The Art of Fiction

by | Jun 22, 2006 | Uncategorized | 2 comments

John Gardner is brilliant. Okay. We knew that. But in re-reading The Art of Fiction, I’m seeing so many things I didn’t see before. And, of course, what I’m really seeing are the “rules of writing practice” (ala Natalie Goldberg) through a new lens.

Here’s some highlights. At page 9 Gardner writes:

. . . in order to achieve mastery [the student writer] must read widely and deeply and must write not just carefully but continually, thoughtfully assessing and reassessing what he writes, because practice, for the writer as for the concert pianist, is the heart of the matter. Though the literary dabbler may write a fine story now and then, the true writer is one for whom technique has become, as it is for the pianist, second nature.

     Page 26: “. . . vivid detail is the life blood of fiction.”

     Page 30: ” . . . [f]iction does its work by creating a dream in the reader’s mind . . . . [i]f the dream is to be powerful, the dream must probably be vivid and continuous.”

     Page 32: “[the writer] encourages the reader to ‘dream’ the event with enormous clarity by presenting as many concrete details as possible.”

     Page 34: “True artists, whatever smiling faces they may show you, are obsessive, driven people.”

     Page 35: “Art, at those moments when it feels most like art – when we feel most alive, most alert, most triumphant – is less like a cocktail party than a tank full of sharks. Everything’s for keeps, nothing’s just for exercise.”

     Page 37: Gardner describes the state of mind which can create the dream as, “the mind that has emptied itself of all but the desire to “tell the truth”; that is, to get the feeling down in concrete details.”

     Page 42: “Nothing in the world is inherently interesting . . . . [n]othing can be made to be of interest to the reader that was not first of vital concern to the writer. . . . Thus no two writers get aesthetic interest from exactly the same materials.”

     Page 44: “The writer must enable us to see and feel vividly what his characters see and feel; that is, enable us to experience as directly and intensely as possible, though vicariously, what his characters experience.”

     Page 46: “As in the universe, every atom has an effect, however miniscule, on every other atom, so that to pinch the fabric of Time and Space at any point is to shake the whole length and breadth of it, so in fiction every element has effect on every other.”

Reading these passages reminds me how much my meditation practice feeds my writing. Learning to be present in the moment, to observe pure sensory detail, and to see the world through equanimous eyes, helps me write more clearly. I still have a long way to go and lots of craft to learn, but I’m choosing to believe that John Gardner would think I was on the right track.

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