In each month of 2023, my blog will focus on a review of a book about writing fiction. I will select books that I have enjoyed and from which I have learned important concepts. My comments will address what I liked about the book, what surprised me, and the most important concept I took from the author’s approach. To begin, I will discuss a book on writing fiction that has been so successful that it is now in its tenth edition.
Janet Burroway on Writing Fiction
Even though Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, dates its University of Chicago Press, 10th Edition to 2019, I recently discovered the book. The Florida Humanities Council awarded Burroway a Lifetime Achievement Award in Writing in 2014. She has published eight novels but is also known for her short fiction, plays, poetry, essays, and books for children.
First, what I liked most about Burroway’s guide to writing fiction was the structure and the suggestions provided. Because Burroway developed Writing Fiction after teaching creative writing at the University of Florida, and at the Iowa Writers Workshop, the book addresses what writers need to know to create a final product that might at some point “be read in a literature class.” Its textbook format is clear and followable for writers working on their own with no classroom or program support. Although my personal goal is to write a novel of interest to women’s book clubs (not to write a classic that would end up in a literary canon), I find her suggestions elucidating.
What surprised me about Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft was that her examples seemed clearer and more understandable to me than in other books on writing that I have read. I particularly liked her chapter on Building Characters which covers dialogue, appearance, action, and thought. Her explanation and example of a “no” dialogue caught my attention. In a “no” dialogue, the speakers are at odds with each other, contradicting or correcting each other, or avoiding the meaning of the situation. The format creates tension and reveals the animosity or dislike hiding below the surface words of the interlocutors. I have not yet tried writing this type of dialogue, but I have the possibility of doing so because I have two characters who are in conflict.
The most important concept I took from the book is her explanation of “theme” which she deliberately positioned at the end of the book. I agreed with her that writers have trouble selecting a theme as they begin to write. It is something I have struggled to articulate when I think about what I am writing. She suggests that the theme arises or takes form as the book progresses. Thus, she puts her discussion of themes in the chapter on revision.
I found this book so useful that I plan to purchase it (I have been reading a copy from the library) and use it as a guide to my practice. This month I rewrote a dialogue using guidance provided in Janet Burroway’s guide to narrative craft .
My Writing Goals for 2023
Continue to work on my poetry:
This month I am sending my corrected manuscript of Moon Glow back to my editor.
This month, I Zoomed into Joanna Spindler’s Bardic Trails poetry circle which featured the poet, José Antonio Alcántara. A poet in the Bardic Trail’s group recommended that poets write a poem every day. I have never set myself this goal, so now for 2023, I will draft a poem every day. It will be good to focus deliberately on my subconscious and my daily presence.
Submit poetry to contests/awards:
I have been collecting a list of potential poetry contests. I plan to submit to at least one contest.
Finish, request feedback, and send my first novel out for review:
My critique group has now workshopped about 14,000 words of my novel in progress.
Continue to work on my other novels:
I am still doing research on a specific period of each of these novels and reading more books about the history of the areas, so I understand them better.
Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:
Boulder Writers Alliance: I will serve as president again this year. I will also convene and present at the Boulder Writers Alliance Poetry Circle.
Denver Women’s Press Club: I continue to read the newsletter and follow what the DWPC is doing.
Women Writing the West: I love working with our critique group because I am learning how readers react to my writing. I enjoy the other writers’ work and the support we give each other. I look forward to the WWW online conference in October 2023.
Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: I read the weekly newsletters. I also read Maggie Smith’s blog on How to Be a Top-Notch Podcast Guest.
This year I plan to monetize my website:
I plan to add information that readers can download for a small fee. I also plan to add a purchase link to my published book of poetry, Moon Chimes.
Document my writing progress through my blog and post it on the seventh day of each month, one blog per month 2023:
In December 2022, I reconsidered whether to continue my blog into 2023. I decided that publishing this blog once a month on what I am working on keeps me learning what I need to learn and makes me accountable to myself and my public. Once I selected my topics for discussion—each month I will review a book on writing—it made me realize that this would be an exciting and productive year to delve into areas I have overlooked. Thus, this is my first blog, published on January 7, 2023. I look forward to the next eleven!
Today in History:
The Canadian literary scholar, William Hugh Kenner, was born on January 7, 1923. As a critic and professor, he wrote about James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Ezra Pound.