Friday, November 12, 2010
John Gardner on Mastering the Art of Fiction
I remember when little Angelica mastered the skill of jumping. What a hoot to watch her try. She's learning to sing and dance, too, among other skills she's already mastered--like handling a spoon by herself, turning pages in books, and the big one that continues to amaze me, her ability to learn not just one, not two, but three languages. English and Spanish together are her "first" languages, and her mommy has introduced French as well. Without pause she will say "hi" to me and "hola" to her daddy, rattle off a stream of Spanish to him, and turn right around and talk to me in English. I wish I could switch language gears like that.
Then there's the little six-month old grandson out in California. Baby Nicholas is at the beginning stages of mastering skills. He eats bananas from a spoon that is offered to him, but has yet to master the skill of getting a cracker to his mouth by his own hand. We saw a first-hand example of that via Skype this afternoon!
John Gardner, in his The Art of Fiction, speaks of mastering the art of fiction. He says, "The primary subject of fiction is and has always been human emotion, values, and beliefs...The writer's business is to make up convincing human beings and create for them basic situations and actions by means of which they come to know themselves and reveal themselves to the reader. For that one needs no schooling. But it's by training--by studying great books and by writing--that one learns to present one's fiction, giving them their due. Through the study of technique...one learns the best, most efficient ways of making characters come alive, learns to know the difference between emotion and sentimentality, learns to discern, in the planning stages, the difference between the better dramatic action and the worse. It is this kind of knowledge...that leads to mastery."
He clinches the thought by adding, "Mastery is not something that strikes in an instant, like a thunderbolt, but a gathering power that moves steadily through time, like weather."
Or, we might add, like a child's gathering power as she or he moves through time. Looked at that way, we might say that writing can be a hoot, too, as we continue to master it.
Any writing skills, or skills of another kind, that you feel like you've gotten a better handle on lately?