Writing Fiction


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It’s not easy to write a full length novel. And timing doesn’t help: at Fairfield University in the 70’s, there wasn’t much administrative support for the Creative Writing department; of course now, TODAY, that university has a growing and terrific program under the direction of a real and polished novelist, Michael C. White (go to Amazon and check out his page: “A Dream of Wolves” and “Soul Catcher,” to name two, are terrific). The point is, if you want to write one, you have to study how to write one.

I believe that you have to do two things right away: find a teacher(s) after you read John Garner’s “The Art of Fiction,” and, read a ton of classic novels with the mindset of paying attention to how the writer does what he/she does (i.e., use of language, grammar, syntax, similes, metaphors . . .). After committing to those two, you have to write, write, write. Even if it’s morning journaling, write (a la Julia Cameron in her book, “The Artist’s Way”).

So where to find a teacher: obviously, if you can afford it and you have the time, enroll in a creative writing program. I almost did fairly recently (the Masters of Fine Art/Creative Writing at Fairfield), but financial constraints made me withdraw. Failing that, there are creative writing workshops all over the place. I lucked out on that score: The Westport Writers Workshop is terrific, particularly if you sign up for one taught by Dr. Suzanne Hoover. You’ll get more insight in one class that you can fit into the shopping cart of your brain, believe me (she has been a fixture at the creative writing program at Sarah Lawrence college for decades). She also delivers one-day lectures on various topics (today I’m going to her Point Of View lecture). You might also consider bringing a teacher into your computer: for example, I found an amazing series of lectures on DVD by Professor Brooks Landon (University of Iowa, best writing program in the country). It’s a series of DVD’s called “Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft”).

While it may not be apparent at first, the creative chops it takes to write a novel or a short story are exactly the same as the chops for oil painting and jazz music. You have to learn from the masters, you have to plug into the past, also know as the tradition of the particular art form. If you click on the paintings-tab on this website, you’ll see a reproduction I did of a Titian masterpiece, “Christ with the Cross.” Titiano Vicelli was a master of the Venetian school centuries ago. You learn how to paint a portrait by copying great portraits. Analogously, you learn how to improvise a jazz solo by transcibing and playing great jazz solos by masters, although this can oftentimes lead to nervous breakdowns! Writing is no different: you can learn to write point of view, or character, or plot by paying close attention to any of them in the works of giants of fiction. Oh yes, and the palette of colors in painting is the same as the scales of notes in music, which are the same as the building blocks of writing, sentences and words.

Anyway, it’s said that we each have a novel inside us, waiting to be written. It’s not rocket science! Go to Staples, get a packet of pens and some notepads, and get going!

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