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Journal of a novel: Aug. 31, 2016. Invention

August 31, 2016

In a series of posts, I’ll share both Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel and what I learn from it, and I’ll show you what the writing life is like for me.

In his April 4, Journal of a Novel entry, John Steinbeck writes about a problem you wouldn’t think that a novelist would have: fictionalizing.

… true things quite often do not sound true unless they are made to. … You open the morning paper and you will find a dozen stories of people who have done things which are not true to you because they are not in your experience. … you would have to use every art to make it acceptable.

He suggests that someone write an essay about this, and maybe I will.

I write a lot of fiction, but I don’t make up much stuff. Most of the time, I find myself putting normal, believable characters into extraordinary situations. Tested in these confrontations, the characters show what they’re really made of, sometimes surprising themselves. But the battles aren’t all that unusual. Well, except for the dragon fights.

I’ve got a work in progress, a short story, and I’m giving myself pep talks to go a little crazy, a little over the top. It’s a Fantasy and so quite appropriately could portray all kinds of outrageous people, places, and events. I’ve been having arguments with myself.

“Oh, that would never happen.”
“It’s a Fantasy story. Go for it!”
“But will it be believable?”

I think that’s some of what was worrying Steinbeck: how to take what seems improbable if not impossible (even if it did in fact happen), and tell the story in such a way that the reader accepts it.

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