Puttermesser Papers Review

In writing fiction, one creates a character, but very often it’s the character who influences the trajectory of events and ultimately creates the story.

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CO: The difference is crucial: it’s between knowing and unknowing (rather than not knowing).

If you are going to write an essay on, say, twilight in Sweden, or on Henry James, you know that much: you have your subject already in hand.

The writer may play around a bit with the personalities of Grant or Lee, but the spine of the narrative is immovable.

As for the “personal” essay, the writer, like a character in fiction, can assert whatever she desires; as in fiction, she is immune to the fact-checker.

But when the imagination is untethered and free, the writer may lose control of the character, and the character may stubbornly decide against the writer’s initial wish; or else the character reveals a motive that the writer never anticipated.

This can hardly happen with what’s called “creative nonfiction,” despite the permissive adjective.(As for writing every day, see above.)You’re a writer who develops both formative essays and novels and short stories in nearly equal measure.Since part of drafting fiction involves investigating certain aspects of life, I wonder what you see as being the overlap between scrutiny in your essays and scrutiny in your plot lines, or if they’re completely separate.TM: What do you think it might take in order for a writer to produce a “great American novel” in today’s literary landscape, or even one that has relevance and power beyond what it achieves in the insular writing community?Some say that the Great American Novel has already come into being, in The Great Gatsby, or in Moby-Dick, and a good case can be made for each of these.The subject matter of non-fiction is fixed, chosen, unalterable.A nonfiction piece on the Civil War, say, can’t change the nature of the battles; both action and outcome remain today what they were then.And a final caveat: the lineaments of a sublime work of the imagination can’t, after all, be prescribed, and one is guilty (mea culpa! TM: Is technology perhaps counterintuitive to to serious literary debate, analysis, and scholarship, or do you feel that it marks a sort of natural progression and provides a platform to showcase what writing has come to in the age of the i Phone? I could not conceive of writing seriously on a keyboard facing an illuminated rectangle, and used the computer mainly as a means of transcribing a completed work (as was the typewriter in the past).The keyboard and the monitor struck me as enemies of the freedom of language, since it seemed that the words could come only through the pressure of one’s fingers on the narrow neck of a pen.But if you set out to write a story, whether long or short, you begin with less than a glimpse: a shred of idea that once moved you, or the wisp of memory of a mother and daughter you encountered for seconds as you passed them in a train, or simply an inchoate feeling.Plotting, though, can be intellectual or serendipitous, a deliberate plan or a revelation or an insight, and this can apply also to the “plot” of an essay; but overall an essay is an assessment, or rearrangement, of given materials, while a story must discover what it is made of in the very course of its own making.

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