Sunday, September 24, 2017

What Writers Say, Part 25: William Faulkner on What Makes a Good Novelist

When asked what it takes to be a good novelist, American Nobel Prize laureate William Faulkner answered, "Ninety-nine percent talent ... 99 percent discipline ... 99 percent work. He must never be satisfied with what he does. It is never as good as it can be done. Always dream and shoot higher that you know you can do."

Of course, Faulkner's advice applies to any profession, but he saw writing as a highly individualized craft. While businesspeople have a responsibility to their clients, coworkers, and stockholders, and environment, Faulkner said, "The writer's only responsibility is to his art." Indeed, he saw the writer as a messenger of the art, a conveyor of human condition: "If I had not existed, someone else would have written me, Hemingway, Dostoyevsky, all of us."

That sort of selfless thinking will surely help writers produce for the sake of their art, not themselves. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

What Writers Say, Part 24: Joyce Cary on the Real Stuff of Fiction

Irish novelist Joyce Cary saw plenty to be reaped from considering a character's motivation: "You've got to find out what people believe, what is pushing them on." Cary saw an absolute connection between form and "an ordered attitude towards" the character's principle of unity with the universe, God, and whatever else he or she would call existence.

Sounds deep, I know. In practical terms, this viewpoint can mean  writers must reach the core of characters, their souls, not only their way of interacting with the world but their reason for it.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

What Writers Say, Part 23: Francois Mauriac on Using Senses in Writing

"Before beginning a novel I recreate inside myself its places, its milieu, its colors and smells. I revive within myself the atmosphere of my childhood and my youth—I am my characters and their world."

When the author Francois Mauriac made this observation about his penchant for using sense perceptions in his creative work, he reminded all writers of the vitality they bring to their prose when following suit. What we most remember from our favorite books are the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch that pervade the action. A good start toward describing senses is looking for them in the fiction of most respected writers.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

What Writers Say, Part 22: Francois Mauriac on the Value of Distance in Time in Writing

French novelist Francois Mauriac was a believer in "a certain distance in time" for a fiction writer. Mauriac said it was absolutely necessary except in journaling, so he opined, "A young author has almost no chance of writing successfully about any other period of life than his childhood or adolescence."

If we take Mauriac's declaration literally, Carson McCullers proves him wrong when she created The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, whose the memorable characters Spiros Antonapoulous, Jake Blount, Biff Brannon, Dr. Benedict Copeland, and John Singer were older than her 23 years. Other examples are abundant.

Nevertheless, Mauriac makes a strong case for distance in time between experience and memory. As time passes, we better understand the setting, people, and situations that influenced their motivations and actions. Writers must write what they know, and they know more with distance in time.