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Habits of mind, principles of practice

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There are few true rules for a writer, except the rules that writers set for themselves but, for new writers, there is a responsibility to give them some guidance, even if they reject it. I suggest here broad brush strokes of practical judgment that unite not only many teachers of writing but also many writers. Most of these notions emerge through their everyday practice, through feeling and instinct, and by failure.

Parallels of practice

Despite the fact that writers, as a mark of their office, tend to be determinedly not of the same mind, it is surprising that so many of them agree on a few principles when they are writing about the act of writing, or when they are engaged in criticism of fellow authors. There is an intriguing side to this: an artist who writes criticism, about their own practice or someone else`s, ends up telling you more about what they themselves are you up to, or what they aspire to telling you more about what they themselves are up to, or what they aspire to for parallels of artistic intention and practice we find them in some quantity.

From and structure

In Chapter There, we introduced the practical notion that design leads to more surprise in writing than free expression, and than form, such as patterns and restrictions, liberates creativity and imagination. Form in fiction can be as specific and as conscious a decision as choosing to write in the form by choosing not write in the form of a journal, a blog or letters, or emails between characters, or by choosing not to use the letter “e” in your story. Form is simply a decision about the way your piece is written, and your final decision may take several draft and unsuccessful trials before you realize which suite the material best, and carries the story inevitably. Did you know that Jane Austen initially wrote Pride and Prejudice as an epistolary novel?

Deciding your form

Some writes use the terms “from” and “structure” interchangeably because it is almost impossible to separate them in the act of writing. The structures of literary fiction allow you to frame your decision: the architecture of all the action: how you place incidents, and when; where you position and resolve conflicts; whether your write the piece as a third-person narrative, or as a rapid-fire burst of taut first-person narratives form the point of view of each of its several characters. The most inmportan matter for a new writer is that they understand the structure they have chosen, and wide reading will help develop this.

The categories of fiction, such as novels, short stories and flash fiction are like different species of al literary genus. Although many understand these forms to mean differences in length, they also refer to differences in structure, and the demands made by them. In this way, they mirror some of the expectations and restrictions set up using verse forms in poerty. However, calling one form of fiction by a name is not an exercise in Linnaean classification: each form flows quite fluidly through another. As Ailsa Cox explains in Writing Short Stories, this is obsession among creative writes about the classication of literary forms because of a “question of status. Historically, the novel has been the dominate form, and it is still difficult to establish a literary career based purely on short fiction” (2005: 3). However, this business of status is not you war – not yet.

One challenge is that you might not know at first which forms are the most appropriate for your story. Again, you must trial several to find the one that works. You might well some notion beforehand. For example, if you feel your story is thorny with events, swarming with characters and powered by a succession of conflicts, then you are probably writing an novel. If you wish to say, one character, then your miniaturist instinct is creating a short story. If you want to hit-and-run the reader, and then quickly shift out of view, flash fiction fits the action. Experiment with all of them. Like poetic forms, the choice you take with the form and structure of fiction will automatically begin to shape what you can do, eliminating multiple possibilities at a storke.

Subverting the form

Your decision will also shape the reader`s expectations even before they absorb the first sentence. You might wish to play with such expectations. You will remember form our discussion of form in Chapter Three that it provides a useful tool in so far as you can break with it, subvert it and even shatter it. One way to think about this is to allow the structure of piece to ‘ambush the story` so that the structure tells a different story form the one piece is telling.

Anti-narrative techniques in fiction disrupt and subvert the forward momentum of a story, and even the sense of time and place. Some short stories appear up and collaged into a longer narrative. This produces jump-cuts in time, and rapid switches of scene like viewing the word form a fairground waltzer. For a powerful example, read, then write an imitation of, Robert Coover`s `The Babysitter`, in Ford (1992: 350).

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