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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Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Character Interest by Lewis Worthington Smith

We can hardly have any vital interest in a story apart from an interest in the characters. It is because things happen to them, because we are glad of their good fortune or apprehensive of evil for them, that the incidents in their succession gain importance in our emotions. We are concerned with things that affect our lives, and secondarily with things that affect the lives of others, since what touches the fortunes of others is but a part of that complex web of destiny and environment in which our own lives are enmeshed. In the story it is not so true as in the drama that, for the going out of our sympathies toward the hero or the heroine, there should be other contrasting characters; but a story gains color and movement from having a variety of individualities. Especially if the story is one of action, definite sympathies are heightened when they are accompanied by emotional antagonisms. In "The Master of Ballantrae," we come to take sides with Henry Durrie almost wholly through having found his rival, the Master, so black a monster. Such establishment of a common bond of interest between us and the character with whom our sympathies are to be engaged is a most effective means of holding us to a personal involvement in the development of the plot. There must not be too many characters shown, the relations between them must not be too various or too complexly conflicting, but where the interplay of feeling and clashing motives is not too hard to grasp, a variety of characters gives life and warmth of human interest to a story.

Excrept from "The Writing of the Short Story by Lewis Worthington Smith"

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