Time and narrative

In other words, people naturally create stories, breaking up those clock-ticking seconds and replacing them with dramatic rising action, heart-stopping climaxes, and resolutions. Storytellers “lengthen time” with focus and careful description and contract time with descriptive brevity, summary, or even absence. The simple choice of when to start and when to stop the story imposes significance and value on certain events and diminishes others.

Kylie Nielson Turley

Involving readers with characters

“Equally important, the scene is required for what it does to the reader’s emotional involvement with these two people. As they become friends, they win our friendship. As they impress each other with their warmth and generosity, they impress us as well” (107).

            –Wayne Booth on E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India

Seeing the plan

Some writers claim to extrude a book at an even rate like toothpaste from a tube, or to build a story like a wall, so many feet per day. They sit at their desk and knock off their word quota, then frisk into their leisured evening, preening themselves. This is so alien to me that it might be another trade entirely. Writing lectures or reviews – any kind of non-fiction – seems to me a job like any job: allocate your time, marshal your resources, just get on with it. But fiction makes me the servant of a process that has no clear beginning and end or method of measuring achievement. I don’t write in sequence. I may have a dozen versions of a single scene. I might spend a week threading an image through a story, but moving the narrative not an inch. A book grows according to a subtle and deep-laid plan. At the end, I see what the plan was.

Hilary Mantel

On not-knowing what to do

It’s appropriate to pause and say that the writer is one who, embarking upon a task, does not know what to do.… The not knowing is crucial to art, is what permits art to be made. Without the scanning process engendered by not-knowing, without the possibility of having the mind move in unanticipated directions, there would be no invention.… Writing is a process of dealing with not-knowing, a forcing of what and how.

~Donald Barthelme, “Not-knowing”

On beginning

The scene comes first, an idea of a character in a place. It’s visual, it’s Technicolor—something I see in a vague way. Then sentence by sentence into the breach.

Elisa Gabber quoting Don DeLillo

The pleasures of writing

Writing gives me such enormous pleasure, and I’m a much happier (and therefore nicer) person when I’m doing it. There’s a place in my head that I go to when I write and it’s so rich and unexpected – and scary sometimes – but never ever dull. I first went there when I was seven and I wrote a poem which startled me a bit because it felt like someone else had written it. The adrenaline rush that gave me was incredible and I wanted more. These days, maybe because I can now access that place quite easily, writing feels like something I simply could not live without. It is a joyous thing. I feel very lucky to be paid to do it, but even if I’d never been published, I think I’d still be writing. I love being read, but the person I’m really always writing for is me.

-Julie Myerson

Fiction in the world

Visualizing a happier, more just world is a direct assault on the forces that are trying to break your heart. . . . Happier, kinder worlds in fiction naturally lead people to band together, to try and create pockets of that experience in our world. And there’s plenty of evidence that these fan communities feed directly into political organizing.

Never Say You Can’t Survive by Charlie Jane Anders