Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: John C. Gardner

Writing Advice — Beware!


Had to take another short break from my Sabbatical—my self-imposed absence from this blog to work on my next book… 

Aspiring Writers

Image Courtesy of Rae Grimm ~ http://www.freeimages.com/profile/bloodylery

As regular readers can tell, It’s hard for me to stay away for long :-)

But, I will finish the book and return to more regular blogging.

During the days I’m not here you can explore my 1,000+ posts—use the search box at the upper right or the Top Tags widget down a bit on the left

However, part of the short break I’m taking was checking out a book by my second-favorite fiction author (C. J. Cherryh is #1), John C. GardnerOn Writers and Writinga posthumous collection of ideas from his various essays and reviews.

I used the word “beware” in the title of this post because writing is such a fluid profession and has so many (nearly completely different) master writers—though, there are certain fundamental perspectives necessary to engage in  commendable writing—yet, each commendable writer has their own unique way of rendering those writerly perspectives

Here are a few from Mr. Gardner:

“The artist rolls the stone away—that is the narrator’s creative act—and man escapes from the Tombs.”

“…however useful relativism may be as a way of running daily life—keeping fascists out of power, keeping tea parties civilized—it has nothing to do with art. Relativism denies those finalities toward which man’s spirit has always groped.To admit that there are no finalities is to put the spirit out of business; to say that finalities are a matter of personal assertion is to make the spirit’s business insignificant.”

“…writers work out in words their intuitions— their private certainties—of how things are. Good writers have right and significant intuitions, and they present their intuitions intact by means of masterful technique. To deny the possibility of absolute intuition is either to scrap the art of fiction or to look patronizingly on the fool who works at it. Ultimately, the critic or publisher’s abnegation of the absolute turns weak but serious writers into hacks and promotes the publication of books by natural-born bus drivers.”

“Great writers deal with problems which confront a healthy, intelligent man, however grotesque the fictional representative; small writers deal with social or physiological traps.”

“Good writers do deal with trivial problems and trivial people. When they do, however, they recognize the triviality of their material and force the reader— perhaps for the first time—to recognize it…

“…entertainment requires cleverness, art richness.”

“…comic effect arises out the tendency of surface and symbolic levels to infect one another…”

“…high-falutin’ sentences designed to intensify everyday situations….By high-falutin’ I mean: ‘But it didn’t turn out that way. The vision that burned under the carbide lamps of the Carolina farmers as John Murdoch stood in their kitchens and talked of his church, his Mission, burned in the lamp of Destiny with a different blaze struck by another match.’”

The great artist, the ‘genius’, to use an old-fashioned word, is the man who sees more connections between things than an ordinary man can see and has, moreover, a peculiar and absolutely unerring feeling for his medium. ‘Style’ is as inadequate to describe this feeling for the writer’s medium as ‘church’ would be to describe a cathedral.”

The money a publisher makes on fashionable bad writers makes possible the publication of serious writers who eventually prove great. What is trouble-some is not so much the trash as the imitation serious fiction which obscures the real thing, the sickly stuff editors bloat to life-size in their helpful letters to reviewers, who frequently echo (perhaps in good faith) the grandiose phrases of the hint-sheets. I assume it’s not really a capitalist plot. Even to a city man I wouldn’t sell a dead hog and pretend it was only asleep for a minute, but perhaps editors don’t read the novels they print.”

What true fiction does is celebrate, not preach. Which is why it tells the truth. For example, it takes two sensible ideas—the idea that a man should be responsible and the idea that a man should be himself, free, not, as we say, uptight—and it embodies these awkwardly conflicting ideas in, say, two people whom it fully respects (or else finds equally absurd, like us) and it puts these two people in a place and watches them act. Not for the purpose of proving one of the people a fool or a devil out of hell but because it is the nature and moreover the joy of the novelist simply to watch important, familiar things from inside. Art clears the head of small opinions, not because everything is relative, in view of art, but because some things are beautiful and need to be affirmed.”

“What the greatest writers have understood, and not just fitfully, is that people are understandably what they are, better or worse, imperfect when measured against the ideal and therefore comic or tragic or both. They leave the righteous moralizing to critics. To put this another way, what the best fiction does is make powerful affirmations of familiar truths”.

The trivial fiction which time filters out is that which either makes wrong affirmations or else makes affirmations in a squeaky little voice. Powerful affirmation comes from strong intellect and strong emotion supported by adequate technique. Affirmation and righteousness are as far apart as love and hate or art and criticism.”

“Of the three great university doctrines at work in modern fiction, the least offensive is that a book is good or bad insofar as it is ‘well made’; the next in order is that fiction ought properly to teach right behavior, chastising sin; and the most offensive is that human beings are all mere clowns and tramps.”

“What makes most modern fiction a howling bore is the vast heart-warming goodness discovered in vipers and toads, and the mechanical whine of self-pity.”

“Sensation, especially genitourinary sensation, has replaced God, and with God dead the universe becomes absurd, so that holy lovers end up murdered in their already bloody bed.”

Really good fiction has a staying power that comes from its ability to jar, turn on, move the whole intellectual and emotional history of the reader. If the reader is a house, the really good book is a jubilant party that spreads through every room of it, or else a fire, not just a routine visit from the mailman. This is not simply a matter of controlled complexity, and it is certainly not solely a product of perfected craft.”

“…a book must be as wise as the reader is in his best moments, stripped of pettiness, prejudice, and obsession; it must urgently support the highest affirmations the reader is capable of making, penetrating—at least by implication—every nook and cranny of his moral experience; and finally it must have the weight of a reality which the reader, at least while he is reading, does not notice to be any less substantial than the world of fire engines, tables, and yellow house cats where he lives.”

The most powerful fiction is that which finds a way of expressing openly and without distortion or limpness of mind the highest human affirmations.”

The reason art exists at all is that some things cannot be demonstrated, can only be felt and celebrated.”

No amount of factual information, or technical ability, or skill at introducing people and places, or ear for rhetoric, or eye for the absurd, or head for wide philosophy can substitute for a truly good man’s sane and profound affirmation. But the affirmation gains immeasurably when all the rest is present.”

“The recent cult of style has the splendid effect of making novels more enjoyable, less sludgy; but the assertion that style is life’s only value—that style redeems life—is false both to life and to the novel.”

Whether you write about dragons or businessmen, it’s in the careful scrutiny of cleanly apprehended characters, their conflicts and ultimate escape from immaturity, that the novel makes up its solid truths, finds courage to defend the good and attack the simpleminded.”

The good reader never knows in advance what he wants from literature.”

Everything we write is an experiment. Only if the experiment fails do we call the work experimental.”

Fiction grounded on verisimilitude argues the reader into believing what he’s told by loading him down with facts he can’t get out of.”

“…good fiction, traditional or experimental, is fiction the experienced, intellectually and emotionally mature reader recognizes, immediately or eventually, as intelligent and tasteful. It does not bully the reader…”

“Good fiction, traditional or experimental, is emotionally honest.”

“A work of moral fiction is always vital, ‘open’, in that it probes and examines rather than conforms and proves. The distinction is, precisely, between stylized, even lovely, propaganda and aesthetic integrity, and the difference lies in method.”

“The ‘creative’ aspect, then, is not merely the province of the writer during the act of fictionalization, ‘closed’ when the text is completed to the author’s satisfaction, but, in a broader and real way, a participatory right of the reader in the act of discovery.”

“Any writer who’s worked in various forms can tell you from experience that it all feels like writing. Some people may feel that they’re ‘really’ writing when they work on their novels and just fooling around when they write bedtime stories for their children; but that can mean only one of two things, I think: either that the writer has a talent for writing novels and not much talent for writing children’s stories, or else that the writer is a self-important donzel who writes both miserable novels and miserable children’s stories.”

The true writer’s mind is not a jungle but a noble democracy, in which all parties have their say, even the crazy ones, even the most violently passionate, because otherwise justice, balance, sanity are impossible.”

If one looks at the first drafts of even the greatest writers, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, one sees that literary art does not come flying like Athena, fully formed, from Zeus’s head. Indeed, the first-draft stupidity of great writers is a shocking and comforting thing to see. What one learns from studying successive drafts is that the writer did not know what he meant to say until he said it. A typo of ‘murder’ for ‘mirror’ can change the whole plot of a novel.”

“As everyone knows, the origins of words don’t prove much; but it seems true that we still use fiction in the original sense, not to describe some noble old lie which can be told, with no great loss, in a variety of ways, but to describe a specific kind of made-up story, a story we think valuable precisely because of the way it’s shaped.”

“What writers do, if they haven’t been misled by false canons of taste or some character defect, is try to make up an interesting story and tell it in an authentically interesting way—that is, some way that, however often we may read it, does not turn out to be boring.”

The odds against a writer’s achieving a real work of art are astronomical.”

“Every good writer is many things—a symbolist, a careful student of character, a person of strong opinions, a lover of pure tale or adventure.”

“A true work of fiction is a wonderfully simple thing—so simple that most so-called serious writers avoid trying it, feeling they ought to do something more important and ingenious, never guessing how incredibly difficult it is. A true work of fiction does all of the following things, and does them elegantly, efficiently: it creates a vivid and continuous dream in the reader’s mind; it is implicitly philosophical; it fulfills or at least deals with all of the expectations it sets up; and it strikes us, in the end, not simply as a thing done but as a shining performance.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
That’s a lot of ponderable wisdom from a master writer…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Read Some Strange Fantasies
Grab A Free Novel…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
To Leave A Comment, Use The Link At The Top-Right of The Post :-)
For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

Advertisements

A Post With The Purpose of Pointing You Toward Another Post…


My most favorite author is C. J. Cherryh.

My other most favorite author is John C. Gardner.

If you read, or write, or publish, this interview with John is worth studying…

Thanks to Simone Benedict for reminding me of John’s importance.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
Follow the “co-author” of Notes from An Alien, Sena Quaren:
On Twitter
AND, Get A Free Copy of Our Book