Gardner and “…a dream in the reader’s mind.”

John Gardner in the Art of Fiction says a lot that writers should read.  For me his overall thrust is captured in a few helpful passages in his chapter on Basic Skills, Genre, and Fiction as Dream.  If you’re a writer of fiction and haven’t met this book, visit your nearest public library and thumb through it.

In any piece of fiction, the writer’s first job is to convince the reader that the events he recounts really happened, or to persuade the reader that they might have happened (given small changes in the laws of the universe), or else to engage the reader’s interest in the patent absurdity of the lie.  The realistic writer’s way of making events convincing is verisimilitude….

He must present, moment by moment, concrete images drawn from a careful observation of how people behave, and he must render the connections between moments, the exact gestures, facial expressions, or turns of speech that, within any given scene, move human beings from emotion to emotion, from one instant in time to the next….

…whatever the genre may be, fiction does its work by creating a dream in the reader’s mind.  We may observe, first, that if the effect of the dream is to be powerful, the dream must probably be vivid and continuous–vivid because if we are not quite clear about what it is that we’re dreaming, who and where the characters are, what it is that they’re doing or trying to do and why, our emotions and judgments must be confused, dissipated, or blocked; and continuous because a repeatedly interrupted flow of action must necessarily have less force than an action directly carried through from its beginning to its conclusion.

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