Category Archives: Craft

High and Low Audiences

For reasons I won’t get into here, I’m writing an article about Shakespeare for my local newspaper. I interviewed a professor who has a course through the Great Courses on understanding Shakespeare, and he said that one of the great things about Shakespeare is that he was writing for everyone, from the groundlings who paid a penny to get in and are just there for the bawdy jokes and the most sophisticated viewers who want to grapple with the philosophical questions.

I thought that was just terrific, and the missing piece of our recent genre/literary discussion. That’s what you want to do, right? To write a book that appeals on a visceral, entertaining level but that also holds up to careful study? Here’s a great story:  Continue reading

More on craft and aesthetics at large

As we’re progressing with this podcast, I think I’m starting to repeat and contradict myself, which I think has something to do with this squirrelly nature of craft I blogged about a few weeks ago. What we’re really talking about is why fiction matters, what we read for, and how to make that happen.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a better passage about how to make it happen than this paragraph from John Gardner’s On Becoming a NovelistContinue reading

Why it’s interesting: Flannery O’Connor’s “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”

oconnorOne of things I love about reading a good story is how it holds up to a careful reading. “Genre” fiction is all well and good, but a truly well-crafted story is worth paying attention to every single word.

This afternoon I reread O’Connor’s “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” with the intention of looking at how she captures the southern dialect, but I was stunned by the sophisticated negotiation that plays out in the dialogue.

The story is about a drifter named Mr. Shiftlet who shows up at a house in the country where an old woman and her grown deaf daughter live. He works on the farm a few days, marries the daughter, and drives her off in the old woman’s automobile for what is supposed to be their honeymoon. Instead, he drops her off at a roadside diner and drives off into a storm.

Rather than analyze what happens at the end, which is strange and open to discussion, I thought it would be fun to go through the first few pages and point out what really stood out to me on this reading.  Continue reading

50 Shades of Meaning

In this week’s episode, I referenced Guy Bergstrom’s blog, Red Pen of Doom, specifically the post where he eviscerates the first two pages of Franzen’s Freedom. I actually misquoted Bergstrom on air; I said changed “seemingly difficult” to “hard,” when in fact he changed “some difficulty” to “trouble.” The sentence in question begins:

His old neighbors had some difficulty reconciling the quotes about him…

I wasn’t as wild about Freedom as some of my friends were, because I thought Franzen was a bit lazy on a line level, at least compared to The Corrections, and his new characters didn’t make as much of an impression on me as the Lambert family from his earlier book. I also recommend Bergstrom’s blog, because it’s hilarious.

Still, I would defend Franzen’s use of “some difficulty.” Here’s why:  Continue reading

Shifting Perspective, or Why Victim Protagonists Fail

Stay tuned for next week’s WITTScast, where we talk about point of view. I’m obsessed with point of view from a mechanical, word by word, perspective, meaning I’m always interested to know who owns a word and from what vantage the tale is being told.

But another take on point of view is deciding who the focal character will be. There’s a slew of novels that retell earlier stories from a different perspective — Grendel (explicit) and Ahab’s Wife (implicit) come to mind.

BookRiot has a post of suggestions for shifted perspective novels, including:

  • The Great Gatsby from Daisy’s POV
  • Lolita from Dolores’s POV
  • Native Son from the lawyer’s perspective

It’s a clever thought experiment, and I have a few thoughts:  Continue reading

Beginnings: Good First Sentences

Before we move onto our next podcast, I thought it would be good to write a post about beginnings — specifically, first lines. What first lines can you quote from memory? What about if you look at your bookshelf? Does that trigger anything?

I had mixed results with this challenge. On the one hand, I thought of a lot of the easy ones — Pride and Prejudice, A Tale of Two Cities, Moby-Dick. But there were precious few contemporary first lines that came to mind until I looked at the spines on my shelf.

Even then, I had some loose interpretations. I remembered Raskolnikov going out and walking across the K Bridge, but I had no idea how that line went. I remembered something about the pierglass and the candleflame, but couldn’t quote the opening to All the Pretty Horses.

But after examining my shelf, I do have a few favorites from my bookshelf.  Continue reading

What do we mean by “craft”?

We’re brainstorming ideas for upcoming craft topics, and the usual suspects are coming to my mind — point of view, show vs. tell, scene vs. summary, dialogue, character, plot. But the more I think about it, the more I think the idea of “craft” could use some re-jiggering.

On one hand, it seems we’re just talking about the nuts and bolts of putting a piece together, but it also seems like “craft” is a handy substitute for “aesthetics.” When we ask how a piece is put together, I think we’re really asking — or at least I’m asking — how does it work? Why does it work?

The answer goes beyond any single element of “craft.” A piece doesn’t work just because of point of view, or diction, or whatever. A piece works because all these elements work in harmony to create Poe’s “unity of effect.”

To think more about “unity of effect,” I’d like to think about “craft” in a broader sense. Specifically, I think there are three layers of craft:  Continue reading