Sunday, June 22, 2008

Writing Action and Plot

Carmen’s article “Short Fiction vs. Novel,” in this issue, gives us invaluable advice about writing. We will all do well to heed it.

Carmen and I have come to the same view of fiction by different routes. Carmen, through experience on the stage; I, by sitting in the audience. We view stories as drama. Does flash fiction have one act while longer fiction has three to five acts? Quite possibly, but the real importance is elsewhere: in the dialogue and narration.

Once writers look at prose fiction as a script for a radio play, a stage play or a film, a lot of problems vanish. Is narration extended stage directions? Not always, but it often is. As for dialogue, Carmen says it must be believable when spoken aloud. And Carmen tells us how to check: don’t write by rote; go somewhere isolated and speak the lines aloud, yourself!

While writing Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert recited every sentence aloud in his gueuloir, or ‘shouting room’. And he did it over and over again till he got it right. Do the same and you may not write another towering classic, but you will stand a very good chance of “getting it right.”

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