sarahsullivan (sarahsullivan) wrote in thru_the_booth,


          Thanks, Zu, for sharing your thoughts on telling tales from inside-the-egg of childhood.  I hope you will share the title of the book where your essay appears.  I'd love to read it.  You've given us a lot to think about.  And thank you, too, for sharing the great news about Tami and the exciting changes at Vermont College.


          This week I'm going to talk a little bit about enchantment, not in the sense of fantasy, or at least, not exactly.  I'm going to talk about the writer as enchanter.  That  may sound strange, but bear with me. 


          Plunk your quarter in the tollbooth and here we go.


          I'm going to start with a quote from Nabokov.  In Lectures on Literature, he writes:


          "There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: he

          may be considered as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter.  A

          major writer combines these three- storyteller, teacher, enchanter- but it

          is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer."


          In order to accomplish "enchantment," a writer must move beyond mere recitation of narrative.  A writer must involve the reader in the unfolding of the story.  This is the point at which the old maxim, "show, don't tell," is dutifully trotted out.  But, how exactly does a writer show and not tell?  What are some ways to enchant readers? 


          That rather daunting subject is what I plan to discuss this week.  Needless to say, the pursuit of enchantment is a lifelong endeavor.  What I mean is, there is no terminus on that toll road.  You are always on the journey, picking up new ideas along the way.  But every journey has to start somewhere.  And so we begin with the master, John Gardner and The Art of Fiction.  


          On page 97 of The Art of Fiction, Gardner asserts that "the most important single notion in the theory of fiction . . . is that of the vivid and continuous fictional dream."  "According to this notion," Gardner writes, "the writer sets up a dramatized action in which we are given the signals that make us 'see' the setting, characters, and events."  You have to put readers inside the skin of your main character, make them see the world through the eyes of the character on the page.  How do you do that?


          Gardner has two directives.  First, avoid abstraction.  Do not interpret the world for your readers.  Allow readers to interpret it for themselves.  In other words, do not write hostile environment, when what your character is experiencing out there on Mount Elbert in the middle of the night is cold, hard granite.  And second, avoid "the needless filtering of the image through some observing consciousness."  In other words, do not write, Oscar saw the wave moving toward him," when "cold, gray water rising, gaining momentum as it blocked the light," is the image you mean to convey. 


          Any time you find yourself writing a simple subject-verb summation of action, an "abstraction," if you will, throw it up against the wall and see if you are guilty of inserting a filtering consciousness in between your story and the reader.  If so, eliminate it.  You don't it.  All is does is slow down the action. 


          Gardner refers to this "distance the reader feels between himself and events in the story," as psychic distance.  If you are unfamiliar with this term, put your hands on a copy of The Art of Fiction immediately and read pages 111 and 112.  Even if you are familiar with Gardner's work, it never hurts to revisit this discussion.


          And speaking of revisiting, this is where we need to stop for today.  Tomorrow we'll continue this discussion with examples from contemporary children's literature.  I hope you'll stop by. 



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