Random Thoughts

On writing with Flannery O'Connor and Ed Boyd

... see the course, Bits and Pieces, starting on September 13, 2010 at the Senior Center, 1PM.

by Ed Boyd

This is the title of a book of Flannery O’Connor’s, 'Mystery and Manners:
occasional prose.' It is a selection and edits by Sally and Robert Fitzgerald
who were close friends of O’Connor. I find O’Connor’s nonfiction writing as
wry and funny as her short stories.

A way I have of trying to better understand how to compose writing is to study
the thoughts of accomplished writers like Flannery O’Connor. What she has to
say about her own writing I take to be extremely important. The exercise I
have set for myself is to extract from O’Connor thoughts about writing, those
that strike me as especially telling. I will follow O’Connor’s comments with
some thoughts of my own about writing nonfiction.

Photo from Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia

O’Connor says, “A short story is one of the most natural and fundamental ways
of human expression.”

“Of course, the ability to create life in words is essentially a gift…; if you
don’t have it you might as well forget it.”

“A story is a complete dramatic action… characters are shown through action
and action is controlled through characters. The result of this is meaning
that derives from the whole presented experience.”

“The first and most obvious characteristic of fiction is that it deals with
reality through what is seen, heard, smelt, tasted and touched.”

“But for the fiction writer, judgment begins in the details he sees and how he
sees them.”

“Fiction writing is seldom a matter of saying things; it is a matter of
showing things.”

I have tried to write short fiction and decided that I do not have the talent
for such writing. I do have a flare for writing about things I remember,
written in first person.

I suppose these could be converted to fiction, but I prefer to tell about my
recollections. Some say I am writing “memoir” but this sounds a little too
grand for me.

I have read tons of short fiction as a way of getting a good feel into my

Like fiction, it is important to give a lively opening sentence in nonfiction.

And, like fiction, you must give a vivid, even startling ending in nonfiction.

Details are essential for a nonfiction writer as they are for a fiction

I favor short sentences to give them punch.

There is really no difference in style or form of fiction/nonfiction writers.
The essential ingredient is that both have to be full of passion, a heartfelt
feeling that will capture a reader. In both, you have to infect the viscera of
a reader, get under his skin so that he must want to go on.

As Flannery O’Connor has said, “The only way, I think, to learn to write
stories is to write them, and try to discover what you have done.”

These comments of O’Connor’s and mine are meant to set you to a table or a
computer and for you to begin to compose. Don’t wait, go to it now.

( Mystery and Manners: occasional prose, Flannery O’Connor; selected and
edited by Sally and Robert Fitzgerald, N.Y. Farrar, Straus &Giroux, C. 1969.)  

September 3, 2010

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