In The Art of Fiction
, John Gardner explains what it takes for a writer to create great fiction; it takes lots of hard work, advice that is more helpful than reading manuals that set unrealistic expectations through vacuous cheer leading. On a practical note, Gardner describes common mistakes and advises the writer on how to avoid them. I was able to understand through Gardner's examples several mistaken tendencies in my writing.
Some of his lessons are now standard knowledge, such as show, don't tell—but also included are statements that I believe need to be shouted louder, such as avoid sentimentality.
I loved Gardner's explanation that a writer creates a fictional world and must assist the reader in the Vivid and Continuous Dream, which means the uninhibited and uninterrupted experience of it. He discusses prose that disrupts the dream, such as accidental and inappropriate rhymes, inconsistent diction, overloaded sentences, and shifts in psychic distance.
While Gardner emphasizes natural talent and instinct, he provides practical techniques, examples, and exercises that are certainly useful.
I noted terms Gardner used, such as psychic distance ("the distance between the narrative and mind, heart, and body of the pov character.") and profluence ("a requirement best satisfied by a sequence of causally related events, a sequence that can end in only one of two ways: in resolution … or in logical exhaustion."). Understanding new concepts allows them to influence my own writing.
Also interesting was the discussion on what voice should be used for Tales, Yarns, and Realistic stories, and the differences between them.
Gardner states that the serious writer should mind the effect their work will have on the reader. Even if the novel is grim, it shouldn't leave the reader feeling depressed or hopeless. Since my latest novel is darker than my previous two, I need to find some uplift at the end.
Surprisingly, Gardner doesn't like the third person limited POV. He advocated use of the omniscient POV.