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About this book

Exploring writing as a practice, Boulter draws from the work of writers and theorists to show how cultural and literary debates can help writers enhance their own fiction. Negotiating the creative-critical crossover, this is an approachable book that helps students develop practical writing skills and a critical awareness of creative possibilities.

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Critical — Creative Approach to Fiction

Introduction: A Critical — Creative Approach to Fiction

Abstract
As fiction writers we tell stories. We plunge our readers into imaginary worlds, enthral them with invented lives, tantalise them with made-up events. This is the power and pleasure of fiction. In this book, I want to explore this creative process to see how we can enhance our writing through, in James’ words, ‘discussion’, ‘experiment’, and ‘curiosity’: curiosity about ideas, experiment with creative possibilities, and discussion of writing and life. I want to think about how we as writers can improve our fiction by developing a critically creative imagination.
Amanda Boulter

Foundations

Frontmatter

1. Establishing Practice

Abstract
When we write fiction, the ideas, actions and characters don’t just spring from our minds fully formed. Writing fiction is a process that takes time, perhaps even years. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, inspiration conforms to cliché and strikes us like a thunderbolt (this, of course, being a cliché writers do welcome), but normally inspiration glimmers and flashes in more haphazard ways. Fiction begins, as both Dorothea Brande and Henry James have suggested, in our creative and critical responses to the world around us. Being a ‘stranger’ on our streets means that we try to rub away the grime of habit and see the physical, social and emotional realities of place in newways. Being someone ‘on whom nothing is lost’ means that we absorb the nuances of character and conversation, whether that be on the bus or in Henry James’ own fiction. The imaginary world grows slowly in our mind’s eye as we explore the people, setting, and possible events of our story. We muse, we read, we research and we plan, building upon the fragments in our head until we begin to shape those glimmers and flashes into fiction.
Amanda Boulter

2. Form and Structure

Abstract
The idea that fiction must ‘first of all tell a story’ may seem rather obvious, but for years Modernist and Postmodernist writers dismissed the pleasures of story as a corrupt complacency, nothing short of escapism. Their literary experiments often focused precisely on the disruption of such bourgeois expectations, and attempted to find a new form for fiction. They approached ‘story’ in new ways, re-working myths from other eras to explore and expose the language of literature (as James Joyce did in Ulysses), or sabotaging the underlying structures of storytelling (as John Barth did in Lost in the Funhouse).
Amanda Boulter

3. Subject

Abstract
What is the subject of fiction? What are all these stories about? Hemingway suggests some of the possible subjects for fiction writers, but I don’t want to follow him by considering the relative merits of writing about marriage or mountain climbing. Instead I want to consider the claim that all the stories in the world can be seen as exploring the same fundamental subject: how to be a human being. This chapter focuses on the work of literary theorists who study folk-tales and myths to see how useful their ideas are for writers pondering the subject of their own stories.
Amanda Boulter

4. Voice

Abstract
We all have our own voice, and if we were talking together now, instead of writing and reading, our different voices would be very clear. We could hear how high or low they were, whether we shrieked when excited or murmured when nervous. But this isn’t the only way we would ‘hear’ our voices. Our voices would be distinct in terms of the way we used phrases, repeated ourselves, paused or babbled; they would be marked by what we chose to talk about: people or ideas, sport or shopping, even fiction writing. For anyone listening to us, our voices would provide clues about our personal histories, not only telling them where we came from and what social group we belonged to, but allowing them to glimpse our experiences, our beliefs and our desires.
Amanda Boulter

5. Style

Abstract
With characteristic directness, John Gardner argues that when it comes to style, ‘the less said the better’. But I want to dedicate a whole chapter to style, because I think that if we understand what style is about, we will stop trying to contrive ‘stylistic uniqueness’. We will begin to recognise that style is not about surface decoration, and does not bloom during the final polish of the narrative. It grows up from the roots.
Amanda Boulter

6. Foundations of Fiction

Abstract
To explore the foundations of fiction, I want to think through some of the oft-repeated advice to writers to ‘write what you know’ and ‘write what you read’. I want to see how useful such advice is, and whether there are better ways for writers to approach their fiction. John Gardner, for example, insists that writers should simply ask themselves: ‘What can I think of that’s interesting?’.1 I’m going to approach these questions through Paul Ricoeur’s philosophy of narrative, and specifically what he has termed ‘the triple circle of mimesis’.
Amanda Boulter

Speculations

Frontmatter

7. Exploring Possibilities

Abstract
To begin this chapter, and the second part of this book, I want to return once more to Frank Smith’s ideas about the stages of writing. His three-part model for writing can be summed up in this way: prewriting is ‘the most mysterious, variable, and frustrating aspect of writing’; writing is an ‘intangible activity … the words just come (if they come at all)’, and rewriting is ‘the writer’s own response to what has been written’.1
Amanda Boulter

8. Forms and Structures

Abstract
This chapter addresses some of the key issues writers face when deciding how to structure their fiction and focuses upon the traditional model of ‘beginning, middle and end’. Like Godard, many writers have rejected this easy temporality, corrupting or warping time and consequence in their writing: William Burroughs attempted to find spontaneity in his ‘cut-ups’; Alain Robbe-Grillet rejected novelistic expectations with his écriture labyrinthine; Marc Saporta put his loose-leaf, unpaginated Composition No. 1 into a box with the following instructions on the cover: ‘The pages of this book may be read in any order. The reader is requested to shuffle them like a deck of cards.’1
Amanda Boulter

9. Subjects

Abstract
Characters are the true subjects of fiction and whether we see our characters as ‘living people’ or ‘paper people’, ‘fabricated creatures’, ‘imaginary beings’, or ‘experimental selves’, their presence will fundamentally shape the stories we write. As novelists and short-story writers, we can question the construction of identity, the nature of humanity, or the enigmas of the psyche: we can manipulate characters as pawns within our plot or we can invest them with emotional and moral complexity. In this chapter, I consider three ways of presenting characters: as autonomous subjects, as fragmented subjectivities, or as empty vessels subjected to the vagaries of society or the author.
Amanda Boulter

10. Voices

Abstract
Fiction is made up of different voices: the narrator’s, the characters’ and beneath them the disguised and whispered voice of the author. Mikhail Bakhtin saw this cacophony of voices as the most exciting thing about fiction and he called the novel ‘polyphonic’ because he said it was a ‘plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousnesses’.1 For Bakhtin, these voices gave fiction its distinctiveness, and if we think about the voices of our characters, the way they use words (their ordering and rhythm, dialect and grammar, loquaciousness or brevity) reveals much about their consciousness. The same applies to the narrator’s voice, whether or not the narrator ‘appears’ as a character in the story. The narrator’s voice carries with it a certain perspective, a point of view that frames their telling of the events in the story.
Amanda Boulter

11. Styles

Abstract
In this chapter I want to consider one of the most important aspects of style, the rhythm of the narrative. By rhythm I don’t simply mean the balance or cadence of sentences, although that of course is important. But rhythm is about more that syllables and sentences. It’s about the balance of the whole story: the pace, the fractured chronologies, the difference between the story and its telling. If the same story were told by two different writers, it would not only be word choice or point of view that made their fictions unique, it would be the more subtle rhythms of time and technique. Great ideas may count for more than ‘hogwash’, but, like Nabokov, I would argue that structure and style are the essence of fiction.
Amanda Boulter

12. Speculations in Fiction

Abstract
In this final chapter I want to think about the ‘great difficulties in being an author’ by exploring the different ways new writers ‘speculate’ upon their writing. There are many different meanings within the word ‘speculate’ and the Oxford English Dictionary gives several. From the sixteenth century onwards ‘to speculate’ has meant ‘to consider or reflect upon with close attention; to contemplate; to theorise upon’. Then there are more contemporary meanings: ‘to undertake … a business enterprise or transaction of a risky nature in the expectation of considerable gain’. These different meanings of ‘speculate’ are both relevant for writers; for we are often required to reflect upon our own work, and if we want to publish, we are forced to gamble on the market.
Amanda Boulter
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