drupal counter

Any idea can be a good story

It’s only been a few weeks into classes this semester, but I’ve already come across some interesting ideas about novel writing. I guess the most important ones are: although structure is a key to having a novel that is satisfying, structure alone (or any of the “rules” for writing well) doesn’t mean the book is good. The only place where the idea of a story succeeds or fails is in the execution.

I suppose that is an obvious statement. But maybe it helps a little in not getting hung up on some magic bullet that solves all the problems that come up when writing a story. It’s a myth. Better to focus on the fact that is just comes down to hard work and exacting detail. The right details.

But Henry James had some great thoughts in the Art of Fiction. I especially like his admonishment that any idea can turn out to be a good story. This is really important to remember, because people get very opinionated about this kind of thing. Realism, escapism, literary fiction or genre fiction—in the hands of a skillful and determined writer who actually cares about all the things make for good fiction any idea can become a good story.

But I will say this from my own experience: knowing which details are the critical details is easier to figure out if you work first with realism.

Think about it for a second. If you make up an entire world from scratch, you have to be able to make an experience for the reader that pushes them  to feel like they were born there. Otherwise the whole work is about world building, full of things in a normal story, people would find boring to read.

That’s no easy task. Writing from realism first though, gives you the chance to delve into things like setting as a reflection of character. Easier to do when everything in the setting is familiar. Important factors, like defamiliarization, are easier when objects already have a common connotation.

Working in short story form, in realism, is an exercise in minutia. It’s work on the word choice level, which is the foundation of fiction. It takes discipline. If I didn’t have a natural inclination for puzzles I might really hate it, because so much of the thing is a puzzle. The right word. The right image. The right moment. Things have to happen in the right order. Sometimes you write the end, when you thought it was the beginning. Sometimes the story isn’t what you thought it was about. Sometimes you aren’t even sure what it’s about until it’s finished. The whole thing is painfully meticulous.  



blog comments powered by Disqus


Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not the sitter.
Oscar Wilde