Chekhov and Snoopy and friends
I’m reading three books about writing, thanks to friends and family who really know what I like for Christmas.
First, I read Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. Now I’ll have to read it again. It’s full of rule-breaking advice based on the idea that close reading of the masters will do more good than sitting through writing workshops and critique groups that tend to encourage generic writing. Because she uses examples from wonderful books, now my TBR list is even more overwhelming than it was before.
I started reading James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure at the same time. Haven’t finished that one yet. It seems like he’s more formula-driven, so his advice sometimes contradicts what Francine Prose says, but he has some great ideas for kick-starting the creative process. It’s a practical book that will come in handy when I need to drag myself out of some writing hole that I’ve dug myself into.
The third one is Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life, a collection of Charles Schulz’s classic Snoopy-as-novelist cartoons mixed with advice and inspiration from good writers. It may sound like fluff, but it’s not. Some of the snippets of advice are like a good kick in the pants, which I need on a regular basis.
But back to Francine Prose’s book. (Isn’t that a great name for a writer?) She uses examples from a number of Chekhov’s stories and also quotes from his letters. I loved these words of wisdom from him:
Artistic literature is called so because it depicts life as it really is. Its aim is truth–unconditional and honest. A writer is not a confectioner, not a dealer in cosmetics, not an entertainer; he is a man bound under compulsion, by the realization of his duty and by his conscience. To a chemist, nothing on earth is unclean. A writer must be as objective as a chemist.
I love that.
By the way, in just one day, I made a lot of progress in finding the boundaries of my novel-puzzle that I mentioned yesterday. I think they weren’t too far off in the first place. Now, the challenge is to go on with it, “unconditional and honest . . . as objective as a chemist.”
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