Category: how to read like a writer

The Language of Fiction is Word-pictures

The language of fiction is word-pictures © 2013 by Robert J. Ray Word-pictures, whether they stand still like photographs, or whether they roar like the wind, come from concrete nouns: “In the late summer of that year, we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.” This famous word-picture opens A Farewell to Arms (1929), a war-novel by Ernest Hemingway. There are two abstract nouns in this opening sentence – summer and year – and five concrete nouns: house, village, river, plain, mountains. There is one object – the house – anchoring  four generic landmarks: village, river, plain, and mountains. The ratio of concrete nouns to abstract is 5:2, enough concrete nouns to paint a picture that locks down the opening of the novel. The view is panoramic, like a photograph or a landscape painting. The narrator is First Person. The pronoun “we” links the narrator – a volunteer ambulance driver from the American midwest in search of love and adventure in the Great War of 1914-1918 – to  his ambulance driver buddies. The word-picture in this opening line puts an implied distance between the narrator in the village and the fighting in the mountains, where the Italians battle their Austrian neighbors. The distance comes from the active verb of perception (looked) and the adverb of distance (across) and...

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Flashbacks and Point of View

Flashbacks and Point of View ©2013 by Robert J. Ray Flashbacks  and POV in The English Patient The English Patient has a zigzag structure that slides between past and present, between desert and Villa, between the Thirties in Africa and 1944 in Italy. Unlike All the King’s Men, which is told by a single narrator, The English Patient has four points of view, one for each of Ondaatje’s four protagonists: Nurse, Patient, Thief, and Sapper. The book  opens in the Nurse’s point of view. The year is 1944. The place is Italy. As the Nurse climbs steep steps to tend the Patient, the writer uses the image of a bird drifting down to set up his flashback structure: “There are stories the man recites quietly into the room which slip from level to level like a hawk.” The image of the hawk informs the reader about the zigzag structure of time-slippage that defines this book. On the third page of the novel, the point of view shifts to the Patient – “I fell burning into the desert.” – and the trap door opens, dropping us into the African desert in wartime, when the Allies fought the Axis over oil. This time-dance between past and present, between Patient and Nurse, continues throughout Chapter One. In Chapter Two, the Thief takes over the point-of-view, then alternates with the Nurse and the...

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Who Do You Listen To?

Who Do You Listen To? After I came across a very brave and unique novel titled: Taliban Escape by Aabra  which was reviewed in The Dark Phantom Review, I remembered an exchange I had with a fellow writer and former student. I want to post it here for anyone visiting this blog as a reminder of why we write: Writer: I’m trying hard to maintain the last bit of writing advice you provided, “write what you want, the way you want.” That’s hard, especially with two friends criticizing it. Right now, if I take them seriously, I need to go back and almost start over with my work-in-progress.” JR: Yes, that’s a tough one. One short answer is to listen but choose what to change if anything. The way I see it, we have this ideal story in our heads. It’s endless, but when you write, the readers plug in what you write and if it doesn’t connect somewhere to the universal story, they get this disjunction and their pencils move. What that gives us then is the issue of who’s doing the writing. But even deeper is the question of vision–-readers want you to tell them the story they want to hear. It’s your job to tell them a story they’ve never heard. If you can’t get past the universal, then you add nothing to the inventory of...

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Page Eight–Zen Poetics-The Poetics of Fiction 2

Page Eight–Zen Poetics–The poetics of fiction 2 ©2012 by Jack Remick and Robert J. Ray This is the Second Posting on Zen Poetics for Fiction Writers: A Golden Rule: Force the writer to create with power.  Zen Poetics: How to read a poem To read a poem, you must first HEAR it. Let the words roll out and over you. To read a poem, do this—tape yourself reading it then close your eyes and listen. Poems want to enter you as voice. Poems want to enter you as emotion. The voice enters you and you hear action and you see images. Story to the fiction writer is the big thing. Story moves in time. Image and action and compression are the big things to the poet. Compression means the poet squeezes out all the Unnecessary leaving only the Essential. Time is essential to story. Not essential to poem. The Unnecessary is any word or cluster of words in a line that impedes the image’s completion. Image is analogy. Analogy is metaphor. Her hair hung like copper wire Coiled on ashen shoulders Zen  Poetics Unearths Illusion Fiction writers get lost in language because language is deceptive. Clearing out the Unnecessary lets the writer show the story as it happens instead of telling the story in garbled mucked up prose loaded with embedded clauses and wondereds and imagineds and realizeds. The...

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Notes from the Troglodytes to a Memoirist

Original Message—a writer who was frustrated with the process—writing in longhand for 30 minutes, then typing it into the computer—wrote us this note. The text is about saving time. The subtext questions the process and hints about getting a medal for sitting down and writing for 30 minutes. Buried in the subtext is a shout: What do I get out of it? We reprinted the message, followed by an answer. From: Student Memoir Writer To: Jack Remick; Robert Ray Subject: hand writing then retyping It takes me the same amount of time to retype handwritten stuff into the computer as it takes me to hand write in the first place.  Or even longer.  And it is less fun.  Slows me down.  How do you guys deal with that?  How much do you manage to write daily?  Do you retype everything that you write by hand into the computer? Thanks, Student Memoir Writer Dear Student Memoir Writer: Time isn’t the big thing in writing. Depth is. We encourage writers to write by hand because the action connects them to the body. What, you ask, doesn’t the computer connect you to the body too? The computer connects your eyes to the screen. It connects your fingers to the keyboard. It gives you a feeling of power and control. But look at the apparatus for writing on a computer— screen, keyboard, software,...

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Copyright & Excerpts

©2010-2017 Jack Remick, Robert J. Ray. All rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including text and images, without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Short excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jack Remick and Robert J. Ray and "Bob and Jacks Writing Blog" with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.