Category Archives: The Art of Fiction

Extraordinary Ordinary People

“Literature is the art of discovering something extraordinary about ordinary people, and saying with ordinary words something extraordinary.”–Boris Pasternak

A book called The Undead Pool by Kim Harrison is at the top of the New York Times bestseller list this morning. According to the description of the book on Amazon, “Witch and day-walking demon Rachel Morgan has managed to save the demonic ever-after from shrinking, but at a high cost. Now strange magic is attacking Cincinnati . . . Rachel must stop this dark necromancy before the undead vampire masters who keep the rest of the undead under control are lost and all-out supernatural war breaks out.” The first scene includes a conversation between the heroine and a “pixy currently sitting on the bottom of [her] hooped earrings (sic).” I don’t know if Ms. Harrison intends her book to be “literature,” but I doubt if Pasternak would describe it that way. Continue reading

The Rhythm of Words

“I am telling you what I know–words have music and if you are a musician you will write to hear them.”–E.L. Doctorow

I can’t read music, and I certainly couldn’t arrange notes on a scale, but there’s a rhythm in my head every time I sit down to write. It’s not predetermined, or in accordance with a scheme devised by the “experts,” it’s just there. Syllables, words and sentences are ordered not just to communicate a thought to a reader, but to create a little “music” in her head. It changes depending upon what’s being written, but it doesn’t happen consciously–I just know when it “sounds” right or wrong, and I edit endlessly to make it “sound” right. Continue reading

Place in Fiction

In an essay called “Place in Fiction,” written in 1956, Eudora Welty said, “The truth is, fiction depends for its life on place.”   By that she meant that characters, theme, even plot are made real, believable, by the reality of the setting, however fictitious that place may be.  Citing Faulkner, she notes that some critics view an emphasis on place as “regional,” i.e., unworthy of a universal audience, and responds:  “‘Regional,’ I think, is a careless term, as well as a condescending one, because what it does is fail to differentiate between the localized raw material of life and its outcome as art.  ‘Regional’ is an outsider’s term; it has no meaning for the insider who is doing the writing, because as far as he knows he is simply writing about life.  Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Thomas Hardy, Cervantes, Turgenev, the authors of the books of the Old Testament, all confined themselves to regions, great or small–but are they regional?  Then who from the start of time has not been so?” Continue reading