Posts Tagged ‘Literary Story’

Excessive Pride and Self-Confidence as Motive in Storytelling: Characterization and Plot Example Article About Writing Better


Friday, August 12th, 2016
William H. Coles

An example of excessive pride and self-confidence in story excerpt from "Nemesis".
___________
After he was fired from his job as audiovisual technician, Fred demanded early retirement, threatening to sue, and received forty-percent of his salary. A pittance of what I’m worth, he thought. Fred’s dismissal humiliated his wife Veronica. “Get a job,” she said, irritated to have him perpetually at home.

“I think I’ll start writing a syndicated column for the newspaper,” Fred said, emboldened by his recently acquired disgust–through his intent viewing of TV extremist news–of how seriously deficient America had become.

“You’re lazy,” Veronica said.

“Lazy people do not reach my levels of success,” he said.

Veronica was thin and had a nervous tick that shut her left eye making her right eye widen and exposing the white of the globe as if in unilateral fright. She would leave Fred after twelve loveless years. “You’re a jackass,” she said.

“Don’t be your unreasonable self, Veronica. It only demeans you.”

“A halfwit,” she said.

“Now it’s name calling, is it?” Fred said.

“It’s not a name. I’m not addressing you. I’m telling what everyone knows. You're an incompetent, unemployed, self-absorbed, idiot–the only human in existence who has pride in his failures. And I hate you.”

In an instant Fred assessed the entire scene as some hormonally induced, paper-lantern feminine crisis not worthy of his attention. She’d come around. She always did.
____________
This excerpt is from the short story “Nemesis” about an arrogant man with excessive pride (hubris), failure to heed warnings, unshakeable belief in being right, inconsiderate of others’ views, and stubbornly ignorant of knowledge, who causes the death of the only love of his life. You can READ [5085 words] or LISTEN TO [34 minutes] the story here: http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/original-stories-william-h-coles/nemesis/

The Greeks knew excessive pride and self-confidence invited destruction (hubris–>nemesis). For the writer of stories, hubris is a human trait that can vitalize plot development and characterization. Look at these examples of hubris inviting destruction:

1. A famous athlete has extramarital affairs and said he thought that normal rules did not apply to him and that his excellence in his sport entitled him to whatever he wanted with no consequences. He lost respect of family, fans and sponsors and his career is ruined..

2. A president believes his status makes him invincible until his involvement in the illegal breaking and entering scandal forces his resignation.

And you might also enjoy these classical literature examples of pride and downfall: Oedipus Rex, All the King’s Men, Frankenstein.

The award winning novel McDowell incorporates full use of hubris that results in destruction of a famous doctor's career and freedom. He becomes a hunted convict that ironically allows new opportunity to regain some value to his life with unselfish caring for others. It’s a prime example of hubris and nemesis followed by a rebirth. It’s a good read. Available in all formats including audio.



Creating Scenes in Fiction: An Example Using an Historic Photo Article About Writing Better


Wednesday, February 24th, 2016
William H. Coles

Lynching

One of the many great paradoxes in writing fiction well is that dramatized in scene fiction can evoke reader involvement and emotions better than narrative telling. The photo of a lynching of two blacks in the south in the 1930's is appalling. For a fiction writer, such an image hides strong human emotions; how does a writer capture feelings and create a significant reader reaction through prose fiction?

A fiction writer has the opportunity in such a scene to create in a reader a multidimensional sense of what might have been the living thoughts and emotions at the moment.   Then, by objective fiction in scene fiction void of abstractions, explain by showing the attitudes and feelings of the moment. It's translating the feelings that we think occurred almost eighty years ago.

An inexperienced writer might start a description of the scene like this: The humid air seemed balmy, and heavy with weight of the moment. The crowd stared as the two corpses swayed slightly, twisting this way and that. Blood came from the mouth of one. The other head had bulging eyes, as if diseased and now bloated. The stench of excrement drifted over the people, a horrible reminder of death's lack of tact.

This is from the narrator's perspective. In the description are a number of opinions and judgments: balmy, stench.  And there is a cliché–weight of the moment–that might be too abstract to be effective. The horror, the injustice, the cruelty is beginning to show through.  But the people in the picture are happy, festive, apathetic. Their inexplicable response to the murders is  what makes this photo so horrific.  And there's a lot going on. The brutal killings have occurred by summary justice, but the atmosphere is festive, there is an almost in-your-face joy at "right" being done, and there is the apathy for lives lost and a blatant lack of respect. The woman looks surprised at the camera flash but there is no fear, no sorrow, no horror.  And she's in a Sunday-go-meeting dress. She's holding her husband's hand but it doesn't seem for moral support, more to keep from getting separated maybe. One wonders if the photographer, with artistic acumen, felt the need to capture these contradictory feelings–the dichotomy of the crowd's emotional response contrasting to what the reality of the scene embodied–outrage at the injustices racial hatred would invoke in another crowd at a different time. Or maybe even more revealing, the photo was accidental, which make the journalistic reporting insensitive.

Here's a try with narrator writing in point of view of the woman character in the dark polka-dot dress on the left holding the hand of the man. The flash of the camera surprised her. The lens was pointed at her and the crowd, not at the Negroes twisting at the end of their ropes and suspended from the limb of Reverend Callahan's giant oak, the playground for children for decades. Dexter's dry scratchy hand held hers loosely, he was curious and smiling at the camera with all of them. A man near them swigged boubon from a silver flask. She refused when offered a sip, upset he didn't respect her as a lady, but Dexter took a big swallow. The negroes weren't local she'd heard, didn't know their ways. Smart talking they were too, rude to Maud Richards, as if she weren't white. She thought the photographer might take another picture and she dropped Dexter's hand to find her lipstick in the pocket of her dress. It was a shade of red she'd just bought from the catalogue because Ethel had started wearing her shade, (and not to Ethel's advantage she might point out). Some Negroes over near the hitching posts a might far from them but still close enough that that Negro-moan-singing came to them: "Just a closer walk with thee." Happy she was to see the sheriff and his deputy shut them up and send them away. Serve 'em right. Yes, sir. The will of God prevails.

The idea in this segment is try to paint the horror of the crowd festive attitude, and apathy to the dead as well as the indifference of the law, as opposed to simply describing the look of the corpses and the expected outrage the narrator feels at a double murder for incomprehensible, illegitimate reasons. The key, I think, is to find then imagine the bizarre emotions and gaiety of the crowd in the presence of two lynched humans. The reaction seems, after all, an insult to the crime itself–perfect for the fiction writer to create meaningful literature.  It helps when creating a scene to look for dichotomy, a conflict, an incongruity, to bring the reader into the scene with not only more intensity, but augmented emotional involvement.

If you're writer, you can learn to make choices that will make your stories engaging and meaningful to readers. Fiction is a rewarding accomplishment for a writer, well worth the study and practice. A start might be this new manual: Creating Literary Stories: A Guide for Fiction Writers. An inexpensive gift available in digital and print formats for yourself, a loved one, a writer yearning to write fiction, or any one you care about.

Creating Literary Stories

 

 



Creating Excellence in Fiction: a comment to a student Article About Writing Better


Sunday, February 15th, 2015
William H. Coles

Thanks for your comment.  It seems you have all the experience and material to do great work, and you have an authorial attitude for how to approach and present your material that will serve you well as you continue.

As you write, it can be helpful to seek a clear purpose for what you write, not just the novel (or short story) but for every chapter, paragraph, sentence, even word choice.  Looking at broad purpose, you’ll come up with a theme and meaning for your writing. Try to make it as clear as possible: dependency destroy lives, incest is immoral, seeking truth is important to human existence; etc.    More than one is often involved, but only one should dominate for excellence in most works.  Then, as you seek purpose in shorter context, you can carry broader purpose and theme, but you’ll be looking for specific story-related purposes: does this sentence advance plot, build character, create images, clarify timeline, assure consistency in voice, etc?  All this may seem superfluous, but the habit of thinking like this helps strengthen the writing and the storytelling for the reader.  Purpose relates to (as you noted in your comment) creativity and imaginative thinking to write great prose stories. Nonfiction is different.  In nonfiction authors make their points through relating to and describing real events and real people and depending on accuracy of occurrences to evoke reader reaction, events and people that have caused an emotional response or some enlightenment that has changed (the author’s) life.  So in nonfiction creative imagination is curtailed to the presentation of story material rather than creating story material for specific story purpose–a purpose that will produce an emotional reaction or intellectual enlightenment in the reader through objective story action and conflict/action/resolution.  The nonfiction writer is evoking emotional reactions and intellectual enlightenment through abstractions (I hate rather than in scene action that shows the hate emotion, for example) and is prone to try to move a reader through narrative discursive rumination.  This is often perceived as an author writing from the soul but it is frequently not as engaging, readable, nor does it have the impact of objective in scene revelation through creative imagination for most stories.  There are exceptions for certain stories to be told, but failure to recognize the principle frequently results in inferior writing and storytelling for most stories.

I applaud you; it’s a hurdle you are already addressing.  You have the skills and the heart to use your valuable (and exciting and significant) material to maximum advantage; I wanted to emphasize that to achieve the significant responses with your writing, don’t resort too often to telling what it meant to you and how you perceived your world experiences caused you reactions.  Instead, explore all the elements that make you feel the way you did and do.  Almost always it is best to seek to fully understand your reactions, analyze the causes for those reactions, and then seek the knowledge (as you already are!) as to how the great writers learn to make readers feel the way they, the authors, want them to feel. Of course you will use life experiences as all writers do, just don’t be a slave to those experiences so opportunities to create significant stories through imaginative characterization and storytelling are ignored.   Storytelling and impeccable craft are the tools for significant story success–authorial human understanding of generation of story material; effective narration; consistent and unique voice(s); purposeful dialogue; uninterrupted engagement; objective decisions about desires, motivations, and emotional responses; and readable prose. These are important ways to produce reactions that are different than memoir and nonfiction, and usually, although harder to achieve, give better results for what you–and all authors, I think, want to achieve.  From your comment, I know you understand this and are on the way to achieve it.  I wanted to support you and wish you the very best as you proceed.  WHC



Victims as Characters in Literary Fiction Article About Writing Better


Monday, December 30th, 2013
William H. Coles

Creating a fictional character needs to serve the story being told, and in some way needs to attract and hold the reader’s interest, a connection that may not be likeable or sympathetic but must strong enough to engage the reader to produce at least some satisfaction in having read and acquainted oneself with the character.

Great characters of classic literature almost always have a touch of hero in them.  In the story world, they exude qualities such as persistence, morality, perseverance, determination, strength, confidence, intellect, and/or unfailing expectations that things are going to turn out all right, qualities that rise to above average.  These characters, in fiction, show resistance to the status quo, often in the face of insurmountable odds that involve conflicts in which the character must use skills, and often develop additional skills, in order to succeed.  Success and failure, of course, will vary from story to story but it’s the struggle, the quality, and the authorial delivery that grab the reader.  Readers generally want to root for a character who succeeds by using imagination and hard work.  If the author of fiction writes to evoke reader sympathy without significant reader engagement, there can be unwanted consequences.  Sympathy comes from empathy for the plight of others.  When a static character is in a dire, and often unjustly deserved, state and narrative description is used to tell of past events and feelings, empathy is harder to attain.  For the inexperienced author in this context, the danger of failure to create for desired reader response is sentimentality rather than empathy–and even bathos–by the reader for the character and the situation.

The difference between a static character described to evoke a sympathetic reader response and a character in a struggle with desires and motivation aimed at solving a problem enmeshed in intellectual, emotional, or physical conflict that evokes reader empathy results in two opposites that, by being aware of them during story construction, can improve a writer.  Basically, the writer’s choice is inaction told versus action shown.  (The comparison is like the difference in viewing a tableau vivant of Manet’s nude in the park or attending a theatrical production of Richard the Third, the “My kingdom for a horse.” guy.)  And for the success of most fictional stories, these differences are not just points on a sliding scale; instead the choice is either or, and for good fiction and good stories to reach greatness, a choice must be made, or at least considered, to where the story creation is effectively under authorial control. 

In most effective stories about victims, the character rails against the circumstances to improve his or her lot.  Authors often fail to reach story potential of acceptance, enjoyment, and memorability by allowing the character to wallow during excessive authorial narrative descriptions of the injustices, and by forcing the reader to make judgments about the credibility of injustice in the circumstances and accepting the character’s response to the person or event that caused his or her (the character’s) present state of existence.  Consider two situations with different character responses. 

Read the entire essay.



The Renaissance of Literary Fiction: Join the Revolution Editorial Opinion


Wednesday, May 25th, 2011
William H. Coles

Literary fiction is barely breathing, but the Internet has critically wounded commercial print publishing and provided opportunities for literary writers never before imagined.  If you're a literary writer of real literary fiction, write well, and have a substantial body of literary work . . . you've been rejected by agents, ignored by publishers and editors as nonprofitable, relegated to nonvisiblity on booksellers' top shelves because you don't fit into memoir, romance, mystery, autobiography, or other eye-catching genres.  But the Internet has given literary writers lifesaving, thirst-quenching water on the desert of prose print publishing, and the unlimited opportunities developing will soon make the failed literary writer responsible for his or her obscurity.

Look what has happened to great literary fiction.  Teachers, especially academicians, teach "creative writing"–mainly memoir and creative nonfiction–and have neither the knowledge, inclination, nor the talent to teach the art of creating literary fiction.  What is literary fiction?  Why can't memoir be literary fiction by changing the names of the characters or the timeline of the plot?  Basically, literary fiction creates a story, and does not just describe events happened and people lived.  Literary fiction is storytelling with strong, uniquely-crafted characters with complexities that change significantly and are the core of a character-based plot that has meaning–usually revealing what it means to be human.   And the publishing industry, including agents, have greedily ignored the great literary fiction that is written today as a marginally profitable genre of prose writing at best–usually unprofitable–so that literary fiction is rejected not on quality of writing or storytelling, but because it is perceived not to have blockbuster potential.  Well, literary writers don't need print publishing any more.  Go electronic and if you desire print backup, publish on demand, where your work is available in perpetuity, inexpensive, and you have no pressure to sell a print run that if not sold out almost guarantees you'll never be published again . . . the landmine of print publishing that extinguishes many a good writer in any genre.  That's enough to sport change away from commercial, traditional, print publishing.  But it's only the beginning.

There's money.  Literary authors have never been able to make even a poverty-existence living in the print publishing world.  Voilà! The eReader!  People who have long claimed never to abandon the feel of a book cover or the sensuality of a page turn to read on an electronic screen are switching so reading on screen.  A bestselling medical-thriller writer has seen her online books go from 15% to more than 50% of total sales in a little more than a year, and with continued increases expected.  And her profits soared. Innovators are making reading on Kindle and iPad sort-of-devices amazingly enjoyable, and to boot, readers have access to hundreds of thousands of books, soon to be millions, free or modestly priced.  Why would literary writers fly to New York to fall on their knees and beg an agent to take fifteen percent of their royalties that are based on the fifteen percent returned by the publisher?  Really, electronic publishing is offering up to 90% on royalties to the author, and with no agent slicing off a chunk of the return.  And for those doing their own relatively easy Internet publishing, there are no middlemen.  And there are still reasonable-access and inexpensive ways for writers to satisfy book readers.  Haughty literary agents, and publishers, have popularized the term "vanity publishing" for publish on demand, and, in truth, there is always vanity in any publishing.  But the state of the print publishing industry today makes publish on demand, combined with electronic publishing, practical for a writer's career advancement, and for more than few good writers, financially exciting.

How long does it take to get literary fiction print-published? One to five years.   Publish on demand?  As few as forty-five days.  And electronic publishing?  Hours.  Is traditional commercial print publishing a reasonable option for literary writers?  Not really, and a resounding "no!" by the end of the decade . . . without doubt.

Electronic publishing for literary writers has bone-crushing advantages over literary and small presses too.  To start, more than a few presses have succumbed to poorly run, pay-to-submit contests to attract gullible writers.  What used to be free submissions to be considered for publication now, through contest schemes and reading fees, can cost $10.00 to $200.00 per submission.  One publisher requires $15.00 to submit a six-word story.  And your chances of being chosen are unknown, and the criteria for selection are never clearly revealed.  And repeated documentations of frank nepotism in a few contests have been documented by disgruntled writers.  Be reminded!  Publishing electronically does not cost per submission, and the availability to readers does not depend on surviving the subjective rejections by agents, editors, and publishers.  With electronics, if it's good, it can easily be read by the rapidly growing numbers of readers accepting online and mobile-device publishing, and even if the work may not be great, it's still there to possibly be discovered.

Short literary fiction, like poetry, continues to evolve and improve, but is dying because ways to reach readers are vanishing.  Eureka!  Salvation!  Imagine you're a literary short story writer and you would like recognition for your stories.  You submit to literary presses, often academically based, and the handful of commercial publishers accepting short stories.  You are rarely accepted in a process that is often nepotistic and insensitive to quality of writing of short fiction in general to favor alumni and established writers (often with inferior quality work), and prefer writing that shocks; has salacious content with memoir overtones; and caters to fatalistic, fantasy-laden fiction with voice-heavy characters instead of credible, caring characters that engage a reader.  Even if you have a single story accepted, the magazine circulation ranges from 500 to 3000, rarely 5000.  Maybe thirty percent of circulation will read the magazine cover to cover (and that's optimistic), and the chances of readers reading your story drop to maybe a few hundred at most.  Compare the Internet.  In two months, a literary short story (posted free) had more than 15,000 readers.  Another story averaged more than 500 readers a day for months, supported by advertizing.  By comparison, is there ever any reason to submit your best work to a literary magazine or small press?  Realistically, it is buried alive, and the chances of being exhumed are miniscule.  Electronically published stories are always alive, and easily accessed, often without purchase.  And there are no length restrictions!

But wait.  There is the number of readers an author can reach.  App use for eReaders by literary writers will be tested within the month.  The potential of readers for all mobile eReaders is projected to be, by the end of the year, more than forty million.  So, for a free App, say one in a hundred eReader owners are fiction readers, and one in five hundred are literary fiction readers.  That makes an author's work available to 400,000 fiction readers, 80,000 with a potential strong interest in literature.  Compare that to a collection of short stories by HarperCollins or a literary novel by Random House.  A few thousand at most!  It's staggering.

As of 2011, the great literary prose fiction of our generation will not pass to future generations through contemporary commercial print publishing, but will survive and flourish in the yet unborn minds and souls of those to come through the bestowal of electronic publishing.  Every writer, of any genre, can, and should, contribute to shaping the opportunities in electronic publishing that are evolving . . . and by shaping those opportunities can promote the ease-of-use and the benefits to all writers.  As a working writer, shaping the future will be a gift to literary writers that will elevate once again the importance of telling significant stories in literary fictional prose.  Truly a blessing from the gods.

 



The Danger of Overuse of 1ST Person Narrative in Literary Fiction Article About Writing Better


Thursday, February 4th, 2010
William H. Coles

Many unsuccessful writers fall into the trap of first person point of view, the path of least resistance that leads to mediocrity in many stories from a failure of the author to form a story in the most pleasurable and significant way.   This is really memoir writing, even when authors believe they are imagining a story, because writers insert themselves into the story to become the first person storytellers.

Example 1.  1st person.

I was happy that fateful night.  I'd been watching Survivor, turned off the TV, and tiptoed back to the baby's room.  The door was open.  The moonlight filtered in through the window near the crib, and I could see from the way her feet were caught in the twisted blanket that she was motionless.  I ripped off the blanket.  Her skin was pale.  Her eyes opaque and unblinking.  She was not breathing.

Example 2.  Look at a different narrator approach to the same scene (also overwritten for contrast).

The moon was almost full in a cloudless sky, and all but the brightest of the infinite stars were dimmed by the cold pewter light that filtered through the window into the nursery, creating weak lifeless shadows of the newly decorated, painted chest of drawers on the white shag carpet.  Karen opened the door noiselessly.  Cindy must be asleep; there had been no sounds over the electronic monitor from the nursery to their bedroom.  The blanket in the crib was wadded and covered the small lump of a child.  She placed both hands on the edge of the crib and looked down.  She stripped off the blanket.  Cindy was face up with one leg caught at the ankle in the space between two crib slats.  She wasn't moving.

Example 3.  Or another.

"Check Cindy," Karen said sleepily, her head buried in her pillow.

"You go," Henry said, the blanket pulled up to his eyes, his back to his wife.

Karen turned away from him. "I always go."

Henry put his feet on the floor and felt for his slippers. "Goddamn it," he said.

"Lighten up, asshole," she said, almost awake now.

Karen was acting a little too prima donna-ish for him.  Okay.  She'd had the baby.  She said it often enough.  She was bitter and depressed, and she thought it was his time to suffer.  But it was not right to aim her frustrations at him.  She'd slipped into a victim mentality placing blame on him, as if he were a stranger who had raped her.

At the end of the hall, he listened at the half open door too see if Cindy were awake.  There was no sound, and he entered softly, his heart now beginning to feel the joy he always felt when he was near his daughter.  She had recognized him on sight for the past few months, a smile lighting up her face.  Last Saturday she'd said "Da Da," for the first time, before she even said "Ma Ma."  He shuffled to the crib.  Cindy lay face up, her mouth parted, her lips still.

These examples show how alternatives need to be tried to be true to the story.  In reality, no matter which is preferred, none of the above could be used for a story; they are not quality writing.  The characters have not been developed in the mind of the author. But the examples serve a purpose.  There is a difference among them, and the first person "I" may feel more intimate, but also has the feeling that scene information is being filtered through a single, not too objective, personality.  In the second, the third person gives the feel of  narrator (not identified) who has nothing to gain by not being as accurate as possible.  This carries it's own intimacy, in this case, simply by knowing the narrator is not trying, even unconsciously, to sway the reader unreasonably about the happening.  In the third example, there is an expanded purpose for the segment.  Now the action of finding a dead baby as primary is complicated, and for the right story purpose, complimented, by revealing simultaneously the souls and emotions of the mother and father.   Nothing is right or wrong; these are three of many different ways of narration of a story scene.  But some of the restrictive aspects of 1st person are illustrated.

This idea of narrator choice is crucial for writer success.  Reader identification through the well-chosen and sophisticated-crafted narration of well-developed characters is an essential perquisite for:  dialog that shimmers with the appropriate thoughts and attitudes of the character for the moment, setting that supports plot and characterization, and accurate prose choices that support the story as a whole.  These elements need to have formed characters and meaningful plot in place, followed by revisions that are purposeful and directed.  Still, most readers take away different feelings and reactions to these different narrative approaches.  The third one especially develops relationships between Henry and Karen, which could be awkward in first person POV because of what the 1st person narrator can reasonably know, see, hear, (taste and feel) and experience making  observations and disclosures an objective narrator can deliver impossible. There is also a subtle difference in the subjective telling (I was happy, for example) in the first person example that seems at first to be an advantage because of "immediacy," but may not be as effective for the story as objective third person more objective, dispassionate "showing" of the scene (rather than telling emotional states–so easy in first person), which helps avoid sentimentality.

These examples represent a necessary process of trial and error that is limited by first person narration alone because of restrictions in the narration.  First person narration produces: tethered imagination, limitations of distance, dominant internalization, limited point of view, and troublesome credibility problems for a reader requiring extension of suspension of disbelief, which often contributes to inferior storytelling . . . and poor quality fiction.  Yet, it is amazing that more than almost three quarters of all contemporary literary "fiction" stories are written in first person.  Admittedly, it is, after all, the easiest and most natural way for a human to tell a story, but for a large number of stories, it is not the most effective path to great, memorable fiction as an art form.


This is an excerpt from the essay, "Anatomy of a Wannabe Literary Fiction Writer," by William H. Coles.

MORE.  To study more on 1st person POV, read the essay "1st Person POV in Literary Story," by William H. Coles







Rapping on the Teaching of Creative Writing Editorial Opinion


Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010
William H. Coles


The backbone of writer failure may well be the inability to learn and/or the lack of opportunities for beneficial study.  This may not be the fault of the writer.  There are few resources to learn fictional prose story telling that is memorable and significant.  Consider these learning sources:

1) Learning in writing groups is the blind leading the blind through a maze of bear traps and landmines.  No one would believe a group of briefly educated humans who wanted to be neurosurgeons would get together weekly to discuss the experimental surgery they have been practicing in their garages and basements.  Yet, both surgery and writing require study with experts as well as knowledge learned from many intellectual and skilled disciplines over many years.  Writing groups, plump with inexperience and discordant ideas, are almost never of any useful value to the serious writer.

2) Learning in organized workshops is the carpenter teaching musicians with hammers and saws to play Beethoven’s Archduke piano trio.  Even in high profile traditional workshops, teachers are rarely capable of developing the special talents of an individual writer to achieve creation of an art form (a fictional literary story).  Fundamentally, there is no right way that is applicable to all.  As a result, many teachers use the wrong tools for the wrong job, and their teaching is little more than useless for the dedicated fiction writer.  At worst, the incompetent teacher can, and does, inappropriately humiliate and discourage a talented writer in the workshop setting.  And these incompetents often descend into dogmatic pronouncements that stifle understanding and creativity.

(3) Learning from popular textbooks on fiction writing, which–with a few significant exceptions–are often writing efforts of poor writers with teaching appointments or responsibilities who write the learning of fiction as Lego instruction, with rigid rules and inflexible actions, like assembling a bicycle from parts while reading a fold-over slip of paper with fine-print instructions–and a diagram–on Christmas morning.  Some of these authors write texts composed of famous authors' stories with personal, short, subjective-value comments, but with little to no insight into a writer's process.

(4) Learning in MFA programs is not of guaranteed quality, and may not just be mediocre, but detrimental to a writer's improvement.  MFA programs, many hastily formed by universities, colleges and organizations to maintain relevance and solvency, often hire teachers untrained as educators, and untalented as writers, to teach creative writing. This practice  results in suppressing understanding of the complexities of the art of fiction and the vibrant essence of great story telling.  More than a few traditional programs are so inbred by tired, untalented teachers choosing and supporting unimaginative writers like themselves that the writing from these programs takes on a clone-like mediocrity that brands its origin.  By default, these educators promote teaching of scholarly nonfiction and pop-culture memoir as fiction, without the quality of story writing equal to that of imaginative fiction.

Creative writing programs labeled as "academic" emphasize lyricism over drama, often prefer obscure to clear prose, and mistakenly believe that a lack of understanding by a reader is the desired result of their own "writer-intellectual" superiority.  They teach revision as grammar and syntax, metaphor and oxymoron-excessive prose, rather than the dynamic and suspenseful expression of the desires and conflicts of characters about whom the reader has come to care, like, or at least respect through the story. Some academic workshops digress in education by students sitting around a table with eyes closed and holding hands for long silent periods in the hope that images and words will float up from the unconscious to write about, like images sought in a Victorian séance to communicate with the dead.  Some highly acclaimed academic workshops spend a week policing manuscripts for point of view inconsistencies, while the needs that should be addressed are imagining effective story structure and learning how to build memorable characters through meticulously crafted, interrelated, character actions in dramatic scenes.  In some workshops, a teacher presents a personal memoir story, and then details how to turn it into fiction by shifting the time line and changing the prose emphasis of certain events, teaching that might well derail a student's progress in learning to write their own great fiction.

Academic workshops and courses also fail to demand a writer have a thoroughly understood purpose for writing a story as well as, on a construction level, all the prose elements of that story.  This results in picking at prose when the writer hasn’t decided what  he or she is really writing about, and how  he/she will achieve a story purpose.  It is almost unarguable: Failure to find and build purpose in storytelling makes coherency of a prose fictional story with effective characters, plots or emotional arcs, unlikely.  And it is not uncommon that the poorly educated, poorly trained teachers who are allowed the privilege to teach creative writing are guilty of:

(1) Ignoring emotional character development for the ease of plotting from life experience.

(2) Accentuating the cute, the bizarre, and the shocking (which have only temporary effects on value in story telling).

(3) Failing to develop author understanding of the human soul, its flaws, and what really is responsible for its strengths.

(4) Ignoring the value of sophisticated narration.

(5) Thinking that lyricism alone can sustain great story effectiveness.

Quality fiction as an art form has especially suffered from the high-profile, traditional MFA programs where graduation almost guarantees publication of the work generated in the program.  The published work is rarely quality writing or storytelling.  Once published, eager, unaware readers perceive literary fiction as obtuse in meaning, boring, and with pseudo-intellectual ideation.  Many dedicated readers have turned away from reading literary fiction for enjoyment (and agents refuse to try to sell it),  while the authors from these programs read to fellow graduates or a small group of readers who admire writing credentials and rationalize that the quality is better than it is.  The detriment to fiction as an art form has been significant, and for the writer seeking to achieve their personal best, MFA programs can permanently derail that possibility.

With so few valuable or easily-accessed resources for learning available to the fiction writer, only one reliable way to learn emerges.  Each writer must discover from those authors who have gone before, what it is about the writing of a successful literary art form that will be useful for their own careers as contemporary writers.  It's not just copying a favorite author's style, either.  It's mastering understanding of knowledge, intellect, the environment and opinions (and attitudes) of the author's times; the emotional complexities of the author that affected the writing; the associations with other writers (Examples: Bloomsbury group, Shelley’s Swiss mountain writing buddies), and the effects of societies' mores (Examples: Austen, James, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Forester, Chekhov, Flaubert).

Authors need to be curious.  How did they do it?  Then, what can I learn from them so I can do it?  How can I, based on what I've learned from others, create fiction that engages, entertains and stimulates thoughtful responses about human existence?  One key question has to be addressed repeatedly with each work studied: What were these authors' purposes in writing?  One dominant purpose persistently stands out for all:  to tell a story where something happens that is meaningful and entertaining to the reader.  And without exception, successful fiction writers write to please a reader, not all readers, but specific readers seeking enjoyment through reading.  Now, the beginning writer must learn, not only how to construct sentences and paragraphs, but how stories and the creation of stories in the prose medium can be best crafted to please a reader.  It's the way they imaginatively form and narrate a story.  The craft of prose, although vitally important, is secondary.

This is an excerpt from the essay, "Anatomy of a Wannabe Literary Fiction Writer," by William H. Coles






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