Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Advice from Wallace Stegner

Wallace Stegner was a wonderful novelist of the West. I loved Angle of Repose, The Spector Bird, and Crossing to Safety. My borther-in-law David, who is also a Stegner fan, gave me a little book for my birthday by Stegner: On Teaching and Writing Fiction. It seemed appropriate to bring it along on this writing retreat and I've been reading in it all week. Below is Stegner's advice on technique:

1. Start in the middle of things; begin in motion.

2. Stay in motion by not letting the summary intrude; keep the summary feeding into the scene in hints and dribblets, by what Ibsen called the "uncovering" technique.

3. Never explain too much; a reader is offended if he cannot participate and use his mind and imagination, and a story loses much of its suspense the moment everything is explained.

4. Stay out of your story; pick a point of view and (especially in the short story) stay with it. Nobody has less right in your story than yourself.

5. Don't show off in your style. The writing should match the characters and the situation, not you. This applies as well to obscenity and profanity as to other matters. Where character and situation call for them, they belong; elsewhere they may be a sign that the author is trying to catch someone's attention.

6. Nothing is to be gained, except a breaking of the dramatic illusion, by attempts to find substitutes for the word "said" in dialog tags. "Said" is a colorless word that disappears; elegant variations show up.

7. Stopping a story is as hard as saying good night. Learn to do it cleanly, without leftovers or repetitions.

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