Words Overflown by Stars, edited by David Jauss, is the craft book from the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Program. I started it about this time last year and just finished it a few weeks ago. 432 pages of craft essays–a text book with the feel of a novel–the first half on prose and the second half on poetry. I highly recommend it, and here are some of the highlights:
In “Before We Get Started,” Bret Lott writes about the importance of the little words.
Ellen Lesser’s essay, “The Girl I Was, The Woman I Have Become,” is full of examples of reminiscent narrators, as well as an excellent analysis of “the point in time from which the story gets told.”
I’ve already written a bit about David Jauss‘s essay “From Long Shots to X-Rays” on distance and point of view in fiction. I’ve probably read this essay five times. (It’s also in his craft book, Alone With All That Could Happen.)
“In this essay I will attempt to present a more accurate conception of point of view by closely examining the actual practice of authors and explaining how they use point of view to manipulate the degree of emotional, intellectual, and moral distance between a character and a reader.”
Diane Lefer writes about “Breaking the ‘Rules’ of Story Structure.” Regarding the so-called rule that a main character must undergo change, she writes: “In spite of conflict, confrontation and crisis, people often don’t, can’t, or won’t change.”
In “Notes on Novel Structure,” Douglas Glover breaks the novel into six major structures: point of view, plot, novel thought, subplot, theme, and image patterning. The key to plot is “to develop a consistent resistance, the force pushing against the achievement of the concrete desire.”
Laurie Alberts writes in “Showing AND Telling”:
Herein lies the distinction: We don’t resent a bossy, judgmental narrator who is original in his or her observations and who draws us into the tale through vivid, significant detail. We do resent a summarizing narrator who either over generalizes or takes away the mystery, the act of discovery for us.
If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between personal essay and memoir, Sue William Silverman answers this question and more in her essay on the subgenres of Creative Nonfiction.
Despite the fact that I’m not a poet, I just love what Mark Doty writes about metaphor in “Souls on Ice”:
But I’ve learned to trust that part of my imagination that gropes forward, feeling its way toward what it needs; to watch for the signs of fascination… that indicates there’s something I need to attend to. Sometimes it seems to me as if metaphor were the advance guard of the mind…
I will leave you with a quote from François Camoin‘s essay on “The Textures of Fiction”: “Writing is best done by those of us who don’t know precisely what we mean…”
Regarding the so-called rule that a main character must undergo change, she writes: “In spite of conflict, confrontation and crisis, people often don’t, can’t, or won’t change.”
Cynthia, you have no idea how much I needed to read this. I think I can honestly set out to finalize my book now that I’ve been validated.
Tricia, so glad to hear that Diane’s words hit the spot. Along the same lines, in several of Chekhov’s stories, the main character doesn’t change or if he does, the change doesn’t last. I appreciate your traveling over to Numero Cinq to leave a comment too. Happy Thanksgiving.