Posts Tagged ‘Kent Haruf’

Writing the Novel: Fiction versus Non-Fiction

Monday, December 30th, 2013

Post Dec. 28

The story of the two Kents (Haruf and Nelson) in my last post represented two ends of the cognition spectrum: stories that spring organically from experience…and stories that present themselves in a more systematic way. The common ingredient: imagination and fine writing.

Imagination is still the driving force, regardless of how we bring it to life. Because I had written non-fiction texts in leadership before turning to the novel genre, I brought along many strategies that serve me well in my former life.  Many of those strategies got in the way!! They had to be discarded, often painfully.

In non-fiction, a writer leads the reader down a primrose path to understanding, bridging and looping ideas, repeating key points, closing arguments—all in service of thorough understanding.

But what about: Surprise? Puzzlement? Tension? Not if you can help it.My first draft of a novel read like a graduate thesis.  But surely some practices served me well in fiction as well as non-fiction…what were they?

1)   The discipline of writing—writing every day.

2)   Tenacity—staying with the project until it is done.

3)   Getting the ideas and story down quickly, revising later.

4)   Not personalizing critique from self and others.

5)   Rewriting, then rewriting again.

Next…New Habits for Writing a Novel

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How to Write a Novel: a Story of Two Kents

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

Let me start by saying…that, of course, there is no formula. However I have the story of two Kents, both from Salida, Colorado, on the day that I talked with them. First, Kent Nelson (The Touching that Lasts) at lunch. Later Kent Haruf—the New York Times best-selling author of Plainsong and Benediction—at a book talk later in the day. They are both fine, poetic writers. I will tell you their approaches—then my own.

41RP4FG4FGL._AA160_ 414FMFpXfGL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU01_AA160_Kent Nelson was driving along the highway south of Flagstaff, headed for Phoenix, when he spied a formally dressed man sitting proudly in a lavish field of grass. Kent pulled over, approached the man, sat down beside him, and coaxed out his story. Thus began a book of short stories, later a novel. No outline, no themes—at least at first—just a man and his story. Once he begins, the stories flow organically, one emerging from another.

Kent Haruf, on the other hand, is a quiet, interior man of precision. He outlines his books, organizes his work and time: a linear author of non-linear stories. Each character, action, shared interaction, and conclusion is part of a plan rather than serendipity.

Are you one of the two “Kents?” Is one approach better than the other? In my next post, I’ll describe how I write a novel.





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