Thursday, February 26, 2009

Story Workshop

Who'd have thought the New Yorker published horror stories?

Yet James Salter's excellent, "Last Night," from the November 18, 2002 issue, nearly qualifies. Read it here -- or listen online, where the 20-minute story is introduced by writer Thomas McGuane and Fiction Editor Deborah Treisman, and then followed by a discussion of the story's subtext and set-ups, which in my reading made the surprises well-earned.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Virtual Mentors III

I wouldn't have thought today's quote was necessarily true, thus its intrigue. But the reference to readers in the final sentence, a la "If a tree falls in a forest... ," clinches it.

From Flannery O’Connor's Mystery and Manners:

When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one. The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Virtual Mentors II

Today's quote comes from an online workshop I took years ago with author and writing coach Gloria Kempton. It's not a recommendation to write toward a market, but rather an insight into the psychology of reading:

The trick to creating great characters is to make the character as much like the reader as possible so that there's immediate identification -- while at the same time making the character different enough so as to make the reader curious to find out more, since unconsciously he really knows he's reading about himself.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Virtual Mentors

Upcoming: a few writing-related favorites from my quotes file, posted one a day to facilitate composting.

Today's, from The Paris Review interview with the late Christopher Isherwood, speaks to turning a real person into a fictional character:

When you’re writing a book, you ask yourself: What is it that so intrigues me about this person -- be it good or bad, that’s neither here nor there, art knows nothing of such words.

Having discovered what it is you really consider to be the essence of the interest you feel in this person, you then set about heightening it. […] trying to create a fiction character that is quintessentially what you see as interesting in the individual, without all the contradictions that are inseparable from [the] human being, aspects that don't seem exciting or marvelous or beautiful. The last thing you're trying to do is get an overall picture of somebody, since then you'd end up with nothing.

Good things grow from details...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Surf Ballroom

Snapped a few years ago during a trip to Iowa, this photo shows where Buddy Holly (“That’ll Be the Day”), J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson (“Chantilly Lace”) and Ritchie Valens (“La Bamba”) performed just before boarding a tiny plane 50 years ago, the day the music died.

Forgo literal death for now, and consider something abstract or figurative that you watched die. Can you point to a physical place where it happened?