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 ninth installment of Paul’s tips. There are still a few left, so look for one more of these installments in a future post. If you haven’t, I encourage you to look at the previous installments:
Paul West’s Fiction List, Part IX
40. Combine modes of presentation; mythic with realistic, exaggerative with accurate. Sometimes suppress one of the senses for a paragraph. It will tilt or shift the presentation, make the reader attend hard to find out what’s missing.
41. Of 4 adjectives, (A) given three times gives uncanny force to (B).
42. Get behind the character’s eyes. If a tall man, show his vantage on things, then incorporate him into his own view. A movie trick, really.
43. Sometimes, list bones and organs behind the orthodox description. As when people shake hands.
44. Ensure you stay with your effects long enough: don’t give up too soon, don’t spend too long. During writing, one sometimes misdistributes emphasis: it depends on how long each thing takes to write. Make sure your clock doesn’t foul up the reader’s clock, the pace you want him to go at.