Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Writers Guide to Fiction - Interview with Elizabeth Lyon (Part III)

In today's interview, Eliabeth Lyon discusses her book on fiction writing and answers a question about sources of inspiration.

According to its cover, A Writer's Guide to Fiction is a "concise, practical guide for novelists and short-story tellers."

When I checked this book out of the library a few weeks ago I thought I would breeze through it. Instead, I have studied it and taken pages of notes--oh, and renewed it so I could read it again. At the OWL workshop this weekend I'm going to buy a copy of the book and see if I can get Elizabeth to sign it for me.

Here are my questions and Elizabeth's answers about this wonderful book on fiction writing, including an explanation of why workshops are so important.

Donna: In my opinion, every fiction writer should keep a copy of A Writer’s Guide to Fiction on their bookshelves and refer to it often. I’ve studied your book and have pages of notes. You open with the language of fiction and the differences between story and plot then continue with the importance of characterization, structure, style, description, setting, imagery, dialogue, etc. What are the most important nuggets of wisdom writers should take away from this book?

Elizabeth: You have to fill your left brain with a clear understanding of craft, then cross that brain barrier into the right brain, to write creatively.

Translation involves practice, and practice builds skill. That’s why workshops are so important—I always have short exercises after instruction to put know-how into action. How-to books like mine are best read many times, not just once (we forget most of what we read if we don’t implement it).

Read about craft to diagnose problems in your writing. Then revise. In particular, I wrote Manuscript Makeover to be a hands-on guideline for revision. My books on craft, and those by other authors, should be reread over a whole career. We are ready to “hear” ideas at different times in our growth as writers.

Donna: After reading the chapter on “Problems of Characterization, Structure, Technique, and Style” in A Writer’s Guide to Fiction, I want to revise every short story I’ve ever written, even the ones that have been published. While I realize that isn’t practical, I’d like to know what one or two tips writers should keep in mind when revising their manuscripts?

Elizabeth: Avoid trying to make all revisions at the same time. Do that and you’ll probably need an adult beverage.

Take one problem, such as character or setting description and go through a first time with a yellow highlighter and use it for where you have already provided description. That way, you can see how often or how little you’ve supplied details of description (typically underwritten in most of our novels).

Then, go back in and “open up” description but make sure not to become a reporter with a video camera. Instead, stay in role and describe characters or setting from your point-of-view character’s opinions, experiences, likes and dislikes, and emotions. Now you’ve turned description into characterization.

Donna: Do you believe some writers are divinely inspired?

Elizabeth: Sure. And some are inspired by their dogs, news stories, and dreams. If you mean, are some writers gifted, my answer is yes.

I’ve worked with some writers whose talent is beyond mere mortals and to date, none have been published. Sometimes the current of talent is like a river at flood stage, yet the author’s commitment to learn craft to successfully channel that talent isn’t there.

There are Mozart’s and Beethoven’s in the literary world.

Check back tomorrow to learn more about revision and Elizabeth's latest writing book, Manuscript Makeover.

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