Bill Bucko

Advice to Fiction Writers

59 posts in this topic

But a writer should still aim to write a novel because in a longer space he can create a bigger universe and more giants.

If I were writing fiction (or even telling a real story, which I love to do) how much I have to say would determine the length of the piece. If I had a little to say, it would be a short story. My goal would always be to tell a good story even if it were a small one.

I agree. It's not impossible nor difficult to strive for both.

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If a writer has been provided with the tools to be in control of his sense of life, then he should seek consciously to express his evaluation of the good. Ethics provides you with a wide gamut of options to tell a story.

I don't understand how someone can be "in control" of his sense of life. A sense of life is an emotion and, as such, is automatic. In fact, it is a profound automatic summing-up of a person's real, actual view of life, the world, and his place in it right now. It is not the view he will have tomorrow or the view he wants to have or believes he should have.

I have seen people try to write stories with a "correct" sense of life instead of what automatically flows out of their own souls and the sad results are labored, phony, unconvincing, and preachy.

I agree with you here too. I mean be in control, indirectly, over the long run. I am very well aware how my sense of life has changed. And it is also interesting in this way: When I was 18, my subconscious metaphysics was mixed. Today it perhaps still is, except that the benevolent is much more dominant, than it was dominant when I was 18.

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Something about metaphsyical value-judgments:

Aren't they answers to questions such as whether the universe is knowable or not--whether man's mind is efficacious to deal with it--whether man has free will--whethr man deserves to be happy and whether his success is possible?

Certainly these are philosophical questions. They do not exhaust all of philosophy but they are nothing else but philosophy. And so in a sense metaphysical value-judgments is philosophy.

I think the confusion here may be between psychology and philosophy. A metaphysical value-judgment is an emotion or, more precisely, an emotional sum. It may or may not be caused by explicit philosophy and, if a person is a professional intellectual, his sense of life may lead to an explicit philosophy, but, for the most part, a sense of life is a complex, automatic, personal, emotional attitude toward life.

Thank you for saying this. So perhaps someone can discuss this more. That would be great.

Also thanks for your specific questions and comments, Betsy. They did get me thinking and it is always good for me to make statements about such things.

So, until I am able to write some more about such things and other questions posed.

May you, if you are able to watch House tonight, enjoy it, if it is able to earn your joy, for I cannot predict how I will feel about it. I'm not sure. I hope I am greatly amused. The same goes for the rest of the members.

Jose.

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1. I don't see how you can say that my theme is not appropriate for a story, without knowing my context.

What I said was that it is not sufficient for a story. What a story requires isn't just values but a value conflict.

Actually, most good stories don't have an explicit theme but usually an implicit and very simple theme such as good vs. evil (the American spy vs. the Nazis) or man against nature.

You assume that I don't know what Ayn Rand has to say about the craft of writing, it seems. Surely if the theme of Atlas is sufficient for a story, then surely that philosophy is important to a man's education is sufficient.

I'll still argue for the primacy of the story. Observe that Atlas Shrugged began with Ayn Rand thinking, "What if I went on strike? What if all the men of the mind went on strike?" and everything else, including the characters and the theme, came later.

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If you're even the least bit confused about the difference between metaphysical value judgments and philosophy, then you'd better study Ayn Rand's The Romantic Manifesto (especially the first two chapters) again and again, until you've fully absorbed that point.

Otherwise, you're in great danger of wasting your life, turning out atrocious rationalistic pieces that mimic art without truly being art. As Betsy said, "the sad results are labored, phony, unconvincing, and preachy."

To repeat: Art is not "the selective re-creation of reality, according to the artist's philosophy." It is "the selective re-creation of reality, according to the artist's metaphysical value judgments." That's something entirely different.

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Actually, I should have said the first three chapters of The Romantic Manifesto, not the first two.

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When you create according to your metaphysical value judgments, you're choosing by the standard of what's important to you, deep down inside. The result is a stylized view of reality -- which can be of great value, to yourself and to others.

But when you write according to what you think your philosophy demands, you've abandoned the very essence of art--the choice of what's important to you. The result can only be a preachy, boring, stomach-turning travesty--not art.

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Dear Bill and Betsy:

The things each of you has said thus far in this thread are giving me alot to chew on, alot to think about, and I thank you both.

That is so true, Betsy, about Ayn Rand not starting the preparation of Atlas Shrugged with the choosing of a theme; that came much later. Her writing of that great novel started with the questions you name. And notice that those two questions start off with the words: "What if...?" I've often wondered if that might be a universal, the way one should always start asking questions when trying to come up with a story; after all, it seems that the words "What if" would always be followed with whatever the aspiring writer feels is important, interesting, exciting, or of value to him.

And what you say, Bill, in posts #30 and #32, is also extremely true, that if you start from your philosophical ideas and not from your metaphysical value judgments you will end up, no matter how much you try to tell a unique story with unique concretes, with something artificial, forced, rationalistic, false-sounding, arbitrary, sermon-sounding, and maybe even less than honest. These were my responses while reading Alexandra York's Crosspoints: A Novel of Choice (by the way, what Romantic school novel isn't a "novel of choice"?), even though there were some aspects of the plot that were good and a few moments of good writing.

(Also: I've not read all of either Ayn Rand's The Art of Fiction or The Art of Non-Fiction, but I just want to mention that even the second book has some things of value in it for aspiring fiction writers, such as the importance of not writing from a "duty premise", how to harness and use the subconscious, and how to organize material.)

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Ayn Rand does say in The Art of Fiction, that you can start with any aspect of the novel, theme, plot, character, so long as you eventually cover them all and integrate them all. You can very well start with an explicit theme, as long as you deal with an apt plot and characterization. She says that your story doesn't really begin until you grasp your plot-theme. You can very well start with the desire to express you philosophy so long as your story supports it. It all depends on how talented you are, that is true.

Jose.

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Of course you can start with any aspect.

The BIG question remains, about the PROCESS: are you going to re-create reality on the basis of your metaphysical value judgments, and create art; or rationalistically rely on your philosophy, and create a travesty that only mimics art? ...

(An occupational hazard that seems to strike students of Ayn Rand's philosophy exclusively. At least, I've never seen a writer from the opposite camp come up with a sentence like: "His face looked as though it had been shaped by unreason, lack of purpose, and anti-self-esteem." Or stories about government regulators. Or about the superiority of socialism.)

"Metaphysical value judgments" sounds almost the same as "metaphysics." But don't confuse them! There's a world of difference between relying on the one or the other.

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When you try to write fiction, not to express your sense of life, but to publicize Ayn Rand's philosophy, you are reversing the proper order:

... According to Objectivism, there is no higher value, for you, than your own life. You need an abstract philosophy to show you how to liveā€”to show you that life is the standard, and what kind of action serves that standard. The concrete purpose to be achieved, however, is the living of your own life.

Objectivism does not demand that you devote your life to it. On the contrary. It requires that you devote it to your life.

Ayn Rand correctly saw art as a personal, selfish expression, a way to enshrine your own deepest values--not a soapbox for preaching.

What could be more selfish than writing a novel about what you love the most--a novel that will be around centuries after you are gone? If you do it well enough, you make your values immortal!

Be selfish!

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I've not read all of either Ayn Rand's The Art of Fiction or The Art of Non-Fiction, but I just want to mention that even the second book has some things of value in it for aspiring fiction writers

I strongly urge anyone who's seriously interested in writing fiction to buy Rand's original Fiction Writing tapes and study them. Listen to the lectures a dozen times.

In the original lectures, there is much invaluable material for fiction writers, some of it subtle, that the book does not cover in detail.

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I strongly urge anyone who's seriously interested in writing fiction to buy Rand's original Fiction Writing tapes and study them. Listen to the lectures a dozen times.
I agree, and in fact, I'd recommend the audio version to anyone seriously interested just in reading fiction.
In the original lectures, there is much invaluable material for fiction writers, some of it subtle, that the book does not cover in detail.

What are some examples?

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Bill, what you advise in post #36 is terrific, and so true. I've never thought of it that way.

But it would be extremely hard to do (though that is no excuse not to do it). Yet, when you get down to it, that is the only way it can be done!

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In the original lectures, there is much invaluable material for fiction writers, some of it subtle, that the book does not cover in detail.

What are some examples?

There are many differences, such as the excision of some material that was later to show up as articles (eventually in The Romantic Manifesto). Quoted material was pruned. Of course, the latter is necessary when adapting a lecture to written form, but the vividness of Rand's extemporaneous delivery is gone. Also, material discussed in different lectures was brought together, so that the spiral form of the presentation was lost.

The greatest change is that the point of the lectures is the role of psycho-epistemology in fiction writing, not only as explained in Rand's words, but as shown by the working of her mind as she presents her material. That is not in the book.

The book does contain her practical suggestions on writing fiction.

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from the Sparrowhawk thread:

... It's always a good thing when someone eliminates the need to do work one has felt needed to be done, so that one can concentrate on perhaps more enjoyable endeavours...

You do NOT repeat NOT have a DUTY to write about the American Revolution, Ayn Rand, Aristotle, Rostand ... or anything else!

Please read Ayn Rand's essay, "Causality versus Duty."

If you aren't writing for YOUR OWN pleasure, to serve YOUR OWN DEEPEST PERSONAL values, then that's a huge warning sign you need to stop and rethink what art is for ... and what your own life is for!

Howard Roark would have walked across corpses, to create his buildings, his way. Be GLAD not to have to build a building?!? Such an idea would never have entered his mind.

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... Be GLAD not to have to build a building?!? Such an idea would never have entered his mind.

Because he was ALWAYS motivated by HIS OWN HAPPINESS, not by a DUTY to Henry Cameron, to the cause of architecture, or to anything else.

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from the Sparrowhawk thread:
... It's always a good thing when someone eliminates the need to do work one has felt needed to be done, so that one can concentrate on perhaps more enjoyable endeavours...

You do NOT repeat NOT have a DUTY to write about the American Revolution, Ayn Rand, Aristotle, Rostand ... or anything else!

Please read Ayn Rand's essay, "Causality versus Duty."

If you aren't writing for YOUR OWN pleasure, to serve YOUR OWN DEEPEST PERSONAL values, then that's a huge warning sign you need to stop and rethink what art is for ... and what your own life is for!

Howard Roark would have walked across corpses, to create his buildings, his way. Be GLAD not to have to build a building?!? Such an idea would never have entered his mind.

You got me all wrong there. I never considered that a duty. It is more an indication of all the material there is for stories, so much to choose from, that it is exciting and difficult to choose at the same time. I haven't read Mr. Cline's books yet, so I can't say whether I will find them satisfying. But they sound great! I would have needed, for my self, to write some book on the American Revolution, to live with those great men, and the men in my story of my own invention. However, when I read Mr. Cline's books I may find that what my soul needed was fulfilled already by the work of Mr. Cline.

Fiction about the American Revolution is a great passion for me. It is a very personal love and admiration that I have for those men. So at this point, I guess I have to say that one day I will write a book on the American Revolution, a very personal duty to myself. But I don't have to start preparing for it for twenty years from now.

I'm very conscious of my own personal learning curriculum. I can already see the hierarchy and I've been able to see it for years.

I don't operate the way you are implying. Perhaps Ayn Rand would hate, and even Objectivist will hate my first great novel, or my second. That's not why I write it. I stopped considering what Ayn Rand would like for some time now. Her approval is not what I seek. That is an impossibility. Although, asking what Ayn Rand might like is often a spark for more original creations of my own and simple thinking.

I guess I can't blame you for implying that I don't know what I'm talking about, so you suggest that I read Causality verss Duty; among other things. The writing I have provided for this forum, or the posts I have written, perhaps are not immediately convincing of what I know. It seems to me that I know more than you think. Only time will tell; until then I will bear your judgment and that of others.

Jose Gainza.

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You got me all wrong there. I never considered that a duty...

I don't operate the way you are implying...

I sincerely hope you're right! I really wanted to warn not just you, but everyone--since it is a problem that seems to beset many, many admirers of Ayn Rand.

Her achievement was so enormous, it's easy for someone to feel overpowered by it--just as many artists in the shadow of Michelangelo apparently felt overpowered. Ed Cline himself (probably the best writer of serious fiction today) says she's "a hard act to follow." Many aspiring writers find it difficult to find their own voice.

Please write from what is most deeply personal in yourself! I'll be happy if you prove me wrong. You certainly have my best wishes!

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To Bill Bucko:

You mentioned the difficulty many aspiring writers have finding their own voice; I think I'm one of them.

How would you say someone should go about finding their own voice? Is there a "technique" for it? What can you do if you desperately want to say--or show--something in story form, but cannot clearly identify what, in life, is most deeply personal to you? What can you do if you want to express your sense-of-life in fiction--or drama or a screenplay--but don't even know exactly what your own particular sense-of-life is? --Jim A.

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Jim, I cannot answer for Bill, nor am I a writer, but I know what is important to me. I know what gets me excited to see and hear about. I know the type of people I would enjoy meeting. I also know the types of demands I like to put upon myself and see if I can overcome them. I know what I think of as heroic actions and the types of stands that I would like to see taken. I think, these types of things will lead to what or how you want to portray your stories and the characters. I do not think someone should or could write about something they do not care about or have very little knowledge about, you need to have a passion for it.

Again, this is just my insight on the subject.

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How would you say someone should go about finding their own voice? Is there a "technique" for it? What can you do if you desperately want to say--or show--something in story form, but cannot clearly identify what, in life, is most deeply personal to you? What can you do if you want to express your sense-of-life in fiction--or drama or a screenplay--but don't even know exactly what your own particular sense-of-life is?

Write twenty reams' worth, and you'll find out.

This is not a flippant answer. You find your voice, your sense of life, and what you want to write about---by writing.

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How would you say someone should go about finding their own voice? Is there a "technique" for it? What can you do if you desperately want to say--or show--something in story form, but cannot clearly identify what, in life, is most deeply personal to you? What can you do if you want to express your sense-of-life in fiction--or drama or a screenplay--but don't even know exactly what your own particular sense-of-life is?

Again I will a recommend a terrific little book called Structuring Your Novel by Meredith and Fitzgerald (click here). It is a simple step-by-step, "What do I do now?" and "What do I do next" approach to fiction writing that shows you how. Particularly useful are the beginning exercises that help you define what you are going to write, why you want to write it, and lead you toward how you will write it.

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Write twenty reams' worth, and you'll find out.

This is not a flippant answer. You find your voice, your sense of life, and what you want to write about---by writing.

That is actually a really good answer. You don't have to worry about what your sense of life is beforehand. Especially when brainstorming, just jump in with your emotions - your subconscious - it'll lead you to your interests. Unless you suffer from depression or are a severely repressive type.

Not worrying about your sense of life (which is probably something only an Ayn Rand fan would ever encounter in the first place - I don't think someone like Stephen King would even know what it means) takes a little bravery on your part, in the sense of being nakedly honest with yourself. What I really mean by this is the following: you may find a little more Dostoyevsky in your soul than is consciously palatable to your self. Maybe what comes out is not bright and triumphant, but dark and malevolent. Maybe you'll find you are fascinated by ghost stories, or horror stories. Maybe you end up writing a long novel about the adventures of a galactic-touring rock band where they have two heads and four arms. Maybe you'll find you like high action and brutal violence.

So what? Any one of the above could be excellent reads, and give you more pleasure in writing than anything else on Earth.

Here's a good exercise I like to do to get the wheels moving. Take all the ideas of a brainstorming session and treat it like the base for a new project. Taking the paragraph above: I am going to have a dark ghost/horror story about a galactic-touring rock band that will have high action and brutal violence. That's not the best example, but you get some real interesting twists by trying to fit these all together.

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How would you say someone should go about finding their own voice? Is there a "technique" for it? What can you do if you desperately want to say--or show--something in story form, but cannot clearly identify what, in life, is most deeply personal to you? What can you do if you want to express your sense-of-life in fiction--or drama or a screenplay--but don't even know exactly what your own particular sense-of-life is?

Write twenty reams' worth, and you'll find out.

This is not a flippant answer. You find your voice, your sense of life, and what you want to write about---by writing.

I agree. I don't have a quote handy, but Ayn Rand makes the point somewhere that you can't directly focus on your style -- it'll come naturally as you write. Trying to force yourself to have a specific voice makes your art come across as artificial.

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