six stages of book-reading

October 10, 2019

It occurs to me that there are six stages of book-reading: The first is picture books, then 2) books with more illustrations than words, then 3) books with more words than illustrations, then 4) books with no illustrations, just a map maybe, or a family tree, but lots of dialogue, then 5) books with long paragraphs and hardly any dialogue, then 6) books with no dialogue, no narrative, just great long paragraphs and footnotes and bibliographies and appendixes and very, very small writing.

Intellectually speaking, I’m still stuck somewhere between ages four and and five.

David Nicholls
Starter For Ten

A novel which poses questions is more interesting than one which provides answers. Another way of putting it is that a book should be a dialogue between reader and writer, rather than a monologue. It is unlikely, of course, to be an evenly-balanced conversation, if you also subscribe to Martin Amis’s idea of the perfect read (in his case Saul Bellow) as being “a transfusion from above.” Everyone reads upwards, right? For reading a book by an author only as intelligent as I am would be about as sensible as voting for a president because he’s the kind of guy you could go for a beer with. The play between reader and writer is what makes the book different for each person who reads it, and the more the author gives, the less the reader has to contribute.

John Self
On Reading

Write freely

May 18, 2019

1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theatre, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person — a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
6. If you are using dialogue — say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

John Steinbeck
letter to Robert Wallsten February, 1962

to restrict voice

February 6, 2018

This dread of writing a sentence that isn’t crammed with “gutwrenching action” leads fiction writers to rely far too much on dialogue, to restrict voice to limited third person and tense to the present. They believe the narrator’s voice (ponderously described as “omniscient”) distances the story — whereas it’s the most intimate voice of all, the one that tells you what is in the characters’ hearts, and in yours. The same fear of “distancing” leads writers to abandon the narrative past tense, which involves and includes past, present, and future, for the tight-focused, inflexible present tense. But distance lends enchantment…

Ursula K Le Guin
When to bend, when to break
Los Angeles Times 5th January 2003