Monday, April 23, 2012

The Lie That Tells a Truth part 2

Sorry for the delay in the second part of my book review of The Lie That Tells a Truth by John Dufresne.

We left off with understanding the purpose of a first draft.  It's to not be perfect.  It's to get the words out there and see where the story takes you.  Now we're on to the Revision stage.  The author states that "All writing is rewriting."  He also gives two pieces of advice:

1.  Finish the story.
2.  Don't expect to finish it today, or in this draft, or anytime in the near future.

You see what you wrote, not what you thought you wrote.  This is the time to ask the right questions.  The question of the characters motives, the showing not telling, the word choices.  Page 85 of this book gives a whole list of questions that I thought were very helpful.  Check this book out.


I love the way Mr. Dufresne describes plot:  "Get your hero up a tree, throw rocks at her, throw bigger rocks at her, then get her down."  He actually gives credit for this saying to an unknown source but it's just such a great visual.  And it's certainly where I struggle.  When you determine which rocks to throw at your character you need to determine if it serves the plot, advances the story, or will it actually hinder the story, change how the reader feels?  Throw the right rocks.

Plot is the structure of events in a story.  It's is not a chronology.  "It's an arrangement of events to achieve a desired effect."  One of the points of this book is that the author takes the time to visualize not only his characters, but their actions.  It's as though he was in the room with the characters and he's just documenting what he sees, feels, hears.  What's on the wall of the character's room?  What does the character do when the wind comes through the window?  Really understand the character and the environment and then write.

John Dufresne starts the chapter entitled "Plottery" with a great couple of lines.  "An idea is not a story.  A first draft is not a story.  A moral is not a story.  A character is not a story.  A theme is not a story.  A plot - now, that's a story!"  He goes on to say that plots don't exist.  You can't just go get one.  You have to develop one through your writing.  He calls plot, "the organizing principle of narration."


The author calls for tenderness for all the characters.  You must treat them like children, with love and forgiveness.  But characters can't get away with lying, exaggerating, and not being responsible.  You have to know your characters inside and out.  Even though they are fiction they have a past.  They were all kids at one time, with parents, with joys and heartbreaks.  It's what defines them.  Take the time to know your characters.

Characters should surprise us.  If they don't, they are probably flat, dimensionless, with no depth.  The best way to get characters to feel real is to animate them.  Get them walking and behaving and let the reader watch them.  (This is why I have trouble reading like a writer, I always get sucked into the character!)


I love this line, "Dialogue is not a break in the action, it's an intensification of action."  There is a whole section on dialogue in the book.  How to do it well, what to avoid, etc.  I won't do it justice by piece-mealing portions into this blog, so you'll want to scope out pages 198-209.

Point of View

When trying to decide which point of view to take consider which character is in the most trouble?  Who has the most to lose?  The one with the biggest risk is the choice you should take. 

First person is unambiguous and it's easy to tell if you violate point of view. 

Second person - the you is a character in the story.  John Dufresne gives the example, "There are moments in your life when you think you can change absolutely everything....".  The author believes that this POV works best in short pieces.

Third person narrators are not characters in the story but they aren't real either.  They are invented.  It's not the author talking and it's not the characters either.  It's someone who tells the story but remains outside of the story.

Third person objective is sometimes known as fly on the wall.  It's reporting what a fly would see but you never enter into the minds of the characters.  It's a distant way of telling the story, impersonal.

Third person omniscient - this is pretty much the opposite of third person objective.  This person knows it all, what every character is thinking, etc.

Reading to Write

You never become an expert writer.  There is always more to know.  Mr. Dufresne gives good advice about reading like a writer.  The first time you read a book, read for pleasure.  Now reread the story and notice how the author reached the destinations.  What choices did he make, why?  How did he do the transitions, the movement of the characters. 

One of the final gifts the author provides is a list of items in A Writer's Toolbox.  It's a grouping of items that a writer would find helpful as they go through the journey of writing their story.

I would like to give my thanks to the author John Dufresne for his work that has been such an education for me.  I believe this book is a great reference for the aspiring writer.  His ability to easily communicate and share his viewpoint has been very helpful to me.  I hope you check out this book and get as much from it as I do.  I certainly could not do it justice in just two blog posts.

Thanks for Reading!! 


KellieM said...

It's been a long time since I've had a comment, I'm just making sure it still works!