Wednesday, May 09, 2007


By Hannah

The magic has always eluded me.

I can write; people tell me it is true. But I never wanted to write a book just to have something I could hold in my hands, point to on a bookstore or library shelf. I wanted to write a book that had magic. I think, after this year's Grub Street Muse and the Marketplace, I can do it.

I've been to the classes. I've read the books. I've written. All the while, I felt like my final product, even if considered for publication, would be okay. Just okay, in my estimation, at least. I was missing something, some synergy of everything I knew. For some reason, this past weekend, it all came together.

Margot Livesey, talking about character, was everything I'd anticipated and more. She was funny and wise in addressing descriptive details that bring characters to life. She spoke, for example, of making one of her antagonists a beekeeper, an occupation the reader perceives as interesting, having depth, thus creating a level of sympathy. My own antagonist was swinging from two-dimensional to too nice, and now I know what to do about it.

As she continued, she extended her insights into how to use detail to not just describe one person or place or event, but to structure an entire story more effectively. Another light started to dawn for me, as I realized I could redirect reader focus to my character's hands section by section across the manuscript, and the depth I could achieve in doing so. The change is more than a repetitive action, more than a familiar behavior for the character. The shift works -- aha! -- on multiple levels.

The importance of synergy between the smallest details and structure came up again in Martha Southgate’s enthusiastic “Guardian Angels” presentation on masterful books from which we learn bits about craft, device, character, and courage in writing. Examples from Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay to Charles Baxter’s Feast of Love reinforced the point as to why we consider books like those masterworks.

Which brings me to Philip Weinstein. He was humble before us, making clear that he had not written fiction, that he studies it, analyzes it, teaches it. As he made his opening remarks, I wondered whether I should have taken another craft class instead of his. I made the right choice; Weinstein brought everything I learned that day, and everything I have been learning as write, full circle.

In his talk on why fiction is important, Philip Weinstein said that fiction is magical in its manipulation of time. When a writer achieves a mastery of craft –in the details of how the pages come together -- a piece of fiction creates an alternate experience of time for the reader. We are transported, we lose track of reality, we venture outside ourselves. In short, the story’s message, if any, and even characters and situations are secondary to the architecture of a story in creating fiction’s magic.

I am perhaps minimizing what I understood before this weekend about the synergy required to create the magic. Still, I think I do understand fiction writing at a deeper, stronger level: to be honest, at a level that will satisfy my expectations. Draft two of my novel will prove or disprove this, but it will be long strides farther down the road than the baby steps I would have taken before. I feel like the real magic, at least a spark of it, is finally in me.


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Oh, reading all these posts make me so wish I was in the Boston area and could have attended with all of you. What a fabulous conference! And Hannah, you must know that the spark, the magic was always within you, it just needed to be stoked.

Anonymous said...

That is the perfect description of how I feel, or at least what I had hoped was true! Thank you. Could you come to Muse next year?! Chris Castellani said they have Jonathan Franzen lined up for the keynote, and may even do two keynotes.


Trish Ryan said...

Hurrah! That's the kind of epiphany writers live for!

Larramie said...

Alhough I've mentioned something similar before, it bears repeating. When writers find their magic, the reader is totally awed.

May your spark soon burst into flames, Hannah.

Unknown said...

Hi guys--

Thanks for all your reports from the Muse. I couldn't be in all places at once and I really appreciated reading about the workshops I missed. Thanks so much.

And so lovely to see all of you in person.

Therese Fowler said...

Hannah, I agree that you must've always had the spark, because otherwise the weekend's lessons would not have ignited in you.

A story's architecture is incredibly important--and so often overlooked. For me, the creation of that structure is an organic experience that grows out of the writing process itself. But knowing its import, I pay close attention as I go.

I'm so pleased for you, and wish you excellent progress on draft two.

Patry Francis said...

I feel a little of the magic just reading this!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, and it was so wonderful to meet you in person as well, Grace! No matter how much you know and learn, there's always something hiding around the next corner -- and knowing that and waiting for it can be frustrating: What is it that needs to happen for it to click? The beauty of talking with other writers is that those stages seem to keep coming over time, no matter who or where you are. I am more in awe of this process than ever!


muebles madrid en stok said...

The chap is absolutely just, and there is no question.