* technique

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 27, 2012

* metaphor and simile defined

  • metaphor  1. A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in “a sea of troubles” or “All the world’s a stage” (Shakespeare). 2.One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol
  • simile … A figure of speech in which two essentially unlike things are compared, often in a phrase introduced by like or as, as in “How like the winter hath my absence been” or “So are you to my thoughts as food to life” (Shakespeare).

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • Perry has Charlotte, in her persona as Elizabeth Baranaby, sit quietly listening to conversation and asking herself a series of questions. This helps the reader keep straight what is known and yet unknown about a complicated plot.
  • Similar to what I did when Detective Watson complied a list of unanswered questions in A Good Conviction.

The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

  • John Steinbeck … say dialogue aloud as you write it. only then will it have the sound of speech.
  • Tennessee Williams … when I write, everything is visual, as brilliantly as if it were on a lit stage. And I talk out the lines as I write.
  • Samuel Johnson … read over your composition and, when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.
  • D.H. Lawrence … they say DHL used to write second drafts and never look at the first
  • Bernard Malamud … first drafts are for learning what your novel is about. revision is one of the true pleasures of writing.
  • James Baldwin … painters have often taught writers to see
  • Francois Mauriac … some writers are greatly preoccupied with technique … they seem to think that a good novel ought to follow certain rules imposed from outside … the great novelist doesn’t depend on anyone but himself … a borrowed style is a bad style
  • Mark Twain … the difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug
  • Truman Capote… a story can be wrecked by a faulty rhythm in a sentence or a mistake in paragraphing, even punctuation
  • William Styron … I used to spend a lot of time worrying over word order … then I got more and more interested in people … and story
  • E.M. Forster … very few of us have the power of observing a variety of life and describing it dispassionately. Tolstoy was one who could.

Helpless by Barbara Gowdy

  • Gowdy writes as if she’s on a sinking boat and needs to throw out all the dead weight. The only words that survive are the ones that matter: no extraneous evidence of her research, no long-winded descriptions, no self-indulgent frills of characterization. And the result is a page turner that finds tension … from a review by Chelsea Cain, NYT, 4-29-07

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  •  exaggeration … “tidal waves were continually washing away cities … earthquakes arrived every week … towers fell upon good men and women all the time”
  • irony … “only the widely read could be said to knowthey were unhappy.’
  • irony … “many people would never have fallen in love if they had not heard about it.”
  • irony … Brother Juniper’s book was declared heretical, and “was ordered to be burned in the square, with its author.” So much for proving that God has a plan.

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • use of metaphor reveals a writer’s grasp of life
  • novels go happiest when you discover something you didn’t know, perhaps a metaphor that startles you even as you are setting it down, a truth that used to elude you.

The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • Yank: “Money and I have been strangers all my life.”
    • effective metaphor, likely to be remembered, and setting the story line of what will happen now that he has money (even though this story line is never effectively developed). 
  • “Somewhat like Byron, he awoke the next morning and found himself famous.”
    • The simile only works if the reader understands the reference, which is not likely.

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

  •  important characters introduced late in the story … Varo Borja (46); the girl with green eyes (98, 135, 177); man with a scar (173); Victor Fargas (142).
    • This seems to work ok, except for the unresolved plot issues, although when reading, it seemed disconcerting to me.  
  • explaining technical matters … the Ceniza brothers tell Corso how a book can be forged.
    • I like the way this was done. It went on just long enough but not too long.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

  • Character introduction … After beginning with Stiva and Dolly, many other characters, including the major characters, are introduced later: Levin (p.16), Kitty (p.28), Vronsky (p.39,56), and Anna (p.58).
  • If you don’t know differently, you initially think that Stepan and Dolly are the major characters.
  • When other characters are introduced, it’s still not clear who the major characters will be.
    • I suspect this is not a technique which would work today.
  • Tolstoy ridicules the Russian bureaucracy by simply describing how it works, with no editorial comment. He trusts the reader to get it.

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • most readers are quick readers, who will stumble and fall on too-complicated prose
  • the essence of good writing is that it sets an intense mood, then alters that mood, enlarges it, conducts it over to another mood. Every sentence is careful not to poke through the tissue of the mood
  • finding one’s own manner is elusive.
  • manner comes down to a set of decisions on what word is valuable in every sentence you write.
  • another element of manner is consistency. Toni Morrison can write beautifully for pages, then move along in a pedestrian mode
  • find your own distinctive insights
  • Henry James had an extraordinary sense of that unforeseen vibration in the almost wholly unexpected. He created a fictional world out of such insight.
  • You must push your writing to find such insight, by constantly asking questions … what would the character do? … why? … the events must be true to the character 
  • Hemingway could not write a good long complex sentence, so he developed a style of short declarative sentences. which seemed to work out pretty well  
  • some writers always write in their own inimitable style (Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway) while others (including Mailer) go along in a variety of modes. Matisse always painted in a recognizable mode, Picasso tried a hundred modes before he was done
  • describe what you see as it impinges on the sum of your passions and intellectual attainments.
  • write as if everything depends on saying what you feel as clearly as you can
  • do not be afraid to go with the insight provided in an unexpected and happy turn of phrase
  • use your own crucial experiences as a source for your writing, not directly perhaps, where they may be too special, too intense or too concentrated, but rather by projecting your imagination through the crystal of your experience
  • if you tell yourself that you are going to write tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You owe it to your unconscious to keep your promise.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • Talking Head Avoidance Device (THAD) – those elements of a scene that illustrate character or illuminate state of mind in ways other than he said/she said; present the reader a visual element in what would otherwise be only dialogue. Can be anything. Draw from character analysis.
  • manipulate language to alter the mood
  • every sentence in a paragraph should be an amplification of the sentence preceding it, or should address a prevailing topic in some way
  • paragraphs must be cohesive, and linked together to create a seamless narrative
  • I develop my outline and write my novels in the order they’ll be read
  • Note every opportunity for causal relationships to be developed
  • Write the running plot outline – stream of consciousness
  • By having as much information as possible before writing the scene, can concentrate on the writing

What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg

  •  jargon … “two sticks short” … this jargon is never directly explained, but indirectly we learn that it is four inches or 30 lines.

The Faith of a Writer by Joyce Carol Oates

  • In dramatic literature, the tauter the scene, the more emotionally effective
  • if the scene is protracted or repetitive, and the (reader) gets ahead of the (story), there’s a slackening of attention;
  • but if the story is too short and underdeveloped, the dramatic experience will be thin, slight, sketchy, forgettable
  • the goal of the writer is to fully realize his material, to discover the ideal balance between fluidity of narration and background exposition, description, an amplification
  • the story’s theme is the bobbin upon which the narrative, or plot, is skillfully wound. Without the bobbin (the thematic center), the thread would fly loose
  • longer fiction (must) involve the reader emotionally
  • trying always to write beautifully, brilliantly, with originality, can be paralyzing



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