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    playwrites

      Those who can,

      ...DO...
      *Creative Writing Article*

      David Johansson..page4

      FICTION


      Like playwrights, fiction writers must dramatize conflict, but they must also perform an additional trick: they have to paint with words. In this sense, their mission is more difficult than that of playwrights, who, because of the communal nature of theatre, are often looked down as "committee artists." Flying solo as he does, the novelist can't even have a kid sell a newspaper without saying what he looks like, while in the theatre this issue is moot because the actor physically appears onstage. Of course, playwrights have their own special obstacles to overcome, one of which is that unlike the novelist, the playwright can never indulge in exposition or summary or back-story, as the entire narrative must be told in dialogue. Essentially, the playwright must avoid contracting the "Hello, I know you are my brother," syndrome.

      To return to the word-painting easel: the apprentice writer needs to practice a sort of triangulation, a stimulation of the senses which roots everything experienced in the fiction in the sensibilities of a particular character -- sensibilities which are then transmitted sensually to the reader. As novelist Harry Crews used to bellow at his classes, "WRITING FICTION IS NOT AN INTELLECTUAL EXERCISE!" Indeed. It's a sensual exercise. For instance, if you write a line like, "a man stood on a sidewalk," you haven't got much, but if you think back to Art 101 where they told you not to paint the tree but the space around the tree, you might write, "a man stood on a sidewalk in front of a brick building." Developing this line further, we sketch the details: "a man stood on a sidewalk in front of a brick building under an awning with a triangular tear in it." And finally, the last version, which fixes the character in space by adding another sensual detail: the "triangulation" alluded to earlier: "A man stood on a sidewalk in front of a brick building under an awning with a triangular tear in it, and as the rain misted down around him a single bead fell through tear, landed on the nape of his neck, and ran in a cold line across his back." Still only one sentence, we've now pinned our man to the canvas -- he's not going anywhere, and notice, too, we didn't spend fifty pages describing the awning or the building. In short, get in, get it on, and get out.

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