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


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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Short Story Writing: The Art of the Story by Lewis Worthington Smith (1902)

However abstract the thinking of civilized man may become, "all our intelligence," to quote Ladd's "Outlines of Physiological Psychology," "is intelligence about something or other, ... resting on a basis of sensations and volitions." Difficult as it is and difficult as are the problems involved in its construction, the story is from some points of view the most elementary of literary forms. It is concerned directly with matters of sensation and volition. If it is to play upon our emotions, it must revive sensations and volitions, make us in some degree part of the action. Experience is at once its warp and woof, but while it gives us new experiences, it must, in connection with them, revive old ones and so become tangible and real for us.

Of the memories that have come to us through the senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, those that are visual are probably the most clearly defined and persistent for most people. The sensation of hearing doubtless comes next, and then those of touch, smell, and taste. A name will suffice to make us see the face of an absent friend; a few words, or the sight of a music roll, is enough to make us hear a favorite melody; a line or two on a printed page brings back to us the scent of the hayfield or the heavy odor of hyacinths in a conservatory. We must remember, too, that this may be in each case, not simply a bringing back of the idea of the things, but a reviving of the sensations themselves. The seat of sensation is after all the brain. Originally we experience sensation through some excitation of the end organs of sense, the ear, the nerves of touch, the retina; but these sensations become associated with verbal images in the mind, and finally the excitation of the verbal images results also in the revival of the original sensation. There is perhaps no one of us who has not seen wholly imaginary moving shadows or flashing lights in the dark. Such cases are not good illustrations of the point, possibly, but most of us can at will hear a connected succession of notes with which we have familiarized ourselves. In my own recent experience there occurred a very clear and wholly unexpected subjective sense of smell when reading of an experiment with frogs which recalled the distinctive odor of slimy water. Mr. James Sully, in "Illusions," says, "Stories are told of portrait painters who could summon visual images of their sitters with a vividness equal to that of reality, and serving all the purposes of their art." The same writer says again, and this is peculiarly significant, that "the physiologist Gruithuisen had a dream in which the principal feature was a violet flame, and which left behind it, after waking for an appreciable duration, a complementary image of a yellow spot." Here a purely subjective impression had been reproduced in the nerves of sense.

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