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 tenth and final installment of Paul’s tips. If you haven’t, I encourage you to look at the previous installments:
Paul West’s Fiction List, Part X
45.Don’t hesitate to exploit hyperbole. E.g., a character throws cigarette butts at a wire screen for 50 years, hoping to wear a hole in it. This would work as a parabolical commentary on him, the narrative, and you.
46. Ask: Has each sentence got enough in it? Each should further the whole. Cut out sentences that don’t.
47. Purge the text of adverbs and heavy epitheting. Turn the passive into the active. Work with verbs and nouns.
48. Acquire velocity, range, by widening enumerative span: e.g., a story divided up thus: 11:30 a.m.; 11:32 a.m.; Tuesday; third week; third month; autumn; 1973; 197-.
49. Make sure you know and exploit a character’s obsessions, his subconscious, his dreams.
50. Sometimes do the Frankenstein bit: create a monster from someone’s preoccupations. E.g., a harassed student of English Lit. who has to read a two-volume survey. One line from each author included makes up a literary monster. Same with anatomy book; phone book; bible; alumnus annual, etc.
51. Study each year one unusual subject: entomology, chocolate manufacture, national flags, etc.
I hope fiction writers stumbling upon this blog have found Paul’s tips as useful and illuminating as I have over the years.