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'08 Authors Insider Tips


Everything About Epublishing
by Angela James
Epublishing: A Different Way
Choosing an Epublisher
Your Milage May Vary
Understand Your Contract!
Reasonable Expectations


FictionCraft
by Louisa Burton
The Publishing Biz
Critiquing: To Give and ...
Commerical vs. Literary...
Antiformalism for Fun &...
So You Want to Write a Novel
The Story Idea
Planning Your Novel...


The Write Stuff
by Ashley Lister
5 Steps to Success
Inspirational
Opening Passages
Let's Get Critical
Writer's Block
Learning Lessons


Two Girls Kissing
by Amie M. Evans
Be a Finisher ...
Listen to Your Characters
Conferences: Act Now ...
Starting an Erotic Story
Exercises & Writing Prompts
Revising & Rewriting
Copy Editing
The Manuscript Critique
How to Submit Your Work
Reading as Craft


Guest Appearances

Adventures in e-Publishing
by Lisabet Sarai

For the Love of Man
by Laura Baumbach

How to...Influence Editors
by Alison Tyler

Marketing your e-Book
by Brenna Lyons


2008 Smutters Lounge

Ashley Lister Submits
by Ashley Lister
Role Play
Busy Doing Nothing
Picture of a Fish & Chip...
What I Did With My Summer


Cooking Up A Storey
by Donna George Storey
Naughty Cookies...
Tie Me Up, Please …
The Smut-Writer’s Holiday
Never Trust the Narrator ...
Compare and Contrast
Following the Pen
Naked at the Farmers Market
Iím Easy, But Iím No Slut
Good Girl Gone Bad
Pleasures of the Dark Side
Slow, Spare and Sexy


Get All Worked Up
with J.T. Benjamin
Raising Daughters
Jamie Lynn
Utopias
Lust
The Good Old Days
Election '08
Traditional Marriage
Campaign 2008
Free Will


Pondering Porn
with Ann Regentin
Masturbating on SSRIs
Sex and Disability
Besides Ourselves
Adjusting our Contrast


Sex Is All Metaphors
by Jean Roberta
Sex Is All Metaphors
Turn-ons and Squicks
Sexual Truth
Fickle Muse
Porn, Erotica & Romance


Provocative Interviews

Between the Lines
with Ashley Lister
Alison Tyler
Ashley Lister
Debra Hyde
Donna George Storey
Jeremy Edwards
Kristina Wright
Rachel Kramer Bussel


Erotic Hot Spots
by William S. Dean
Interview with Tilly Greene
Interview with Devyn Quinn


Getting Graphic
with William S. Dean
New Times for Readers...
The Future in Words ...
Interview with Fantagraphics


On Writing Erotica

The Accidental Pornographer
by Lisabet Sarai

The End of Innocence
by Lisabet Sarai

Get Them Off in High Style
Helena Settimana

So, You Want To Write Erotica?
by Hanne Blank


Web Gems
Hot Movies For Her

FictionCraft
By Louisa Burton

Antiformalism for Fun and Profit



In a blunt and deliciously ruthless article in the August 2001 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, literary critic and professor B.R. Myers recounted comments made by Oprah Winfrey at the 1999 National Book Award ceremony. Ms. Winfrey spoke of having told Toni Morrison that she puzzled over many of her sentences—to which Ms. Morrison had purportedly replied, “That, my dear, is called reading.” Myers’s oft-quoted response: “Sorry, my dear Toni, but it’s actually called bad writing. Great prose isn’t always easy, but it’s always lucid; no one of Oprah’s intelligence ever had to wonder what Joseph Conrad was trying to say in a particular sentence.”

Myers’s article, “A Reader’s Manifesto: An attack on the growing pretentiousness of American literary prose,” sparked quite the ruckus in literary circles, with innumerable supporters and detractors weighing in, and it’s still brought up whenever the subject is addressed. Myers’s position is that for the past half-century, any piece of fiction that is accessible, briskly-paced, and written in well-structured, coherent prose is automatically not real literature. On the other hand, fiction written in a self-conscious, writerly way is fundamentally more deserving of respect than even the most beautifully written genre fiction. Myers, like an increasing number of his colleagues, considers much—not all, but a good portion—of the literary fiction being published today to be affected, syntactically dull, and numbing.

In loudly proclaiming that today’s Literary Emperor should maybe throw something on, Myers is taking up the torch from the late John Gardner, the novelist and professor of fiction who authored The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. It was in the pages of this inspiring book that I first encountered the argument against the current elitist attitude toward fiction, and learned that that attitude had a name. Gardner wrote: “Novels, short stories, and poems have for years been taught not as experiences that can delight and enliven the soul but as things that are good for us, like vitamin C. The whole idea of the close critical analysis of literary works—the idea emphasized by the ‘New Critics’…—has had the accidental side effect of leading to the notion that the chief virtue of good poetry and fiction is instructional.”

New Criticism is the most well known and influential of the formalist approaches to literature that sprang up over the last century. Formalism is a type of literary analysis that examines such formal elements of the work as theme, symbolism, metaphor, rhythm, imagery, irony, and paradox. To a formalist, the correct arrangement of these elements in a story is of paramount importance in establishing its worthiness. Furthermore, the work is viewed as a self-contained entity completely apart from its social, political, and historical context, and without concern for the reaction it inspires in its readers. The author’s intent isn’t taken into consideration, nor is the emotional resonance of the story, or lack of it.

The New Critics maintain that rigorous and detailed analysis of a work’s language—what they call close reading—can reveal levels of meaning quite apart from, and more important than, such superfluous considerations as whether the work engages the reader. They’re primarily enraptured with poetry, because of its linguistic purity, but their brand of structural analysis remains, to this day, the dominant critical approach to works of fiction and drama at the university level.
New Criticism germinated in the world of southern academia in the first half of the 20th century. The aim of its proponents—who were, for the most part, conservative and religious—was to systematize literary criticism, treating it almost as a science. It was John Crowe Ransom’s book The New Criticism, published in 1941, that provided the inspiration for this approach.

The New Critics and their ilk have a lot of rules and regulations for “correct reading,” but my vote for the most mind-boggling no-no of them all goes to the so-called “affective fallacy.” If you’re guilty of this, you’ve committed the unpardonable sin of caring about the work’s emotional impact on the reader. A piece of fiction is not to be judged by the responses it generates, but by whether its use of theme and symbolism and irony and so forth satisfy the New Critics’ formula for acceptable fiction.

According to the New Critics, the only readers who are capable of correctly analyzing a piece of fiction are those who have been educated in close reading. This attitude is obviously elitist, but it’s flawed for any number of other reasons, primary among them being the fact that there simply can’t be just one correct interpretation of a work of fiction.

Language is inherently ambiguous; that’s part of its beauty, and what makes it so much fun to play with. And, too, each new reader brings to the table his or her own unique outlook and insights. These two components, the elasticity of language and the myriad ways in which we perceive it, are what make fiction the unpredictable and exciting art form it is.

And it really is an art, not a science. Fiction is meant to be fluid and open to interpretation; it exists to engage and divert the mind and the soul. To treat it as some sort of static scientific equation strikes me as not only wrongheaded, but sad.

Sad and destructive. Formalist literary criticism and writing education became inexorably linked during the 20th century—a link that has been, in my humble opinion, detrimental to the development of new writers and the production of excellent fiction. If a writing student is taught that the best and most respected fiction—what has become known as “literary” fiction—is all about the proper manipulation of literary elements, and to hell with the reader’s reaction, what kind of story is he likely to produce? The kind which, unfortunately, has been all too prevalent over the past few decades, prompting people like B.R. Myers to say, “Enough is enough.”

And Myers is not alone. There’s a groundswell of opinion out there that the formalists who have created this artificial schism between literary and popular fiction have their priorities badly skewed, that the value of a story lies not in its structural correctness, but in how powerfully it impacts the reader. Fiction is about sharing a vision, not showing off one’s grasp of formalist dogma. The truly great writers know this, and that’s why the craft of writing should be taught by them, and not by critics—nor by writers overly influenced by critics. There are more and more people who believe, as I do, that we should teach the classic elements of fiction while encouraging a fresh approach, a distinctive voice, and a respect for the essentially interactive nature of fiction .

Those who teach writing should never lose sight of how stirring and even thrilling a great work of fiction can be. At its best, it’s magic, and you can’t create magic by arranging a set of appropriate, pre-approved elements in the proper way. You do it by learning the ancient art of storytelling from people who actually do it—and who know, as John Gardner did, that the whole point of fiction is to “delight and enliven the soul.”

Louisa Burton
April 2008


Read more of Louisa Burton's FictionCraft in our 2008 Archive.

______
"FictionCraft" © 2008 Louisa Burton. All rights reserved.


About the Author:
Louisa Burton is a multipublished author of some two dozen erotica, romance, and mystery novels for Bantam, Berkley, Signet, NAL, Harlequin, and St. Martinís. A former publishing professional who is in love with the sound of her own voice, she has also taught numerous fiction writing courses and workshops. Way too much info about her current project, the Hidden Grotto series of erotic fantasy, is available at LouisaBurton.com.



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Tasting Her
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Novels

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Gemini Heat
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In Too Deep
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Incognito
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The Wicked Sex
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Hard Hats
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Non-Fiction

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