Tuesday, June 1, 2010

On writing

I have read a few books on writing before. I think fondly of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, which is an absolutely wonderful guide for writing--not that I know anything of writing fiction. It was just a delightful read.
We were at Value Village the other day, and I grabbed this book just on a whim: I'm a translator, but I have never translated fiction. I would love to expand into fiction, but I also know that in order to be successful, I will need to know how to create fiction myself. How else is one able to either copy styles over into another language, or the feelings the original author is trying to convey? Creative writing is also recommended for editors, who would like to become fiction editors. So I figured, why not?

16. The Art of Compelling Fiction--How to Write a Page-Turner by Christopher T. Leland
This book is more than ten years old, but a fun read anyway. The chapters each deal with one issue, and the chapters end with a handful of exercises that the writer can do, from studying his or her favorite books and recognizing certain elements in them, to analyzing the writer's own material and choices and then writing a story about a character that never seems to appear in the stories. Leland gives an example of a man who always wrote stories about 20-something surfer dudes who had a lot of play in the world of women. Those characters were well-rounded, but whenever he tried writing female characters, he could only produce flat, stereotypical creatures. So, he ended up choosing a character as far away from his usual style as possible to practice: a retired, single woman named Gloria.
I also liked the bit about letting characters speak in their own voices, and become central figures if that feels right. I do believe this is what happened with the TV show House. Originally, it was supposed to be about Wilson, House's friend and colleague, but in the progress of writing the script, House was just too delicious a character to give only the occasional appearance. Luckily the writers listened to that nagging voice of giving House more space, et voila: success.
Because the author is a fiction author himself as well as a teacher of creative writing, he has a lot of anecdotal evidence on his personal failures and successes (and those of his students'), which all prove his points.

Also, I have to admit to liking anyone who thinks that Holden Caulfield is, although an iconic character, also "obnoxious." Hehe.

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