Some books on writing

I just finished a creative writing class based on the idea that “method writing” is just as valid as “method acting.” This idea is not new, and definitely didn’t originate with Jack Grapes (his real name!) whose book we used for the course: Jack Grapes’ Method Writing. This idea is found in Shirley Jackson’s 1950s/60s writing about writing, “The thing I am talking about is best identified by reference to a theory of acting that has always seemed to me very profound, and certainly useful to the writer: Before entering upon a role, the actor, having of course familiarized himself with the character he is to portray, constructs for himself a set of images, or mental pictures, of small, unimportant things he feels belong around the character.”

So anyway, Jack Grapes self-published a book riddled with typos and with minimal care to the details of book design that would help ease the strain of reading this. The basics come down to:

  • Write like you talk.
  • Find a transformation line (one containing “I” or “me”) and massage it until you uncover the deepest truth about what your purpose or meaning in life is.
  • Create image moments by bracketing description between two actions or lines of dialogue.

What I got most out of the class was the pressure to write every day, to churn things out focusing only on PROCESS and not on PRODUCT. And image/moment is a magic trick that seems too trite to be believed, but actually works.

The other book I’ve been reading, Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method by Gerard Genette, is a doozy and one I’ll want to revisit once I’m reading Proust again. Essentially Genette creates a systematic theory of narrative solely by dissecting A la recherche du temps perdu. He goes through the elements of narrative in great detail: Order, duration, frequency, mood, voice. There’s tons of great guidance here, including quotes from Balzac: “Step into the action first. Grab your subject sometimes sideways, sometimes from the rear; finally, vary your plans, so as never to be the same.”