On Becoming a Novelist, John Gardner 1983

This is a very interesting book for anyone who reads novels or wishes to write them. Gardner, who died at 49 in a motorcycle accident, is a bit of a cult figure for the serious writer, and in this book, he shares his thoughts and suggestions for the aspiring novelist.  Making it clear that writing novels is different and more difficult than writing short stories or poems, Gardner identifies the key characteristics of the successful novelist:  verbal sensitivity, accuracy of eye, special intelligence of a storyteller, and a daemonic compulsiveness.  If one has those traits and is determined to write a novel, Gardner goes on to identify the key elements of the successful novel:  the creation of a vivid and continuous dream, authorial generosity, intellectual and emotional significance, elegance and efficiency, and strangeness.  These ideas are shared as if one is sitting in a tutorial or coffee shop across a table from this driven and deeply thoughtful man.  The foreword is written by Raymond Carver who was a student of Gardner’s at Chico State University in California and is worth reading, as well.  While the final section on publishing is less interesting, I found the rest of the book to be an excellent contribution to understanding the fiction reading I do. The clear take home message for the reader is that fiction is all about the creation of powerful, real characters and the ability to move the reader from the real world to the continuously unfolding dream that is the story.

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