The art of fiction

With a manuscript done and in the midst of deciding what to write next, I determined to spend the summer rereading all the best books on writing I’d ever read, and reading the ones I hadn’t. Summers being summer—or maybe me being me—I got through one and a half by the time school started. No matter. It was a worthy exercise  just for picking up again John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. In chapter 3, I found a passage that reminded me why this became the writing book for me (really it and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird). Gardner deals with interest and appeal in stories, and in particular, the snobbery that favors the serious over the entertaining:

The result of such prejudice or ignorance is that literature courses regularly feature writers less appealing—at least on the immediate, sensual level, but sometimes on deeper levels as well—than Isaac Asimov, Samuel R. Delaney, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Roger Zelazny, or the Strugatsky brothers, science-fiction writers; or even thriller writers like John le Carre and Frederick Forsyth; the creators of the early Spider-Man comics or Howard the Duck. In theory, it may be proper that teachers ignore thrillers, science fiction, and comic books. No one wants Coleridge pushed from the curriculum by a duck “trapped in a world he never made!” But when we begin to list the contemporary “serious” writers who fill highschool and literature courses, Howard the Duck can look not all that bad.

He does caution readers will be disappointed by the boring sameness of fiction that is merely commercial and shoddy imitation. But in allowing Zelazny and Howard the Duck—I read the original limited comic book series, still own 10 of them—into the conversation, he allowed me to think I could practice the art of fiction (though a “young” writer I was not then and am not now).

 

2 Responses to “The art of fiction”

  1. Scott

    The idea of Gardner at least having passing awareness of Gerber — and even knowing Howard’s tagline — is incredibly positive. Thanks for this. I need to squeeze in a fresh look at both these seminal works myself.

    reply
  2. Charlie

    Rich,

    Have to read the rest of the blog, but Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is certainly the most hysterical book on writing I have read. Not that I have many in my quiver; mountain guys don’t read much. Great Blog Rich…

    I think you’re still a young writer Rich. You should have just enough fodder now to write about the past, um, 3 decades is it?

    cheers, charlie

    reply

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