My Book World
Saunders, if this book is any representation, is a talented teacher of writing. His brilliance as a writer always intimidates me a bit; I’m not sure I understand his own fiction all that well. However, here, as he examines seven stories of Russian writers Chekhov, Gogol, Tolstoy, and Turgenev, Saunders makes very clear through illustration and fine contemplation what it means to construct a solid story. And I use that word deliberately because for Saunders writing a short story is about constructing a work of art.
I can’t reveal everything he covers, but I can mention several concepts that struck me as being essential. If the reader is a novice writer, you can learn much (bring your pencil). If you’ve written lots of stories, perhaps Saunders’s ideas will be a refresher course for you or bring to light elements you’ve not considered before now.
One, Saunders is concerned with cause and effect. Each action in a story should be the result of some other action. Why is this character doing this or that? Second, Saunders contends that escalation is paramount—what may cause one to keep reading is that the stakes go up. Each major event should, in a cause-and-effect manner, escalate the story, fire it up, move it along. Third, he makes a simple list of major events for each story, demonstrating to himself how each may lead to the next. Of course, his ideas are not all about plotting; he’s ultimately concerned with the characters and why they act the way they do so that readers may get to the human heart of the story. A must-read for fiction writers.
TUES: A Writer's Wit | Peter Carey
WEDS: A Writer's Wit | Elizabeth Bishop
THURS: A Writer's Wit | Brendan Behan
FRI: My Book World | Willa Cather's The Professor’s House