THE ART OF FICTION by John Gardner
1. This book is startlingly basic in both its description of what fiction is and what the writer needs to do. It makes me want to write, to use the power within me to reach out to others, expressing what really matters to me, and hopefully to them also.
2. The primary lessons I learned: structure is paramount - be aware of each word chosen, each sentence structured, each paragraph and scene, as elemental building blocks of character and plot, therefore of the story. Above all else, plausibility: make the fiction so real that the reader lives and breathes within it. My novel, THE BRAID, being a serious (living, breathing) matter to me, now will be given the serious attention it deserves - word by word.
3. No contradictory information to this course.
WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass
1. This book took a hand grenade to my timidity. Maass, like a big brother, held my hand at the edge of the cliff, saying "Imagine you are a bird. You have no reason to be afraid to fly." It was inspiring, for after all, who cares, if not we ourselves, whether we breakout or not? First we must amaze ourselves and let our writing carry us away. This is similar to the joy I've felt as I previously tackled painting and golf, and gave those endeavors my utmost effort. Success surprised me in both cases.
2. I learned that I must have tension/conflict/stakes on EVERY page. That there is no quiet genre or paragraph. I need to adopt the attitude that agents and editors are readers, too, not merely 'pre-disposed-to-judge-and-punish' grim reapers. And I learned to trust my own originality/creativity. One of my greatest joys is finding that I prefer my own story to many I am now reading. THE BRAID was not patterned after any other book or writer, and I revel in avoiding that temptation. It is a huge complement to me when my beta readers say they have not encountered a story quite like it before.
3. No conflict with the Algonkian program, but a terrific complement to it.
THE WRITING LIFE by Annie Dillard
1. This deeply introspective book offered a quiet 'tea-time' to reflect on what goes on within the writer. Capturing the vision is extremely difficult and great patience is required. A novel, like proper tea, takes time to brew. I am very impatient, tending to rush the story along, reluctant to flesh it out later, or edit it to shreds.
2. I learned that "literary" is not "stuffy", but desirable, in that it makes people more likely to read the work. Well-crafted, imaginative, reasoned, and deep literary qualities that attract the intelligent, literature-oriented individual need to be consciously (not merely intuitively) incorporated in my writing. Dillard's advice to write as if you were dying made an impact on me: keep the main point/premise/theme in mind and do not trivialize the story at any point. I could die later today - make this one novel count.
3. No conflict with this writing course. Each required reading has contributed to a more rounded-out understanding of what I'm doing, and comfort in knowing that I'm not alone in the writing business.
WRITE AWAY by Elizabeth George
1. This book is thorough about structuring/crafting a novel, with many examples clarifying the points. George's book, as well as Maass', both have most page corners turned down because there were tips on nearly every page that I wanted to return to. Also, I began reading George's novels and could see how she practices what she preaches. An amazing instructor in the art of writing.
2. Lessons learned include: first, foreshadowing and strategic placement of dramatic questions are crucial to keep readers engaged. Secondly, to remember that the characters are NOT ME, and to allow them their distinctive voices. Thirdly, setting matters, think of setting as a character, and have characters react and be influenced by setting. In my novel, THE BRAID, I have avoided complexity, such as sub-plot(s), delayed cognition, and unexpected twists and turns. Why? Because I lacked confidence that I could manage them. Now there is increased confidence - I don't need to be a rocket scientist, just a patient, humble writer with the discipline to take baby steps/practice the specific techniques. That, and letting my imagination run wild. There is so much more that could be listed, but these are my focus for now.
3. No conflict for me.