A Swim in the Pond

I loved this book, one of the better tomes on writing best practices. Why? Well, I like to think this is a masterclass in teaching honed after working with eager students through the years. Read the story from a famous Russian author. And then, you have the opportunity for a professional teacher, storyteller, and practitioner to break the piece down, highlighting trends and takeaways. One can agree with the synopsis. Or, disagree. And, most importantly, learn through this process.

With the recent invasion of Ukraine, this book evokes numerous questions that I couldn’t shake. These four writers stood tall during the height of a creative era. Did their work push a country toward revolution? Or, were the stories only a by product of an evolving, upcoming revolution simmering below the surface? That’s above my pay-grade; nor, does one’s views take away from what one can learn in these pages.

A Legacy:

And that’s the point, maybe the story you create isn’t the legacy you leave behind. I’ve never read any of Saunders’ other works. I will now. But remember, there are millions of books on the market-more each day. Too many choices. Not everyone conjures The Tempest and Julius Caesar or the Brothers Karamazov and The Nose. But what we communicate to others may reverberate for decades. Giving back matters.

Here were my highlights:

  1. There is importance in revision, sitting down / protect the process / start the work.
  2. The characters must transform. Where are they headed? Evolving?
  3. Evil is rarely done by actual folks who are evil. They believe they are right and just in their movement.
  4. Ask yourself, What is the heart of your story?
  5. There is power in omission.
  6. Rubin’s Vase and storytelling.
  7. Never sell your characters short. Refuse to cut corners.
  8. Think about objects and the messages they can convey. What does a truck say about the driver?
  9. Build patterns and repetition in your work. Then, change the pattern.
  10. An opening page shows nothing. Good structure is making aware the question we want the reader to ask … then, of course, answer the question.
  11. New characters alter the main, otherwise why would you introduce them?
  12. At the end of the story, we can imagine multiple paths. That makes a great story.
  13. Specific description works, an authorial trick. Ensure the description fits with the story. It’s not just a laundry list, the details carry the story forward.
  14. Variation vs stasis thinking. Have the character react differently to objects or actions that may be similar in nature.
  15. Cornfield Principle. Every piece of the story must be (1) entertaining and (2) advance the story.
  16. The rules of editing: Be specific and efficient. Use details. Always be escalating. Show, don’t tell.
  17. Art has to surprise its audience, which means the creator too.

Other Notes:

  • The ambiguity of Hamlet is what makes the story great … If the ghost is imaginary, it’s wrong for Hamlet to kill his uncle. If real, it’s necessary that he do so. That is part of the play’s power … And that is important.
  • The picture is the book. My glasses included.