Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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.



The Seven Fundamentals for Writing Fiction Stories Article About Writing Better


Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
William H. Coles

There are many ways to think about the great writing of great fictional stories. Both readers and writers can benefit by learning seven elements and appreciating the interaction of these elements in an individual story. For the reader, appreciation of authorial skills can be more easily enjoyed and admired, and for writers, learning to determine their strengths and weakness in the creation of the different elements can be valuable to balance story for an effective presentation.

Prose
Characterization
Plot
Narration (POV)
Setting
Imagery
Meaning/purpose

Prose relates to diction, syntax, and voice. Lyric prose with intense poetic elements can be used to pleasing effects for a reader both as a secondary and prime element. Most readers prefer a distinct, often authoritative voice for narrator and characters.

Characterization is a key element for a literary story and is often most effective by in scene action predominating over discursive narrative telling. It’s importance in story development in the great stories is unique and individual and requires talent and practice. Dialogue, narrative, internalization, flashback, diction, memory, voice are opportunities for character development in effective ways different, and at times superior, to characterization in film or in drama. Almost without exception, great stories

Plot is all that happens in a story. For great stories plot is almost always structured with a beginning, middle, and end; frequently is character-based; depends for momentum on reversals and recognition, mystery and suspense; is primarily linear, and is interwoven with emotional, character, and story arcs. Great plots provide conflicts early, both in story and among characters.

Narration is storytelling. Characters act out in fiction stories, narrators tell story, and authors create story with imagination and uniqueness. Point-of-view choice is tailored to the needs of story. Each point of view has advantages and disadvantages and must conform to reasonable story-related credibility and reliability reliability, and adjust to requirements of suspension of disbelief. Authorial control of the narration through the narrator must be consistent in style, transparent (no authorial intrusion), carefully chosen for story understanding and purpose,, and meticulously crafted.

Setting orients the reader to time, place, and physical and psychic distance from story action, environment, and obstacles to plot progression. Most stories provide settings through subtle integration in other elements avoiding extensive description. Yet, some stories rely on the poetry of beautiful settings.

Imagery relies on imaginative prose with innovative yet absolutely accurate word choice within the boundaries set up by story development. Momentum in the writing with image-inducing prose should be pervasive to avoid loss of engagement of the reader.

Theme/purpose.
Every story should engage a reader, entertain the reader, please the reader, and provide recognition or enlightenment (theme/meaning) so the readers will never see the world again exactly the way they did before the story was read. Fiction stories are not character sketches, memoir, biography, or journalism with untruths. And every story has to have more than an authorial catharsis describing authorial lives and events with description without imagination and discursive rumination of authorial thoughts and opinions. Fiction is art that emerges from imagination and is created with skill,  structure, and revision.



Imagination and Creativity in Literary Stories: A Guide for Writers Article About Writing Better


Sunday, August 2nd, 2015
William H. Coles

Imagination used in creative storytelling is the essence of literary fiction. Memoir is remembering and describing factual events. Traditional imagined literary fiction is ignored today–mostly for financial reasons–by publishing, publicity, literary-agents, literary-prize choices, and inadequate teachers of creative writing resulting in blurred barriers between memoir and literary fiction. As a result, the quality of both memoir and literary fiction has deteriorated in artistic achievement, impact, and memorability. Great literature is a cornerstone of cultural advancement and contemporary authors have responsibility to society to learn and create literary fiction and memoir to the best of their ability.

It must be noted great memoir does employ creativity in the describing, in the presentation, and the prose manipulation. Literary fiction, however, uses imagination in creatively building characters uniquely related to the story being told and creatively integrating characters and plot with a structured story created with a purpose to engage, entertain, and enlighten a reader through imaginative artistic creation. Learning the skill of effective characterization is essential to lasting success for an author of literary fiction.

To create great characters that vitalize motives and desires in purposeful plotting, authors must create by:
1) structuring stories, whenever indicated, with beginning, middle, and end.
2) creating mystery and suspense to sustain reader engagement and enjoyment as essential to allow reader to see the world in new ways from reading the story.
3) engaging the reader with credible and acceptable character thoughts and reactions that relate to being human in addition to reflexively reacting to situations.
4) creating scenes through conflict, action and resolution (dramatic) that show characters’ essential qualities and relate to overall story-plot purpose.
5) instilling believable and consistently changing motivations.
6) identifying core desire(s) that drive a character’s action in the story.
7) using effective narration to show story to the reader through images, effective metaphor, tightly constructed plot progression, and character and story related action.
8) writing in-scene “showing” (concrete) in proper balance with narrator telling of story (often abstract). In-scene showing adds an aura of truth that story could happen in the world established by the author and allows a reader to become involved to discover meaning unique to them.
9) allowing only judicious use of fatalism in plot construction; instead, depending on revelations of human strengths and weaknesses in shaping lives to provide energy for story progression and resolution.

To create successful characters, authors must think before they write. Scenes within a story–and the story itself–are units composed of interrelated parts. It is not sufficient to start a story and see what happens word by word, scene by scene, without a thorough knowledge of the whole story. Many authors pride themselves in discovering story as they go along as allowing the creative process to flourish, but imagination deserves better application to literary storytelling. Authors must not default to writing that is quality-deficient by defaulting to unfocused hyperactivity in their writing and proudly rejecting the need for experience and training in writing and storytelling, an error that bathes an author in hubris about their own authorial value as a human being and their creative abilities. All that happens in a great literary story comes from an imagined structure and formulation of related ideas before writing. Of course, every writer’s efforts relate to who they are and what they know. But that knowledge is used to stimulate imaginative use for story purpose. And imaginative changes in great fictional stories occur with both writing and revision, and changes are perceived before change as affecting and improving the whole, not camouflaging an errant part of the writing or just filling story space with extraneous ideas and images thought to be clever intellectual output of the author but unrelated to story.

Study of artistic creation can clarify an author’s approach to creating quality fiction. Look to the visual arts. To create a great oil painting, an artist does not blindly retrieve colors from a palette obscured from vision then apply random brush strokes to any surface that is handy. An artist has to have purpose that translates to some idea of the final product and how to achieve the form and appearance of that structure.

Literary stories are like sculptures too. Consider how a Rodin-like sculpture might be made. To start, the sculptor has an idea of what is to be created—a nude male athlete, a woman holding her dying son, a lion. Sketches help adjust the overall early conceptualization of the final artistic product. A model is often constructed over a wire structural support and clay is added for form and detail and before drying, the model is molded, added to, or parts removed. Casts are made of the model. Bronze heated to liquid is poured into the casted mold, cooled to harden, and the mold removed to reveal the final sculpture that is refined with subtle smoothing and polishing. Not infrequently the result may not be right and the artist must start over again to avoid tinkering to make better a poorly conceived and executed project too impaired in the creation to reach required perfection.

This way of thinking is ubiquitous in artistic creation. Think of Michelangelo as an artist purchasing a block of Carrara marble. He did not awake one day, grab a hammer and chisel, sit down at the kitchen table while the kids were watching TV in the living room, and begin to chip away at the block to see what might emerge. He knew what he wanted . . . he had a plan. It’s sad that many writers force writing on schedules to fulfill their need to be a writer without a concept of a whole story, what the story is about, or why it is being written. These writers claim creativity is stifled by structure and imagined concepts but it is almost always a rationalization for their lack of ability.

Writing literary fiction of lasting quality needs the author to be aware of the creative process of accepted creators of art forms. Authors of fiction must hone the concept and purpose of story before writing begins; imagine what action will result in effective characterization, identify conflicts, mysteries, suspense; establish a timeline and prioritize story information in a logical and synergistic way.

In life, great architectural structures of beauty and usefulness are not accomplished by picking up random material and any tool available by the builders on their way to work that day. Why do most contemporary authors write driven by the will to succeed as a writer rather than creating works of literary art that will pleasurably affect other human beings with enjoyment and enlightenment? In reality, a rote process of ritual writing without purpose or destination, or without imagination or creativity, results in inferior artistic attempts. Art, including literary fiction, is not work for the artist but a proud accomplishment of imaginative achievement, and definitely not a random collection of disparate ideas and memories.

Writing literary fiction of lasting quality requires awareness of the process of imagination and structure. Authors of fiction must hone the concept and purpose of story before writing begins; imagine what action will result in effective characterization; identify conflicts, mysteries, and suspense; and establish a timeline and prioritize story information in a logical and synergistic way.



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.



Becoming an Author Editorial Opinion


Tuesday, May 7th, 2013
William H. Coles

I write scientific papers and textbooks, so I thought my dream of writing a famous fiction story was little more than a modest veering from my career path.  I wrote a few short stories for practice to a point where I was comfortably convinced of publication success. With no expectations of failure, I signed up for a writing course at a college with a credible reputation for publishing a respected literary journal. I workshopped where fellow students critiqued my story with, in retrospect, almost zero insight into creating fiction.  But I meticulously incorporated all the student-workshop comments as corrections into my manuscript, and expectantly sent off my story to the college's literary journal, my workshop attendance dates (in bolded italics) informatively placed at the top of my submission cover letter to assure success.

Five months and twenty-two days later, my response arrived. "Your story does not meet our needs." was printed on a four by three inch slip of buff paper, and on the back hand-scratched in pencil were these words: "You have no concept of what a story is, or what a story can do." I was depressingly discouraged–well, in truth, I was hurt and devastated.  But I soon rallied.  I assumed that my story, indeed my talent and intellect, had been sorely misread. I'd get an agent!

Agents, it turned out, failed to see my potential.  I would do better writing a memoir about my teenage struggle with psoriasis, or a love story with breast-feeling detail.  And true gold was in children’s and YA stories that any editor would buy sight unseen. But why deal with agents?  Unlikeable really.  I needed new direction.  I would deal directly with editors, convince them of my quality and talent, still woefully unappreciated and unrecognized.

I went to a writing meeting where conferences with editors were offered and was amazed at my success. A senior editor at one of the top two publishing houses in the country was assigned to me!  Now we're talking.  He advised me with us both sitting on opposite sides of a three-foot-round overstuffed ottoman in a overcrowded hotel lobby–impossible to sit side-by-side–where we both had to look behind us to carry on a side-mouthed conversation. He said he had read my submission on the elevator on his Android.  "We got to get you published," he said. "Try Anstel Aster Hodman."  Holy Cow!  I'd been on the wrong track for so long.  Agents were the way after all.

Next day, my work went Priority Mail to my new friend, Anstel, who responded by email in no less than fourteen hours–obviously not needing time to craft a carefully worded rejection. Great! He knew of my editor . . . but . . . had never met him . . . and . . . he didn't take on fiction of my type for his "list."  Frequent failure loomed. Anstel would make no recommendations and repeated emails over many months to my most-cherished editor-connection went . . . well . . . unanswered.  I felt spammed.

Twelve months later the yearly electronic alumni newsletter of my Midwest college published my now abridged story (required as being outside the five-hundred word limit) and my church-diocese monthly bulletin did a review.  I wasn't flushed with pride, but that did not stop me from tweeting, "Published at last!" with no specific details.

 



Summer Workshops: Tips for Learning Literary Fiction Editorial Opinion


Wednesday, April 20th, 2011
William H. Coles

 

If you'll be attending a workshop this summer, here are a few ideas to consider.

1. Try to attend workshops where the purpose is to learn to write a literary fictional story (serious-purpose, character-based, and structured story creation). Many creative-writing workshops also teach memoir, creative nonfiction, some historical fiction and genre, in addition to literary fiction.   Classes with multipurpose agendas are a disadvantage to the serious literary fiction writer.

2. Take notes on every idea expressed in class sessions.  Review these in a private review later.  Categorize ideas for practice, further reading or consideration, and discussion.  Based on your notes and actions, write a daily summary  of your learning from a session as a permanent record for future reference.

3. Student  comments are required on most manuscripts and in-class exercises.   Don't let your own subjective likes and dislikes swamp your critiquing or your learning, and don't respond to subjective responses of others with your own subjective approval or disapproval.  Value judgments based on personal taste are not useful for learning.  Avoid comments like: "I don't like stories about fishing.", or "I don't care for priests as characters,", or "I'm tired of dysfunction families or abused children." or "Who cares if the gray wolf is on the endangered species list?"

Instead, look to the core of great literary stories.   Ask: What is purpose of the writer ?  Did something happen?  Did the major character change in some significant way?  Identify ways to improve:  story structure, characterization, prose craft, plotting, clarifying ideas and images.   (For a learning resource, click here).

4.  Don't think in terms of good and bad writing.  Think in terms of effective or not effective writing for what you think the writer was trying to do.  Then determine if improvement is dependent on improved storytelling (thinking), better characterization (imagining), better focus on story (ideation and information delivery), or more precise prose (craft).

5.  Ask the question when evaluating stories whether in scene action or narrative description suit the purpose of the scene to develop story and character.

6.  When your own prose story or fiction writing is critiqued, never be defensive.  Don't say things like: "Well, I worked on that for two weeks." "That's not what I read on the Internet." or "It really happened (implying, therefore, any criticism is unjust). "   Remember, good fiction is not described truth.

There are more than a few classmates who will be attending class more for the joy they receive in critiquing others rather  than for learning writing–it seems to boost their self-perceived qualities of their works and talents–and who will take self-important attitudes that can be distracting and useless, will irritate you, and be unhelpful for your improvement.  Ignore these critiques.   Never succumb to action based on unreasonable or unfounded critiques specifically; it is dangerous for your career as a writer.

For the most part, sort out objective helpful comments unfettered with thoughtless value judgments.  Don't be discouraged if you find less than 20% of student comments useful.   Instead of depending on student comments, encourage and direct the instructors to reflect and teach.

Good luck!  Keep focused.  Don't let socialization and networking-to-advance-your-reputation swamp your goals to improve your writing and storytelling.  Meticulously summarize and record every positive idea you captured during the sessions for future, frequent reference.  And if you have an unsatisfactory experience, share it with other writer-friends so they will not waste their time and money.

 

For further thoughts about workshops, you might be interested in these essays and articles:

Why Contemporary Literary Fiction Fails to Achieve Excellence

Exposing the Dark Side of Academic Fiction Workshops

Workshops: I. Making the Right Choice

Workshops: II. Making the Experience Valuable

Workshops: III. How to Critique a Manuscript

Workshops: V. Top-Ten Rules for Fiction Workshops



Engaging a Reader in Literary Fiction Article About Writing Better


Tuesday, July 6th, 2010
William H. Coles

Engaging a reader is crucial for a good writer.  It is a complicated process with different levels of engagement that require different skills and talents.  A story about a truck running through a guardrail and caught so it is suspended above a concrete slab two-hundred feet below, with driver and passenger trapped in the cab and bleeding from wounds, grabs the attention . . . a level of engagement.  There is curiosity about the outcome . . . a level of engagement.  For some readers, there might be fear when imagining the worst outcome . . . also a level of engagement.   This engagement is responding to circumstantial information about an event.  The prose is a description of what actually happened.  The engagement is similar to a comic book or graphic novel.  Images are stimulated by prose.  There is intellectual curiosity about what will happen and how the dangerous predicament will be solved.

In addition to images formed, engagement in this scenario may also be dependent on syntactical dramatization within the prose itself, clear transfer of ideation from author to reader, and the degree of importance to the reader about the information delivered.  It is journalistic in the sense that the reader is being told what has happened.

In writing a memoir, this journalistic type of engagement and reader responses are much the same.  A memoirist is intent on describing people who lived and experienced events and felt what they felt.  It is historical information described and positioned so drama is created by description of conflict and the positioning of information, so tension is generated when story information is presented to the reader.

In great literary fiction, reader engagement is different from journalistic (creative) nonfiction and memoir prose.  Fiction may be stimulated by past events and characters who lived; but the story-prose of literary fiction is created to engage the level of the responsive reader to lock the attention with minimal deviation, and to stimulate the reader to sympathize with characters, and at times be involved emotionally to a degree beyond the emotional involvement other types of fiction elicit.  The reader who enjoys literary fiction wants to know what will happen to a character they know well through intense characterization.   Involvement is less description of what happened and more what might happen.  And although there are created, journalistic-style circumstantial events in all fiction, the elements of created emotional conflicts and advancement and resolution of feelings have the prime impetus to move plot in literary fiction.

In addition, to achieve maximum engagement of a reader, characters must be credible; they must seem real; all happenings must be logical for story and plot; and all information about the story and characters must be reliable, or if not reliable, the reader must be aware of the unreliability and not puzzled or unsure.  Level of achievement of these goals in the story writing is proportionally related to engagement and satisfaction of a specific reader.

Engagement of a reader at this level also demands meticulous narration so the reader is always aware of who is telling the information and that the narrator is consistent for the context so the reader engagement of attention and emotion in the story is not broken.

Nonstory-related ideas and opinions must also be eliminated from the prose to prevent breaking the dream of involvement that fiction can evoke.  And errors in writing, such as wrong word choice, fuzzy or inaccurate metaphors, or grammatical errors must not be present.  Equally important for great literary fiction, the story and the characters must seem real–that is, to exist or be able to exist in a reader's mind–the very reason that book covers often contain the blurb "based on a true story" or "based on the life of ———."

John Gardner popularized the idea of a fictional dream into which the literary reader is immersed.  It is valuable, but only partially true to the involvement that certain readers have in great fiction.  Great fiction provides new perspectives — like looking into a stereoscope and discovering a three-dimensional change in the photo; being caught in an unsolvable,  dangerous dilemma . . . between a rock and a hard place and the space is closing in; in need of resolution of a longing or desire; and almost always in need to solve something–a puzzle, or a mystery, or an enigma.

Engagement of a literary reader by a literary author in a great literary fictional story is extremely difficult to do and is rarely achieved by the millions of writers who attempt it in various degrees.   Most writers default to nonfiction or genre fiction, often with impressive successes.   Unfortunately, great literary fiction cannot be created without adherence to the basics of what literary fiction has accomplished through engagement in the past.  Even more significantly, writing good genre fiction and memoir and thinking it is, and promoting it as, great literary fiction will fail to meet the expectations of the literary reader, and the writing will come off as inferior and boring.

The goal of agents and publishers is to make money.  Great literary fiction well written does not have blockbuster potential in today’s marketplace of diminishing serious readers of great literary stories for engagement and enlightenment.  Wouldn't it be great, for those readers still enjoying great fiction, if one or a few publishers were to emerge who are willing to accept reasonable profits and publish accomplished writers writing great literary fictional stories that engage readers with intensity and emotion?



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





Style of Writing and Literary Fiction Article About Writing Better


Monday, January 4th, 2010
William H. Coles

There is a common belief that the best literary writing style is invisible to the reader.  This has a fundamental, but not all-inclusive, truth to it.  In writing great literary fiction, the reader should be engaged in the story in ways that leave no mental space to consider the writer's style type or quality.  Yet the style of writing and story telling should register with readers so that at the end of the reading, they  know they've had special, unforgettable reads that are unmistakeably due to the author's style, personality and skills.

Style is a way of using language and forming an effective, pleasurable story.  So, style really is everything a writer does in creating:  thousands of ideas and choices; hundreds of associations and comparisons; myriads of opinions, images, feelings . . . all dependent on the writer's intelligence, experience, education, memory, imagination and creative integrity.  Writing great literary stories is creating as only you, the writer, can, from the uniqueness of your personal existence as a human, and your time in the existence of all humanity, that contributes to a specific conscious era of thought and abstract reasoning.  It is the opportunity for writers to create their own style that provides fresh ideas and beautifully original stories – only they can create – for readers.

Almost all writers succumb to the influence of successful writers before them.  Reading the works of an author, appreciating the style of writing, and then incorporating that writer's style in your own writing is not, however, the way to achieve memorable, great writing and storytelling.  A careful reader will always feel the impression of another author in the writing, and publishers mistakenly feel that marketing blurbs such as, "He writes with the grace of Chekhov, the perception of Cheever, and the bite of Flannery O'Connor," will convince a reader they are about to experience  a great writer.  Not at all.  Such comparisons may sell books to readers who love these authors, but it is not a valid signal for that great literary fictional story, uniquely created, that will be remembered by many for generations.

Writers need to strive to find expression of their own individuality in life on the page and in their story telling.  That is where excellence is achieved, reader pleasure  generated, and memorability instilled.  And it does not come from copying the style of a favorite author.  The opposite, in fact.  The influence of another author can be so dominant that some authors do not read when they are in the creative process.  An author reading Flannery O'Connor, for example, especially if the author likes Flannery O'Connor, can shove the writing process and product into "the style" of O'Connor.  This, when perceived, even subconsciously, by a reader, is never useful and destroys the uniqueness of a writer's style for greatness and sustainability as a great piece of writing.  Of course, in learning, writing in the style of a favorite author is essential to develop as a writer, and a writer should be able to test the effectiveness of a story or a passage or a line of dialog by practicing writing the passage as he or she might imagine other authors would approach it.  But in the final work of art, the style must be created from the core of a writer's individuality . . .  his or her unique style.

Aristotelian thinking applies here.  Historians, he said, write about what has happened.   They describe the past.  Writers (the poets) write about what might happen  next.  These are the imaginative, dramatic creators of great literature.  It is in creating what might happen that the literary fiction writer develops that unique, enjoyable, informative style that fertilizes greatness.

William H. Coles






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