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Alone With All That Could Happen: Rethinking…

Alone With All That Could Happen: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom about the…

by David Jauss

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Comprised of essays about various elements of fiction, this book makes me want to get my MFA in Vermont. The one about point of view pretty much blew my mind and will affect not only how I write fiction but how I read it, too. The library says it wants its copy back today, but I'll be getting this one again so I can finish it (and then start it again). ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Nov 6, 2014 |
So you want to be a writer? Don't read this book.

Alone With All That Could Happen is a wonderful, well thought out collection of essays on fiction writing, but it is not a “how to” guide or a simple refresher course. It is more akin to a work of philosophy than a primer for the contemporary author. It asks tough questions about the constraints modern writers have put on themselves and explores in depth alternatives to the “conventional wisdom.”

As someone who has been writing fiction for half my life, acquired undergraduate and graduate degrees in writing, and spent the last three years crafting my novel, I, at times, felt overwhelmed by Jauss' insight and brilliance on the subject. Had I read this three or four years ago, I think I would've been lost. For the most part, I get it. Or, at the very least, I think I do. A few years from now I may pick this book up again and I'll realize how stupid I was. That's what makes reading books like Alone With All That Could Happen such a wonderful experience—no matter how may times I read it, I feel I could walk away with some new knowledge.

Personally, I got the most out of the first few essays. Largely, I attribute this to the fact that they were the most relevant to my writing and my work in progress at the moment. Or perhaps my mind had hit overload by midpoint. Nevertheless, I expect that if I do return to this collection in future years, I'll have much to learn from the essays I took less away from this time.

If you're a writer and you've been around the block for more than a few years, check it out. I can almost promise you you'll learn something. But if you're still learning the craft, still discovering yourself as a writer, give it some time—Alone With All... will likely leave you bored, frustrated, and scratching your head, wondering when it all became so complicated. Oddly, what Jauss teaches here is simplification of the craft, but the audience he is addressing needs to be taught that some of what they know to be gospel is really flam. The result is a book of essays dense with ideas and overflowing with examples. Highly recommended for all writers of fiction... eventually. ( )
  chrisblocker | Mar 30, 2013 |
The best writing book I have read. Too good to keep on my shelf so I gave it to a friend. Good things are better when shared. ( )
  SMPhillips | Nov 6, 2011 |
Substance: Reasonably good advice for writers, neither indulging in authorial mystique nor or detailing mundane publication practices. Contains useful technical information and sensible suggestions.
Style: Discursive and modestly pedantic. I liked it.
I Autobiographobia: Writing and the Secret Life
p8: "Here's the paradox: Just as you reveal your secret life when you imagine others', you reveal others' secret lives when you reveal your own."
p. 9:"Oscar Wilde once said, "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell the truth."" - about how fiction is lying about secrets to tell a deeper truth.
II From Long Shots to X-rays: Distance and Point of View in Fiction
He has a different approach from other advice books, and explains the confusion that arises from trying to prescribe restricted connections among (p. 25-26) "three not necessarily related things: the narrator's person (first, second, or third), the narrative technique he employs (omniscience, stream of consciousness, and so forth), and the locus of perception (the character whose perspective is presented, whether or not that character is narrating)."
p. 26: "I will attempt to present a more accurate conception of point of view by closely examining the actual practice of authors and explaining how they use point of view to manipulate the degree of emotional, intellectual, and moral distance between a character and a reader."
p.26: "This objective point of view is commonly called "dramatic," for it imitates the conventions of drama, which does not reveal thoughts, only words and deeds."
p. 31: He wants to use the word "privileged" rather than "omniscient" for the technique o informing the reader of the contents of a character's heart and mind, whether in first or third person, and whether or not the information is accurate or speculative.
p. 37ff: A Spectrum of Distances: including Outside-Dramatic; Outside and Inside- Omniscience, Indirect Interior Monologue; Inside-Direct Interior Monologue, Stream of Consciousness.
III What We Talk About When We Talk About Flow
Which boils down to varying sentence structure (p. 63) between simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex, which includes varying sentence length. (example on p. 65 shows Hemingway not just "simple').
p. 70: "Given that syntax is not just structure but a sequence -- a flow -- that generates "dynamics of feeling," it stands to reason that one purpose of syntactical variation is to convey rhythmically the emotion we wish to create in the reader." (this was the point Joseph mad to Debby's writing friend, which he didn't get, about sentence pacing matching the action).
p. 74ff: Flow involves form with musical rhythm, in the parts and in the whole. (summary p. 84)
IV Remembrance of Things Present (using present tense in contemporary fiction)
V Some Epiphanies about Epiphanies
p. 120:"I confess I'm relieved and delighted when I encounter a story that refuses to allow its protagonist even a glimpse of Eternal Truth."
p. 122: "most of them are unearned and unconvincing" and are usually out of proportion, in that "What was once a life-altering spiritual revelation is now...just one more thing to check off".
p. 123: Problems include discursiveness (unrealistic), the proclamation effect (presented at incontrovertibly true), conclusiveness (alters character's life permanently), rhetorical inflation (language disproportionate to the insight conveyed).
VI Stacked Stories: Building a Unified Short Story Collection
VII Lever of Transcendence: Contradiction and the Physics of Creativity
p. 185: "All of us use both the convergent and divergent modes of thought (names and aliases), of course, but the convergent mode (converge on the sole correct answer) dominates our thinking to the point of being reflexive. ...The creative process resides in ... hesitation..without uncertainty, the imagination simply does not come into play."
p. 186: We have to be able to live without certainty because without hesitation, divergent thinking and imagination and creativity are impossible, but "we risk being paralyzed by the very uncertainty that makes creativity possible." So, "the key to avoiding this sort of creative paralysis lies in the cultivation of contradiction."
(see OSC: this person made an error AND the gospel is true)
p. 187: Cites several people celebrating contradiction as a lever of transcending convergent modes of thinking, false certainty, dialectic method that proposes"the belief that something can be true on one level, its opposite can be true on anther, and when they are synthesized, both of them can be simultaneously true on a higher level", moves from "either-or" method of simple negation and achieves the complex affirmation of the "both-and" mode of thought.
p. 190: "human beings are biologically hardwired for contradiction (Bogen & Bogen, "Creativity and the Bisected Brain"). Right-and left-hemisphere functions treat contradictions differently.
p. 191: "The ability to bring together incompatible perceptions...is a crucial characteristic of the creative process."
p. 193: Neils Bohr said, "The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true (wave / particle duality of light).
p. 194: Modes of Janusian Contradiction in theme, structure, using metaphor, oxymoron, synesthesia, irony, paradox, symbolism. Examples include "The Brothers Karamazov", a profoundly Christian work that contains one of the strongest refutations of Christianity in literature. ( )
  librisissimo | Aug 9, 2011 |
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