest work of ancient art the world contains."
"The worshiped, the illustrious Capitoline Venus--and what a sum she is valued at! Ten millions of francs!"
"Yes--now she is."
"And oh, Georgy, how divinely beautiful she is!"
"Ah, yes but nothing to what she was before that blessed John Smith broke her leg and battered her nose. Ingenious Smith!--gifted Smith!--noble Smith! Author of all our bliss! Hark! Do you know what that wheeze means? Mary, that cub has got the whooping-cough. Will you never learn to take care of the children!"
The Capitoline Venus is still in the Capitol at Rome, and is still the most charming and most illustrious work of ancient art the world can boast of. But if ever it shall be your fortune to stand before it and go into the customary ecstasies over it, don't permit this true and secret history of its origin to mar your bliss--and when you read about a gigantic Petrified man being dug up near Syracuse, in the State of New York, or near any other place, keep your own counsel--and if the Barnum that buried him there offers to sell to you at an enormous sum, don't you buy. Send him to the Pope!
[NOTE.--The above sketch was written at the time the famous swindle of the "Petrified Giant" was the sensation of the day in the United States]