Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Rule of John

John Gardner is one of the kings of writing about writing. He had a lot to say. He also wrote several very good novels. Two of my favorites are told by monsters, one is Freddy’s Book and the other is Grendal. You’ve got to love a story from a monster’s POV. They are certainly underrepresented in fiction.

“Good writers may ‘tell’ almost anything in fiction except the characters’ feelings. One may tell the reader that the character went to a private school…or one may tell the reader that the character hates spaghetti; but with rare exceptions the characters’ feelings must be demonstrated: fear, love, excitement, doubt, embarrassment, despair become real only when they take the form of events—action (or gesture), dialogue, or physical reaction to setting. Detail is the lifeblood of fiction” John Gardner.

Thank you Mr. Gardner.

Notice he says “good writers may tell”—you still have to find a way to make your telling interesting.
Notice “rare exceptions” because sometimes you will break even John Gardner’s rules. This may happen more frequently when writing humorous scenes and you describe feelings for a laugh. But these and other exceptions only prove the Rule of John.

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