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About this book

This book illuminates how technique serves 'story logic,' the particular way fiction makes meaning. Writers raid the cupboard of theory looking for what works, and generic rules don't account for the rich variety of strategies they employ. For writers who are past the beginner stage, Brady offers a closer look at craft fundamentals, including plot, characterization, patterns of imagery, and style. The lively, lucid discussion draws on vivid examples from classic and contemporary fiction, ranging from George Eliot and William Faulkner to Haruki Murakami and Toni Morrison. Because it supplies the analytical tools needed to read as a writer, this text will enrich the reader's approach to any work of fiction, energizing discussion in a workshop or craft course.

Table of Contents

1. Story Logic

Abstract
Let’s start with a story that has been told before, one that Edith Wharton lifted from the autobiography of Renaissance sculptor Benvenuto Cellini. One day when Cellini was very young, he and his father saw a salamander in the hearth, a rare sighting. The father boxed the boy’s ears to make sure he’d never forget it. From this anecdote Wharton fashions a metaphor for writing fiction: “It is useless to box your reader’s ear unless you have a salamander to show him. If the heart of your little blaze is not animated by a living, moving something no shouting and shaking will fix the anecdote in your reader’s memory. The salamander stands for that fundamental significance that made the story worth telling.”1 To demonstrate that technique can accomplish little in the absence of animating substance, Wharton falls back on a story that offers the unapologetically fierce notion of boxing the reader’s ears. At some risk to both parties. Smarting from the blow, the reader might bleat “What was that for?” when we hoped to evoke an ah! response of astonished recognition.
Catherine Brady

2. The Elusiveness at the Heart of Story Structure

Abstract
In graduate school I balked at formulas for plot. They were boring. I didn’t want to winnow the stories that fanned out from the one I’d meant to write or concede that the still moments gummed up the works, couldn’t make what seemed to be the required sacrifice. My instructors were very nice about these formless musings. They’d say, “Isn’t that a pretty sentence!” Later, editors were not so nice. They’d complain that a story had too many characters, or it got bogged down in the past, or it was too dense, too quiet, too girly. I tried to quit writing and even enrolled in a graduate program in counseling. But guess what? In San Francisco, the city where I live, there is roughly one licensed therapist for every eight people. Those were even worse odds for success. So I went back to stories.
Catherine Brady

3. Chapter Structure and Shapeliness in the Novel

Abstract
In the well-known biblical story, Delilah seduces Samson in order to discover the secret of his strength and then plots to cut a lock of his hair, leeching him of his power so she can turn him over to the soldiers who will chain him. In 1628, when Rembrandt took this betrayal as his subject, he was faced with finding a new way to portray an already familiar drama weighted with iconographic gestures and details—Delilah poised with scissors in hand, a bare-chested Samson displaying rippling muscles. As historian Simon Schama has noted, Rembrandt solved this dilemma by finding a masterful way “to suggest an entire story encapsulated in a single moment.”1 (See Figure 3.1.) Delilah occupies the center of Rembrandt’s painting, while Samson, his back to the viewer, rests his head in her lap, his face obscured by locks of hair, though the brightest light falls on his supine form. In the background a soldier charges forward from the shadows, and behind him another helmeted soldier, dimly outlined, peers past the curtain that hides his body from our view. The army of men required to subdue even a weakened Samson is merely suggested, and its charge strongly contrasted with the limp, fully clothed form of Samson. If Delilah has been in on the plot, she looks up at the advancing soldier with an expression of startled surprise, and her hands betray conflict, one buried in Samson’s golden locks, the other sifting a swatch of hair.
Catherine Brady

4. Three Key Strategies of Story Logic

Abstract
When he was two years old, my son woke up one morning and reported, “Dream two gorillas chasing you.” My son referred to himself as “you,” his version of the royal we, but he also understood that the same pronoun would do to address his father and me, his devoted courtiers. He had just moved from his crib to a bed, and we worried about him waking before we did and wandering alone through the house. So we had no trouble deciphering his dream. We must have scared him more than we thought, rushing every morning to scold him about staying in bed instead of fawning over him, as custom demanded. The gorillas probably owed something to a recent visit to the zoo, where the howling monkeys had terrified him. A mellow baby, our son had just entered the era of tantrums—the era of his own howling. So the dream hid a complicated set of associations with his recent past, the contentment of babyhood, and even his own anger, provoked by our inexplicable transformation. Its one-sentence plot might be diagrammed as shown in Figure 4.1. Fiction that is any good has much in common with the dream mechanisms illustrated in this diagram. A linear plot can carry all this weight too, compressing a host of associations that unlock its multi-layered meaning. Both arrow and array.
Catherine Brady

5. Captured in Motion: Dynamic Characterization

Abstract
With the air of an Old World pater familias, my husband’s father fully inhabited his own authority until his death at age ninety-two. When other people were perplexingly irrational, Ernest wasn’t alarmed but wryly, scathingly amused. If he raised an eyebrow, you would of course correct the error of your ways. He was a creature of habit because habit was orderly, and keeping a steady course had enabled him to rebuild his life in the United States after he and his wife, Ilse, fled Nazi Germany in 1938. He smoked exactly five cigarettes a day and had just one scotch before dinner, and dinner always began with a soup course because he liked soup and Ilse doted on him. When we were newlyweds, my husband and I took a trip with Ernest and Ilse. Since Ernest never hurried for any reason, we didn’t head to the airport until very late, and by the time we got there, we had only about twenty minutes before our flight was scheduled to depart. If we ran to the gate, we might make it, but Ernest stopped to survey the long line at the ticket counter and said, casually, “I have to buy the tickets.”
Catherine Brady

6. Point of View Q & A

Abstract
OK. Has your eye begun to twitch? Are you experiencing any of the other nervous tics that afflict anyone who’s ever been called on a point-of-view violation? This may scare you even more, but there aren’t any rigid rules. When you write fiction, you have to consider the reader’s take on things in relation to your own and in relation to the perspective character’s and/or the narrator’s, and point of view lets you play these off against each other to shape the stakes and lend texture to dramatic tension. In his classic text The Rhetoric of Fiction Wayne Booth speaks of this as “an implied dialogue among author, narrator, the other characters, and the reader. Each of the four can range, in relation to each of the others, from identification to complete opposition, on any axis of value, moral intellectual, aesthetic, and even physical.”1 A writer manipulates readers in an effort to “eliminate all distance between the essential norms of his implied author and the norms of the postulated reader.”2
Catherine Brady

7. Synecdoche and Metonymy in Setting, Staging, and Dialogue

Abstract
When the early works of the Impressionists were routinely rejected by the Paris Salon, Ernest Meissonier commanded extravagant prices for small portraits executed in minute detail, making him wealthy enough to afford an opulent estate just outside Paris. Ambitious to secure his reputation as the greatest painter of his day, Meissonier turned to painting historical subjects, and in 1863 he began work on Friedland, a large canvas commemorating Napoleon’s 1807 military victory on Prussian soil.1 In the painting Napoleon, seated on a white horse, accepts a salute from his triumphant cavalry. Fanatical about historical accuracy, Meissonier borrowed the actual saddle used by Napoleon and even had a tailor make an exact copy of the coat Napoleon had worn.2 The painter also aimed for an absolutely correct representation of the charging cavalry. Before the advent of stop-action photography in the 1870s, no one understood how horses moved at a gallop, since the naked eye can’t process so fast a motion. Even the equine anatomy courses Meissonier had taken at a veterinary school were no help here. But Meissonier was obsessed and he had resources. On his estate he built a miniature railroad track and installed a small carriage.
Catherine Brady

8. Patterns of Imagery

Abstract
Story logic demands a particular kind of precision. The writer’s task can be compared to that of a photographer immersing photographic paper in a tray of developing fluid. Slowly the picture begins to develop. If the photographer removes the paper too soon, the picture she gets is a murky blur. But if she leaves it in for the “exactly right” time, she gets a photo in which every single detail is clearly delineated. The fiction writer, unlike the photographer, has to yank the paper out of that bath somewhere between these two poles, at the “inexactly right” moment when the reader can intuit whatever’s missing or blurred based on those details that have emerged in sharp relief. Because a single image can suggest so much that isn’t there on the page and exponentially more associations when we connect it to other images and to the action, patterns of imagery help writers to hint at the hidden tension enacted by plot.
Catherine Brady

9. Showing and Telling

Abstract
In nearly every workshop I’ve taught, whether the students were gathered for a writing conference, taking creative writing as curious undergraduates, or enrolled in a graduate writing program, I have asked how many class members are familiar with the dictum “show, don’t tell” and been answered with a unanimous show of hands. Nearly everyone agrees with this rule in principle, and nearly everyone routinely violates it in practice. Why does the almost universal awareness of this dictum fail to stem the tide of rampant telling in student stories? Even if it sometimes takes the form of cheating, the impulse to tell springs from a gut recognition of the genuine difficulties of storytelling. Virtually no good fiction writer does without telling in some shape or form. Even Hemingway, often credited for fostering an aesthetic of showing, relies easily and casually on telling:
Catherine Brady

10. The Sentence as a Touchstone of Style

Abstract
When I was just starting out as a writer, I was in a Faulkner phase, completely enamored of long, labyrinthine sentences and Latinate words. His patience sorely tried, my workshop instructor finally hauled me aside and said, “Stop trying so hard to have a style.” I think he might have let me have my head, working all the Faulkner out of my system until what was left was mine, and I never warn my students away from similar infatuations, since I trust that they’ll work through it—and that it’s good to fall in love. Yet I’m happy to grant the point of my exasperated instructor: style emerges from a writer’s natural inclinations and habits of mind. Freed of the burden of “having a style,” you must take up another, a sentence-by-sentence effort to embody the principles of story logic in grammar and syntax.
Catherine Brady
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