Tag Archives | felt life

“Felt Life”

From time to time I try to blog about the essence of great writing which, to me, is the ability to capture what Henry James called “felt life.” More recently, I found a description of this mysterious quality in Scott Berg’s Max Perkins: Editor of Genius. (The movie based on this book is just being released). In quoting the great editor of authors such as Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Berg writes of a time when Perkins had to explain to Fitzgerald why some of his short stories had been rejected by Scribner’s magazine, but would surely be published elsewhere. He wrote, “The great beauty of them is that they are alive. Ninety percent of the stories that appear are derived from life through the rarefying medium of literature. Yours are direct from life it seems to me.” This uncanny but utterly artistic ability to produce “felt life” […]

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Felt Life

So how does a writer put “the secret” into action? Trying to teach a person how to do that is even harder than articulating the secret itself. It reminds me of the often-quoted Somerset Maugham line about writing. Maugham said: ““There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.” In my years as a writer/editor/bookseller/bookmobile-driver, I’ve seen and heard it all from writers as to how they work. I’ve heard some authors say they write their very final paragraph first. That way they know where they’re going. Others write the middle first. Others can’t get past page one until it’s perfect. So too with infusing your writing with the words that will help you capture a reader’s heart. I’m going to suggest a few things you might try….but with no guarantees. In short, most writers try one thing and then another until they stumble […]

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Taking the Reader Deeper

When I think about the writing of fiction, I tend to think best in images. What I mean is that instead of just saying that a novel needs to have momentum from the first page to the last, I use the image of dominoes falling. I tell writers that on the very first page they need to knock down the first domino and make sure the following pages keep the rest of the dominoes falling. Lately, another image about writing fiction has come to mind. I think it all started when I realized that I was seeing some very fine writers producing novels that really could not be faulted technically. The characters were okay, the first domino was successfully toppled, the plot was good…..so why was I rejecting this novel? The image that came to mind was that of a large woods thick with trees in the middle, but with […]

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