While Paul’s teaching methods veered away from the lecture and toward the conversation, perhaps sensing there’s more to be learned in thoughtful digressions than in a prepared agenda, he occasionally offered direct advice on matters of craft. In 1985, he handed out a a two-page numbered list with the simple heading “Fiction” that presented what I would call “tips and tricks” for aspiring writers. Several years later, he handed out this same document to members of his graduate fiction writing seminar (you can read about us in his memoir, Master Class), the list having grown to 51 items.
Here I present the the eighth installment of Paul’s tips. There are still a few left, so look for more of these tips in future posts. If you haven’t, I encourage you to look at the previous installments:
Paul West’s Fiction List, Part VIII
35. An extraordinary word in an ordinary-looking sentence can work wonders of attention-getting. It signals the reader. E.g., If someone wakes and waits for his confidence to congeal, then the reader has been told a lot. Make the mot juste work structurally, too.
36. It’s sometimes useful, if you have several characters, to site the telling in one of them, without warning: best done late in a story. you can draw attention to yourself if you wish, by equipping a character with information which, according to the conventions of fiction, he cannot possibly possess. As in Beckett’s Watt.
37. If you repeat a character’s name in full, the effect is one of aloofness: he seems so special he can’t be abbreviated; he is always to be discovered as a stranger.
38. If using long sentences, provide oases of contrast, interjection; even an exclamation will work the trick. E.g., “Oho,” “inhale here,” “only five hundred yards to go!”
39. Sometimes show a character in silhouette; it complements straightforward description. Or seen upside down, in x-ray, naked, etc.