20 Fiction Techniques . . . Quickly

During my (self-guided, self-nagged) courses in my ‘Homemade MFA’ I did many things: I read stacks of books, I read multiple favorite novels with an analytical eye, I participated in multiple writer’s groups and revised, revised, and then revised some more. And, I wrote ‘papers’ for myself, in an attempt to distill down all the fantastic advice I’d gleaned from those book stacks.

What I couldn’t learn from the books was ‘voice,’ ‘passion’ or ‘perseverance’ — that required mining my own soul and level of commitment; what I could learn was those all important, and too often ignored, techniques that make one’s prose more sophisticated. Gathering from all the sources I could find, I make my “Cliff Notes for Fiction Techniques” otherwise known as Common Fiction Issues in Super-Short, Simplified Format.

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First Paragraph Love

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I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” Opening to Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

I read that sentence and I immediately want to re-read Middlesex.

Sometimes I think I can write an entire  book in the time it takes me to revise the first paragraphs of a novel. At the very least, I can write 3 chapters in that time. Lately, as I’ve been lost in the world of revision, when I read, I find myself studying the first paragraph.

What do I want from that introduction? Set up. Intrigue. A gotta-keep-going.

After my brother went missing, my parents let me use their car whenever I wanted, even though I only have a learner’s permit. The didn’t enforce my curfew. I didn’t have to be excused from the dinner table. The dinner table, in fact, had all but disappeared, covered with posters of Danny, a box of the yellow ribbons that our whole neighborhood had tied around trees and mailboxes and car antennas, and piles of the letters we’d gotten from people praying for Danny’s safe return or who thought they saw him hitchhiking along a highway a couple states away. I didn’t have to do any more chores.” Opening to The Local News by Miriam Gershow.

It’s impossible for me not to continue reading a book with that beginning.

Each time I try convincing myself that I don’t have to spend hours, weeks, days on the opening, I remember my own book buying habits:

Go to bookstore. Pick book up (based on some inexplicable reaction to the title, recognizing the author’s name, or perhaps the color of the jacket?)  Open book. Read first paragraph.

Read book flap. Glance at blurbs. Briefly. Neither of those will make or break a purchase for me, but the next step will. I open the book and read the first

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Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped the Frank Family By Miep Gies with Alison Leslie Gold

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“I am not a hero. I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I 

anne frankdid or more—much more—during those dark and terrible times years ago, but always like yesterday in the hearts of those of us who bear witness. Never a day goes by that I do not think of what happened then.

 

More than twenty thousand Dutch people helped to hide Jews and others in need of hiding during those years. I willingly did what I could to help. My husband did as well. It was not enough.” (from the prologue.)

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Why Did She Stay? How Come Nobody’s Asking Why He Did It?

power_control-wheel_clip_image001And the blame continues.

Twitter & Facebook abound with it. Some claim with surety that they’d leave after the first minute a man touched them. Other wonder (with an air of superiority) why Janay Rice married Ray Rice in the first place (often accompanied with gold-digging, victim-blaming reasons.) Many question her ‘role’ in the situation—wondering why she stayed, sat next to him, tweeted support, etc, etc, etc.

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Likeability Factors Laced With The Betty Crocker Syndrome (In Fiction)

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Speaking with readers, reading reviews, and being interviewed means walking between fascination, terror, joy, and angst. Three days ago, speaking about my just-released novel Accidents of Marriage, a reporter mentioned how surprised she was by her negative reactions to  the main character—how she seemed to ‘provoke’ her husband and how she sympathized with the husband’s anger. The next day, participating on a book festival panel, the moderator spoke of the husband as a virtual out-of-control monster, and Maddy as a frightened woman battling emotional abuse.

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Cell Matter Connections

A postcard from Accidents of Marriagereleasing Sept. 2. Read an excerpt here.

cell matt

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Anger Exhausted Her . . .

A postcard from Accidents of Marriagereleasing Sept. 2. Read an excerpt here.

pill heart

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Cake for Supper

A postcard from Accidents of Marriagereleasing Sept. 2. Read an excerpt here.

 Permission for sugar 2

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Caution Around Tragedy

The trailer for Accidents of Marriagereleasing Sept. 2. Read an excerpt here.

 caution tragedy

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Waiting for Respect

A postcard from Accidents of Marriagereleasing Sept. 2. Read an excerpt here.

 puppy belly

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