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RED NUCLEUS, Melissa deSa - Literary Fiction

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Book Reports


The Art of Fiction, John Gardner

  1. The Art of Fiction introduced me to the concept of a "fictional dream." Whatever the story medium, the author strives to create a "vivid and continuous dream." All elements of craft must support that dream.
  2. Other lessons from the book include grounding yourself in the great literature of the past, maintaining artistic integrity and truth, and lending a novel "profluence." That is, causality, one scene launching the next, but also building synergistically, so that at the climax and resolution, the reader envisions the confluence of images. The story resonates. Lastly, I love the vignette about psychic distance. This echoes the article here about third-person POV, moving from distant to close.
  3. I didn't find anything that conflicted with this program's teachings.

Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass

  1. Writing the Breakout Novel stresses the importance of a strong premise, high stakes, complex characters, and tension on every page.
  2. First, that a writer starts with a considered premise, tested for the ability to launch a novel length work, with high stakes, both public and personal. Then, a thoughtful setting. Characters' emotions and actions should reflect a shifting landscape of time and place. Lastly, we should strive for tension on every page. He stresses this point. For example, our job as writers is to make our characters "suffer." Keep testing them, adding difficulties and problems, to show their grit, reveal character, and drive the plot forward.
  3. Rather than conflict with this programs' teachings, this book reflects it nicely. For example, we learned here to plan our premise, build conflict, have a sympathetic protagonist, vivid setting, and writing style with "not a single quiet paragraph."

Write Away, Elizabeth George

  1. Write Away shows how Elizabeth George does her work. Unlike a traditional craft or how-to book, she lends a lot of space to her own process, which is helpful.
  2. One useful lesson is the importance of developing characters before plotting. She does pages of freewriting about her characters, using a questionnaire that she shares in the book. Another useful tip is that we must continuously "open up" our stories. Instead of solving problems, we should expand them. I loved this line. Because when I wrote the first draft of this novel, I tried to do that. Resist my natural impulse to find resolution to my story, but instead keep multiple threads afloat, picking up a thread and setting it in motion, then keeping that momentum going. Finally, she includes useful craft tips in the second half of the book. For example, using "THAD" or talking head avoidance devices. Making sure each scene either advances the plot (or subplot), develops character, or addresses theme. And creating desire and intention in our characters as well as wants in our readers. Suspense helps achieve reader "wants." If the reader wants to know what happens next, then we've done our job.
  3. I didn't find anything here either that conflicted with the program's teachings. She does a lot of planning and outlining in her work. She also included a nice appendix of various models of story structure.

The Writing Life, Annie Dillard

  1. Unlike the other books, The Writing Life read much more like memoir. It reminded me of Stephen King's On Writing, in that she speaks about her process and experience. For example, that writing is labor intensive, done in isolation (she refers to different studios she's had over her life), and that separation from others is both challenge and boon for the writer. Writing is deeply personal, a sacrifice, in many ways, but a gift as well.
  2. She speaks of writing often in the context of nature. First, that we can be inspired by nature and also use connection with nature to find ways out of being stuck. She takes walks. She find metaphor in her friend, the pilot, traveling the sky, to how she guides the reader in her work. She references Thoreau and her own cabin in the woods, where she finds time alone to be among her books and her work. Second, that we may labor slowly, but that it's okay. We're driven by our own path towards process, there are no hard and fast rules.
  3. I didn't find anything that conflicted with what's taught in this course. It was a much more reflective work, with a focus on individual process over craft "rules."
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The "fictional dream" concept from Gardner. That has always stuck with me. Believe it or not, there are those who dislike his book. I don't get it. Even if you disagree with some aspect of it, there is still much to learn from him.

Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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