Monday, August 10, 2009

The Mind of a Writer

I notice that on days when I haven't a clue what to post, I dredge up the old class notes for pearls of wisdom from some mind far greater than my own. Tonight is no exception. I guess that the act of re-reading this and typing it out will help me remember it better. Perhaps it will be of some benefit to one or you. The following passage is from Oakley Hall- The Art and Craft of Novel Writing.

Henry James said that a writer must be one upon whom nothing is lost. What writers must not lose are, at the heart of it, vivid and revealing details. A writer must be an observer, and what he observes, and collects, are the details that show, that reveal, that imply, that specify, that build character and forward the story. He finds details in the life around him-a scene observed in the Safeway or the laundromat, a conversation overheard on the bus, for example, as well as in the books he reads. Someone said that a novelist's mind is a garbage pit of odd information. It is also a storehouse of detail. Contemplating a scene that he must bring to life in fiction, he selects the details that will best serve his purpose, he contemplates the best means by which to employ them, and he renders the details by the use of action, by the employment of sensory impressions, and by the means of point of view.

8 comments:

Natalie L. Sin said...

That's what I tell Ying after I spend all night on Youtube ; )

Catherine J Gardner said...

My mind is most definitely a garbage pit most of the time. :)

Aaron Polson said...

I can see improvement in my own writing in terms of selecting and manipulating detail. That advice is spot on.

Rebecca Nazar said...

Selects, contemplates, renders--good verbs, astute advice. I try my best to do all these things; it's exhausting sometimes.

K.C. Shaw said...

Excellent advice. I remember reading a YA book years ago with a main character who wanted to be a writer. She weathered a lot of bad events by looking at them from a writer's perspective--for instance, she got through a family member's funeral by reminding herself she'd never been to a funeral and could use the experience.

katey said...

I agree with Rebecca, it's exhausting... but I love it. Really awesome advice.

(And hey, I'm re-reading The Turn of the Screw! Sorry, got excited when I saw the James quote...)

Alan W. Davidson said...

Natalie- Bet you use any excuse to watch those spandex boys on Youtube.

Cate-Guess that there's some trash that should never be thrown out.

Aaron-I still have a lot to work on in those areas (as evident by today's rejection from Every Day Fiction.

Rebecca-Yeah, I liked the advise...I should try to apply it more.

KC - Looking at the bad events that way sounds like a great idea.

Katey-Man, I haven't read The Turn of the Screw since university.

Danielle Ferries said...

I love posts like this. Thanks for sharing.