Dramatic Technique in Fiction
To begin with, Bahr’s collection of quotations from classic authors keeps the book lively and authoritative. Emphasizing the need to think about a work before one begins writing, Bahr quotes Jules Verne: “I never begin without knowing what the beginning, middle and end will be.” To make the point of bringing passion into writing, Bahr quotes Thomas Mann: “Feeling . . . rouses life. Life slumbers, it needs to be roused . . . if a man fails in feeling, it is blasphemy.” On style, he gives us Stendhal: “One should not write unless one has important and profoundly beautiful things to say, but then one must say them with the utmost simplicity, as though one were trying to get them by unnoticed.”
Bahr makes a number of points essential for every new writer to learn. He states that to produce excellent work, one has to write and rewrite, a process that involves keeping some of your work and discarding some. He calls writing style “being who you are on paper.” He points out the importance of pacing and time within a narrative: “Proper pacing is the illusion that time is moving consistently throughout the work.” Your fiction also must have balance - between dialogue and narrative, and space and time, for example. He quotes Tolstoy concerning the need for unity in writing: “The most important thing in a work of art is that it should have some kind of focus, i.e., there should be someplace where all the rays meet or from whence they issue.”
“Dramatic Technique” is not a “how-to” book; rather, it’s perspicacious advice, given with real evidence, from someone who is a talented professional and has published a number of books. Bahr concerns himself not only with one’s work, but with how to survive in the profession. He quotes Saul Bellow concerning the artist’s responsibility to provide to “the intelligent public . . . what it does not hear from theology, philosophy or social theory, and what it cannot hear from pure science - a broader, more flexible, fuller, more coherent, more comprehensive account of what we human beings are, who we are, and what this life is for.”
He also includes a chapter-by chapter bibliography that will be extremely useful to anyone searching out books about writing. This is one of the best books to keep in mind and tell about to those writers we know who are looking for advice or help.
--James White, Director, Creative Writing Program, University of South Alabama, Mobile Register
FROM THE BOOK:
One evening some years ago, I sat in a leather chair in the booklined study of my home, deep in the woods of Northeastern Pennsylvania. A single lamp illuminated the room. Classical music played softly on the phonograph while, in other parts of the house, my wife and son and daughter slept. I had just finished writing a book earlier in the day, and, as always after the completion of a months-long effort, I felt as though the work had abandoned me, taking with it vital parts of myself. On the verge of depression, I imagined hearing Chekhov say, “Writing gives me nothing but twitches!”
In my fantasy, Flaubert choked back a tear, the perfect phrases kept eluding him. Joyce cursed furiously. Whitman only chuckled, it was all the same to him. “I am great,” he said, “I contain multitudes.”
I closed my eyes and invited into the room the ghosts of all the writers who ever lived, celebrated and unknown, brothers and sisters who had in common all that accompanies the anointing. Why did they endure it?
“Compelled to it.”
But to what?
To perfecting the art. Yes, Tolstoy was right. In the end, what matters is doing it better and better for ourselves. We create art that we can applaud and love, that says what we want said, and it’s the process of perfecting the work that counts, the growth and the aspiring to greater growth.
In the spring of 1991, a 58-year-old country singer named Dottie West had struggled against illness and despair to reestablish her career. During a television program one evening, an interviewer asked, “Dottie, what was your best song ever?”
“I haven’t sung my best song yet,” she said. That was a week before she died.
Published in Germany as Dramantenik fur Prosatexte, published by Zweitausendeins
Created by The Authors Guild
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