The Writing Process: Principles and Techniques for “Shapely Fiction” PT. 1 (Ep. 14)


Happy Holidays!

This week, Jennifer shares the first segment of MAKING SHAPELY FICTION by Jerome Stern to illustrate principles and techniques that shape meaning in literature.


Last week, we looked at the underlying truth of a work (the bigger picture). Now, what we can do — and what can be really fun! — is placing those details into the narrative (smaller pieces that trickle down into the underlying truth).

Whether you are a serious writer or writing for your own pleasure and fun, Jerome Stern wrote a simple but intriguing guide to the different techniques and principles that shape fiction. 

I compiled a list of my favorites from Stern’s book. Here are the first three:

Allusion (pg. 83): A reference to another medium to reveal characterization or setting.

  • The allusions in T.S Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland” enhance the narrative by mentioning previous authors, works, religions, fables, and so forth, that play a heavy role in our interpretation. However, these allusions saturate the entire poem, not leaving the reader much breathing space.

Anti-Hero (pg. 85): A character who lacks heroic virtues, yet possesses redeeming qualities. We not only sympathize, we invest.

  • Stern claims we no longer have heroes and anti-heroes in modern literature because characters are expected to have flaws and be well-rounded.

Avant-Garde (pg. 90): Works that challenge traditional literary conventions.

  • Gertrude Stein threw out conventional stories in order to enrage and shock or transform the public. She used devices such as stream of consciousness and sequence fragmentation.

Convention (pg. 108): What allows man-made narratives or situations to exist.

  • How realistic is it to describe your life in song? Not very, so why do we pretend it’s real when attending an opera? Conventions. How logical is it for a character to time travel? Not very, yet we accept chapter breaks. Why? Conventions.

We’ll go over more next week!

Jerome Stern is the late editor of MicroFiction and taught fiction workshops at Florida State University. He served in kick starting the annual Spring Festival of Writers and a scholarship fund for creative writing students. All in all, a pretty swell fella.

For more information on Stern and his work, please visit his author page on W.W Norton & Company Inc.


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