The Writing Process: Principles and Techniques for “Shapely Fiction” PT. 2 (Ep. 15)


Happy Holidays, fellow literary people!

Jennifer continues discussion on the principles and techniques that shape meaning in literature.


Last week, we looked at four principles and techniques found in MAKING SHAPELY FICTION by Jerome Stern. These details trickle down into the underlying truth of a narrative. Let’s go over a few more!

Diction (pg. 120): Our use of word choice and phrases can immerse or remove the reader from the narrative. Simple or direct word choice allows us to forget we are reading a story and imagine ourselves as the character. Fancier diction reminds us of the author and creator of the story.

  • Stern demonstrates the difference with two examples: 1) “Carla walked into her closet. She took out three pairs of shoes” and 2) “Carla’s closet, incandescent with the liquid fall of her clothing (ah, bright fall, fortunate fall!)…”

Exposition (pg. 129): The interjection of essential and factual information.

  • Exposition includes addresses, time-periods, personal descriptions, etc. It can be subtle if interlaced with dialogue, or obvious and distracting if stated directly.

Imagery (pg. 140): This doesn’t literally describe a person, object, or scene; description, such as simile or metaphor, evoke impressions or sensations.

  • Stern uses the example: “Tree branches whined, whimpered, and cracked like broken arms” to evoke a feeling of pain and violence.

Metafiction (pg. 152): An acknowledgment of a situation and comment on itself. Similar to Gertude Stein and avant-garde, metafiction challenges traditional literary conventions.

  • In Breakfast for Champions, author Kurt Vonnegut interjects himself into the story, confronts his character Trout, and confesses to Trout that he is a fictional character. Vonnegut says, “Mr. Trout . . . I am a novelist, and I created you for use in my books.”

Pathetic Fallacy (pg. 171): Exaggerated description or “lively metaphor.”

  • Consider this excerpt from Garrison Spik, the 2008 grand-prize winner of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest: “Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city, their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist breath through manhole covers stamped “Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N. J.”

Psychic Distance (pg. 198): The reader’s distance or closeness to a character.

  • With first-person, we experience the narrative from inside the character’s head. With third-person, we experience the narrative externally. With second person… you tell me.

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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