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Taking Pains

In John Gardner's On Becoming a Novelist, he notes that developing as a writer is largely based on mastering vocabulary and reading great writing with concentration until "one simply catches on."  However he adds: "If my own experience is representative, what one mainly catches on to is the value of painstaking-- almost ridiculously painstaking-- work."

There is also the much touted "journalistic" training method.  A working journalist is forced to meet a professional standard while producing daily output. This sort of training ought to be perfect preparation for achieving a non-fiction book I would think, but I am not sure it would be best for fiction.

What sort of pains must one take?  I assume just not trotting out the first grammatical sentence one can make and calling the work done? But what if no sentence you can build satisfies the inner critic?  W's silence speaks volumes here.

The format for these pages was originally conceived by me to consist of  a series of "mini-essays."  One or two brief ideas embraced by a few paragraphs.  The possibility of them being read causes me to take more pains than I would in an offline notebook journal. But I also note that many personal topics engaged in my private notebooks do not seem quite right to offer out here, and so the public site somewhat limits my expression.  Nonetheless I am writing more, and reading more, and trying to move to the point where I can say my blog essays are my "recreational" writings that warm me up for more formal efforts: stories, scripts, novels, etc.

Still one must dare to explore past one's comfort zone.  No pain, no gain.

Gardner goes on to say:  "In the best fiction, plot is is not a series of surprises but an increasingly moving series of recognitions, or moments of understanding." 

Perhaps the very lack of  "flashy-ness" (brassy, but false or trivial) is one thing that helps separate pulp fiction from serious art? Some styles may survive a certain amount of flash (still channeling JG here) if they are comedic, satiric, ironic.  These styles though, I think, tend to put emphasis in the conflict going on within the diction instead of on the conflict of the story.

Gardner holds character above theme as the driving force in crafting a story, themes being the tools of academia, and possibly in the way of the author while working on fictional problems.  Someone will tell the author his theme after his work is done.
 
Serious art then, instead of providing a quick sugar rush,  induces something more like a vertigo that kicks the world out from under your feet, and leaves you at the mercy of  your chosen gods.   This, in reaction to Gardner's experience of writing the passage of the demise of Grendel.  But the writer's experience, transferred to intent, to words, may or may not cause the revelation to spring to life again in the reader's mind.

Hopefully we read carefully enough, that at very least, such a passage causes us to sway a bit to get our balance.
Cydonia photo: ESA

This is the journal of David Ross
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