Autodidact: self-taught


Art of Fiction by John Gardner

by V. L. Craven

Notes on Literary-Aesthetic Theory

-13- Best book for writing fundamentals: W.W. Watt’s An American Rhetoric

-14- Write the kind of story you know and like best—a ghost story, sci-fi, realistic story about your childhood

-15- In any piece of fiction, the writer’s first job is to convince the reader that the events he recounts really happened, or to persuade the reader that they might have happened (given small changes in the laws of the universe), or else to engage the reader’s interest in the patent absurdity of the lie. The realistic writer’s way of making events convincing is verisimilitude. The tale writer—if he is very good–gets what Coleridge called ‘the willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.’ The yarn writer tells outrageous lies or has someone tell the narrator some outrageous lie then presents the problems with the lie through the narrator.

All three types of writing depend on precision of detail. In writing dependent on verisimilitude he argues us into submission. When the realist’s work convinces us, all effects, even the most subtle, have explicit or implicit causes. This kind of documentation, moment by moment authenticating detail, is the mainstay not only of realistic fiction but of all fiction.

[The realist writer] must present, moment by moment, concrete images drawn from a careful observation of how people behave, and he must render the connections between moments, the exact gestures, facial expressions, or turns of speech that, within any given scene, move human beings from emotion to emotion, from one instant in time to the next.

Whereas the tale writer charms or lulls the reader into dropping objections; that is, persuades him to suspend disbelief.

-16- In all major genres, vivid detail is the life blood of fiction.

-17- Fiction does its work by creating a dream in the reader’s mind

-18- …one of the chief mistakes a writer can make is to allow or force the reader’s mind to be distracted, even momentarily, from the fictional dream.

-19- Metafiction novels are not novels but, instead, artistic comments on art.

-20- Begin with something real—one of the necessary parts of larger forms, some single element that, if brilliantly done, might naturally become the trigger of a larger work—some small exercise in technique, if you like, as long as it’s remembered tat we do not really mean it as an exercise but as a possible beginning of some magnificent work of art.–for example: a one-page passage of description keyed to some particular genre since short stories and novels work differently.–make the chief concern the writer’s full discovery of fiction’s elements.

-21- Having written one superb descriptive passage the ariter should know things about description that he’ll never need to think about again. Working element by element through the necessary parts of fiction, he should make the essential techniques second nature.

-22- The writer must learns to see fiction’s elements as only a writer does.

-23- Good description is symbolic –it is one of the writer’s means of reaching down into his unconscious mind, finding clues to what questions his fiction must ask, and, with luck, hints about the answers. It’s symbolic not because the writer plants symbols in it but because, by working in the proper way, he forces symbols still largely mysterious to him up into his conscious mind where…he can work with them and finally understand them.

-24- The organized and intelligent fictional dream that will eventually fill the reader’s mind begins as a largely mysterious dream in the writer’s mind. Through the process of writer and endless revising, the writer makes available the order the reader sees.

-25- Whatever our doubts, we pick up books at train stations, or withdraw into our studies and write them; and the world—or so we imagine—comes alive.

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