Style And Substance

To the degree that it's not plot, any experimental structure will call attention to itself and often seem visibly artificial. So it has to be managed carefully or the story, the human content, will become secondary to the style. The story may even disappear altogether, lost in the clever externals of its presentation.

One of the most damning things that can be said about a story is that it's an amazing technical achievement. That's admiration for craft, not enjoyment or appreciation. Whole books have been written whose text omits one or more letters of the alpha bet. Undoubtedly that was a difficult achievement, one at least equal to making a scale model of the Empire State Building out of hundreds of thousands of toothpicks.

But is that really what you want to do?

Do you want your readers to marvel at all the work that went into your invention or be impressed with how clever and unusual the technique is, or do you want to share some vision of what it means to be human and alive in the world?

Like quick cuts and computer imaging in movies, non-plot techniques are gadgety. Such gadgets can end up being yawn-making, uninvolving tricks as soon as the novelty wears off, if they're all the story has to offer.

Compare two Disney projects, Bambi and the recent Tron. Each was an immense technical achievement at the time it was made. Bambi is a classic, a perennial children's favorite; Tron disappeared to the netherlands of video rental almost as soon as it was released. The difference was in the ability of each movie's content, apart from the gadgetry of cartooning or computer graphics wizardry, to reach and move its audience.

Craft and invention shouldn't, I believe, become ends in themselves. They should serve the story, the human vision conveyed in words. Unless they do that, any story becomes a dry technical exercise, without heart.

As with world-building, manipulating the surfaces of stories is often more fun to do than to watch. Remember that the job of a writer is less to perform than to communicate. Don't get so caught up in technique that the style becomes more important than the substance. Subordinate. And simplify.

Use the simplest possible structure that conveys what you want to convey, presents what you want to present. And, as with other matters of technique like viewpoint shifts or changes of locale, clue the reader in on the method, the structural rules of your story, right away in as direct and clear a manner as you can manage. Then follow the pattern you've set, whether that pattern uses plot occasionally or not at all.

Finally, it's not the form but the content which will determine whether your story will reach and move its readers, whether it will be good fiction or just another quirky experiment that disappears without trace.

Style is important. But it's not everything. Now, quit reading. Go write.

INDEX

Adams, Richard (Watership Down),

48-49, 122 allegory. See mosaic structure anticlimax, 89, 102, 118, 12a, 125, 126, 129, 130-132, 134, 148 Austen, Jane (Pride and Prejudice), 107

Bambi, 162

Bambi Meets Godzilla, 10 before/after pairings, 103, 121, 151-152

beginnings, story, the necessary chores of, 21. See also openings belief, winning readers', 83. See alsodisbelief Believers, True. See intrusion, authorial Benchley, Peter (Jaws), 17 Boles, Paul Darcy, 6 Bradbury, Ray, 14 braided plots. See subplots bridge characters. See characters Bronte, Charlotte (Jane Eyre), 73, 159

Bronte, Emily (Wuthering Heights), 34, 65, 91, 107, 108 and "Angria," 46 Bulkington. See Melville, Herman

Capote, Truman (In Cold Blood), 11

character sketch. See mosaic structure characters charts used in developing, 48 representing a norm, 20-21 serving as a bridge, 33-34 establishing credibility, 88-89 mirror, 104-107, 157 Cheever, John

("Metamorphoses"), 109, 149

Chesterton, G. K. (The Man Who

Was Thursday), 83 clutter, eliminating/avoiding narrative, 38-39, 126-128, 153

collage structure, 155-158 defined, 155-156 diverse nature of, 156-157 contrast important in, 157-158 compensation for complex endings, 128 for exposition, melodrama serving as, 56, 93 for needed complexities in story structure, 37 for multiple viewpoints, 39 for static stories. See melodrama conflict distinguished from drama, 102 as "fair" opposition, 9 as "wrestling," 6 connections in parallel plots, 108 between plotlines, 65, 67-68, 95-96. See also transitions between scenes where viewpoints shift, 37 Conrad, Joseph Heart of Darkness, 159 Lord Jim, 117 contrast, 78, 157-158 credibility. See belief, winning readers'. See also disbelief crisis, 66

criticism, asking for, 142 D

descriptions, being economical with, 24. See also settings detail, as an aid to realism, 86 deus ex machina. See dirigible ending dialogue, as an aid to credibility, 88

Dibell, Ansen ("A Sense of

Family"), 12, 96-98, 148 Dickens, Charles, 14, 53 Bleak House, 27 A Christmas Carol, 20, 59, 103,

104-106, 122, 150, 151 A Tale of Two Cities, 27, 104, 137 Oliver Twist, 149 dirigible ending, 131-132 disbelief techniques of defusing, 84-91, 114

the willing suspension of, 83, 114

dithering. See fictional withdrawal Dos Passos, John (U.S.A.), 156 Doyle, Arthur Conan, 34, 107, 141

The Hound oftheBaskervilles, 89, 92

drama, distinguished from melodrama, 7, 81, 151-153

Du Maurier, Daphne (Rebecca), 27,

73-74, 159 dynamic, the need for in story ideas, 15-16

early, starting a story too, 19 elegance, 119 endings circular defined 120-121 problems with, 123-125 techniques of, 121-123 turning points used in, 123 dirigible, 131-132 expositional. See fictional withdrawal focus-switching, 130-131 happy, 136-137 inconclusive ("sequel-fishing"),

140-141 linear narrative economy necessary in, 127 new places/people/plotlines undesirable in, 127-129 problems with, 129 stop immediately after crisis,

125-126 satisfying, 136-137 trick, 132-135 unhappy, 136-137 unsatisfying ("no ending") 138-139 epilogues. See frames experiment. See Rule of Three,

The exposition amount appropriate in literary fiction, 55-56 amount appropriate in popular fiction, 54 character charts used in, 48 creating, not a spectator sport,

45-47 cutting, 57 definition of, 19 distinguished from flashback, 113

emotion useful in, 56 inappropriate in epilogues, 118 interrupts and delays action, 43 limiting, 54

melodrama a compensation for,

93. See also melodrama placement of, 51 place of opinions in, 52-53. See also intrusion, authorial as preparation for following events, 50 a problem in genre fiction, 45 rules for handling, 49-50, 56 specialist information used in, 53-54. See also intrusion, authorial subordinate to plot, 54-56 use of dialogue to convey, 51-52 usefulness of, 44-45 as "world builders' disease" 45 Empire Strikes Back, The. See Lucas,

George extrapolation, 87. See also premises

fact-based fiction, difficulties of, 1, 14

fallacy, pathetic, 147 Farrell, James T. (Studs Lonigan), 149

Faulkner, William, 92 The Bear, 150-151 Sanctuary, 26 The Town, 144 fiction fatigue. See revision fiction, genre happy endings in, 136 suitable exposition for, 54-55 fictional withdrawal, 139-143 Finsbury, the dreaded authorial.

See intrusion, authorial Fitzgerald, F. Scott, 6 use of displaced narrator by, in The Great Gatsby, 33-34 flashbacks, 32, 59, 108, 113-117 distinguished from exposition, 113

preventing distraction by, 115

flashforwards. See frames focus, changing, 130-131 formulas, fictional, 109-110 Forsyth, Frederick (The Day of the

Jackal), 116 frames defined, 117-118 as epilogues, 117, 118 relationship of, to main plotline, 117

as prologues, 117, 118 G

Gardner, Erle Stanley (Perry

Mason books), 24 genres, crossing, 86-87 Goldberg, Rube, 156 Golding, William

(Lord of the Flies), 7, 20-21, 159 allegorical elements in, 153 characters described in, 24-25 conch used in, 22-23, 29, 150 opening of, 22-23 set-pieces in, 70, 76 stages in the plot of, 62, 72 use of twist in, 76 Good vs. Evil, 152 "Good Country People." See

McCullers, Carson groundwork, laying. See preparation

Hammett, Dashiell (The Maltese

Falcon), 23, 69, 126 Hardy, Thomas (Tess of the

D'Urbervilles), 53 Hawthorne, Nathaniel The Scarlet Letter, 53 "Young Goodman Brown," 158 Heller, Joseph (Catch-22), 14-15,

26, 149, 156 Hemingway, Ernest, 44 "The Hills Like White Elephants," 27 Holmes, Sherlock. See Doyle, Arthur Conan I

ideas, story, how to develop and test, 11-17

identification, readers', how to win, 32, 81-83, 102. See also melodrama imagery defined, 99

used as a patterning technique, 99

inmediasres, 19, 44, 59, 85, 127 incidents, distinguished from plot, 5

information, specialist. See intrusion, authorial intrusion, authorial, 50, 52-54 involvement, readers'. See identification

Jackson, Shirley ("The Lottery"), 53

James, Henry ("The Turn of the

Screw"), 117 Janus, 61 Joyce, James Dubliners, 60 Ulysses, 109

Kafka, Franz (Metamorphosis), 84 King, Stephen It, 22, 23, 87, 108, 126 'Salem s Lot, 87,117 Kosinsky, Jerzy (ThePaintedBird), 56

Le Guin, Ursula, 46, 156 Lee, Harper {To Kill a

Mockingbird), 5, 90 Levin, Ira (Rosemary'sBaby), 86 Lewis, C. S. (Narnia novels), 46, 154

literary fiction alternative narrative structures used in, 144-163 suitable exposition for, 55 unhappy endings in, 136-137 Lord of the Flies. See Golding, William

The Empire Strikes Back, 66-68, 70, 77-78, 95-96, 107, 108, 126, 133-135, 160 Star Wars, 84

Mann, Thomas (Death in Venice), 16

McCullers, Carson, 26 McDowell, Michael (the Blackwater novels), 89 melodrama as compensation for exposition,

56, 92-93 as compensation for static stories, 149-150 credibility in. See disbelief defined, 81, 83-84 detail useful in, 86 distinguished from drama, 7, 81 in openings, 25-27 overkill ineffective in, 88-89 relation of to symbolism &

allegory, 82 as sensation-mongering, 82 wins readers' identification, 81-83

use of dialogue in, 88 use of, in popular fiction, 82 use of, in literary fiction, 82, 151

use of, in theme/variation stories, 151 Melville, Herman (MobyDick), 2, 3, 9, 34, 40, 45, 55, 85, 150, 151

Mitchell, Margaret (Gone with the

Wind), 10, 70, 124-125 monsters, establishing, credible, 87-89

mood piece. See mosaic structure mosaic structure, 145-155 defined, 145 varieties of allegory, 153-155 character sketch, 147-148 mood piece, 146-147

slice-of-life, 148-150 theme and variation, 150-153 mystery, role of revelation in. See revelation

narrative clutter. See clutter norms, presenting, in fiction, 20-21

O'Connor, Flannery ("Good

Country People"), 60, 91-92, 158 Oedipus, 10

omniscient viewpoint. See viewpoint openings implicit promises made by,

25-26, 34-35, 84, 94 melodramatic, 25 revealing, 26-27

revising, 28-29. See also revision volcano, 25-27 Orwell, George Animal Farm, 154 1984, 26 outlines, 3, 72

outlining from inside, 74-75 overwriting, 71-72

in parallel plots, 108 Parker, Robert (Spenser mysteries), 24 patterns, fictional, 94-109 imagery as a technique of creating, 99 Peake, Mervyn (Ghormenghast), 55, 156

persistence. See rejection, handling personal, stories that are too (blind spots), 13-14

plot defined, 5, 6, 74 distinguished from incident, 5 stages of. See set-pieces as a verb, 15, 62

plots, double, 7, 36

parallel, 66-68, 107-108 Poe, Edgar Allan "The Fall of the House of

Usher," 16, 146 "The Cask of Amontillado " 61 159

Porter, Katherine Anne (Noon

Wine), 60 popular fiction. See fiction, genre predictability, avoiding, 75, 132.

Seealso endings premises, establishing fictional, 84, 87

preparation ("laying groundwork") for future events, 72, 75-78 preview scenes. See scenes prologues. See frames promises, implicit fictional, 25-26, 110

props defined, 23

as a means to minimize exposition, 50-51 protagonist, killed off in mid-plot, 40

Pygmalion, 47, 109

questions, to test a story idea, 11-17

repetition, effective. See patterns rejection, handling, 143 revelation, 73, 85, 92, 144, 148, 157-161

methods of setting up, 160-161 revision to change viewpoint structure, 39-49

disastrous effect of fiction fatigue on, 58-59 to eliminate excess exposition, 57

endless, 141-142 need to delay, limit, 58-59, 141-142

of openings, 28-29 pleasures of, 142 rushing into, 141-142 Rice, Ann (Interview with the

Vampire), 9, 84 Rossner, Judith (Lookingfor Mr.

Goodbar), 53 Roth, Philip, 149

Rule of Three, The, 101-103, 152, 157

Runyon, Damon, use of dialogue by, 24

Salinger, J. D. (The Catcher in the

Rye), 147-148 Sayers, Dorothy L., 46 scene, defined, 8 scenes balancing with summary, 113 mirroring, techniques of, 98-101 preview, 77-78, 90 purposes of, 8

relation of, to flashbacks, 113 used to begin a story, 22. See also in m├ędias res used to end a story, 128-129 Scrooge, Ebeneezer. See Dickens,

Charles, A Christmas Carol set-pieces aftermath of, 78-79 anticipating/planning, 72-73 avoiding excess in, 71-72 contrast in, 78 defined, 69-70 delivering on, 70-71, 75 effective impact in, 79-80 number of, 73 pacing in, 78 preparing for, 75 settings creating effective, 23-24 Shaefer, Jack (Shane), 44, 124 Shelley, Mary (Frankenstein), 11 show, don't tell, 7, 8 simplicity, how to achieve, 27, 38.

See also clutter; elegance slice-of-life. See mosaic structure specialist information. See intrusion, authorial stake, what's at, 16-17, 79-80, 130 Steinbeck, John East of Eden, 26, 107-108 The Grapes ofWrath, 27, 149 Of Mice and Men, 26 Sterne, Lawrence (Tristram

Shandy), 56 Stevenson, R. L. "Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde," 104 "The Wrong Box," 52. See also intrusion, authorial Stoker, Bram (Dracula), 9, 86 story ideas, testing, 11-17 Straub, Peter (GhostStory), 86 structures, alternative narrative, 144-163 artificiality of, 161-163 subplots, 32 braiding, 64-65

building connections among, 65.

See also transitions developing, 65-66 establishing, 63-64 nature of, 63

use of multiple viewpoints in, 31 summaries, the usefulness of, 17.

See also outlines surrealism, 146, 151 suspense, techniques of creating,

63, 68, 89, 102 switches. See twists/switches symbolism, 153-155

Thackeray, William Makepeace VanityFair use of double plot structure in, 107

use of two viewpoints in, 36 theme. See mosaic structure then/now pairings. See before/after pairings Thomas, Doubting, the ineffectiveness of, 85 Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings, 2, 3, 14, 47, 48, 69, 72, 88-89, 108, 121, 140 The Silmarillion, 46, 49

transitions, 41, 65, 111-113 Tron, 162

turning point. See endings, circular Twain, Mark Huckleberry Finn, 23, 24 The Prince and the Pauper, 104 twists/switches, effective, 75-76, 89, 92. See also endings

undercutting characters, 86 melodrama, 87, 89 unity, 100-101

vampires, 9, 83

variable. See Rule of Three, The victims, helpless, 9, 10 viewpoint consistency in, 39, 41 multiple handling switches in, 35-37 avoiding confusion about, 37

omniscient, 30-31 single establishing, 32-34 reasons for choosing, 31 use of "bridge" characters in, 33-34

switches, unintentional, 35, 37, 41

switches in the middle of a scene, 35, 37, 40 volcano openings. See openings Vonnegut, Kurt, 156

Who, Doctor, 86 world-builders' disease. See exposition "write what you know," 12 writers, great, boners allowed to, 41

yeti, 86

your story to tell, is it, 11-12

WRITING/REFERENCE

THE ELEMENTS OF FICTION WRITING

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