Saturday, October 04, 2014

Review of "On Becoming a Novelist," by John Gardner - A Classic Guide For Writers

This simple book, "On Becoming a Novelist," has become a classic since John Gardner's estate granted publication rights shortly after his death in 1982. The best thing I can say about this little gem of a volume is that it helped this would-be novelist make considerable progress on my dormant manuscript.  Although he does offer some technical guidance, this is not a pedantic book or a How To treatise.  In sharing his own journey through writing and frequent revising of his works, he offers up a spirit and ethos that an aspiring writer can embrace.

As I made my way through the book, I often stopped to make notes about ideas that his writing had spawned about my own embryonic novel.  I suddenly had new ideas about character development, places, actions that would drive the story, back stories to be hinted at.  I feel as if reading this book kicked in the after burners for my own novel.

Allow me to share a short excerpt that grabbed me: "I mentioned earlier one common set of standards for good fiction - creation of a vivid and continuous dream, authorial generosity, intellectual and emotional significance, elegance and efficiency, and strangeness." (Page 84)

Toward the end of the book, he takes a deeper dive into exploring the idea of the writer creating a dream: "This and nothing else is the desperately sought and tragically fragile writer's process: in his imagination, he sees made-up people doing things - sees them clearly - and in the act of wondering what they will do next he sees what they will do next, and all this he writes down in the best, most accurate words he can find, understanding even as he writers that he may have to find better words later, and that a change in the words may mean a sharpening or deepening of the vision, the fictive dream or vision becoming more and more lucid, until reality, by comparison, seems cold, tedious, and dead." (Page 120)

What a challenge - and what an inspiration!



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