- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (January 9, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0802142575
- ISBN-13: 978-0802142573
- Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction Reprint Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Pulitzer-winning novelist Butler (Had a Good Time, etc.) teaches a creative writing class at known as "boot camp" because of the intense creative demands he places on students. This series of lectures (edited by Burroway, a graduate of the class) deftly conveys the intensity of the class as Butler exhorts students to get out of their heads and into the world of the senses ("Artists are not intellectuals. We are sensualists...."), which he posits as the seat of the emotions. Butler's emphasis on sense memories recalls Method acting, and like Stanislavsky, Butler most highly values work with deep emotional connections and rich "organic coherence" at every level. Identify your character's yearning, he says: plot "represents the dynamics of desire." Butler has little to offer anyone hoping to write the sort of commercial fiction he regards as "non-literature." But in illuminating his approach to fiction, Butler can be equally hard on his own work, and discusses various issues by analyzing its faults—for instance, that good dialogue isn't expository, it has subtext. To illustrate his positive points, he draws on works ranging from Margaret Atwood's to the Old Testament. The book also features works by students and thoughtful class discussions of them, and closes with Butler's story "Open Arms," discussed in earlier sections. Butler shares his insights into—and passion for—the creation and experience of fiction with total openness, and seriously aspiring writers should receive this text/manifesto in the same light. Agent, Kim Witherspoon. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
There's no doubt that Pulitzer Prize winner Butler, whose many fictional works include Had a Good Time [BKL My 1 04], knows how to write literary fiction, and it comes as no surprise that his approach to teaching fiction writing is intense, given the venturesome nature of his work. Butler taped his lectures, thus preserving their dynamism, and the edited result is a remarkably candid, clarifying, and profoundly demanding how-to. Butler's credo is, "Art does not come from the mind. Art comes from the place where we dream." Consequently, he teaches wanna-be fiction writers not how to brainstorm but how to "dreamstorm," and explains why fiction must be rooted in sensual experience, how cinematic techniques create narrative flow, and how "yearning" must be the driving force in every story. Butler's electrifying theories are backed by illuminating examples and startling practices (you'll never look at index cards in the same way again). Incisive and provocative, Butler's tutorials are a must for anyone even thinking about writing fiction, and readers, too, will benefit from his passionate exhortations. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
I can see how one reviewer states that the author is better in the short story form. The author evangelizes a right-brain approach of emotional writing that contains "no abstraction, no generalization, no summary, no analysis, no interpretation." I think this approach is excellent in short fiction. But, there are additional important issues that come to play in long forms of fiction.
The book offers a detailed look at writing the "right-brained" and "emotional" way. And thus, we find the title: From Where You Dream. The author says all fiction should originate from your dreams, not from your mind. There are exercises that almost explain this process. The reader has to ponder and analyze a lot to get the full benefit of this book, which is not bad in itself. But this is greatly offset by following the link to the author's online video presentations. GREAT, GREAT, GREAT! Where else can you get a chance to listen to a noted author and watch him create a short story on the fly?
This approach is so valuable, and the philosophy and the techniques presented so workable that this book will prove valuable for all readers. To become the "master of the sensual moment" will require repeated readings of this transcription of the author's workshops. He has put some of these presentations online and points you to his website. This is quite an addition and synergy to such a book giving a transcription.
One warning: he's quite dogmatic with a logic that goes, "If you don't believe X, then you aren't an artist." But this just makes his book a little spicy.
All in all, I found the reading most enjoyable and I have returned to it many times. The downside is that you have to expend a little effort prying out the key points. But I believe the results are worthwhile. The addition of the website lectures turn this book from very good to great. The author, an instructor at Florida State University, presents his ideas convincingly and clearly. I wish all authors would include online video presentations... like the extra trailers on DVD's.
Sugar Land, TX
However, the ideas are ultimately simplistic. I would even argue that they are harmful ideas if not taken with a grain of salt. I, for one, stop trusting anyone who begins to put a limit on what writing can be. Writing is feelings not thoughts. This is literature, this is non-literature. That sort of thinking. It is another situation where an author has wrestled with himself and the establishment to find a unique voice, but who after becoming "legitimate" would like to close the door on what other voices might sound like. And it doesn't come as any surprise to me that Butler, in his picture of what good literature is composed of, manages to overlook a dimension missing from his own works (let's call it an artistic blindspot.)
I think Robert Olen Butler is a very good writer. Particularly in the short story form, he has achieved some moments of brilliance and excellence. But his short stories read like long prose poems. And when he tries to lengthen or elaborate them, they fall apart under their own weight. This is why his books or novella-length works do not operate as well. When I compare his works to those of a greater writer (say, a William Faulkner, a Joseph Conrad, a Henry Miller, a Norman Mailer--and that's no mean company I'm putting him in), I find that what is missing is the intellect (but writers "are not intellectuals"!) Yes, there's a dimension of ideas that exists in all of those authors' works that is missing in Butler's works. His argument, of course, is that that dimension doesn't exist for any purpose but to illuminate some system of emotions that is in play within the work, that a work is ultimately only for the expression of some unique emotion. It doesn't surprise me, then, that his work is exceptionally powerful in one direction, but it falls flat in a number of other ways.
His most successful work, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, benefitted greatly from its timely political setting and topic. In a sense, Butler could do what he does best, simply represent the emotional movement of characters, and the profundity of the period and the larger issue at stake helped to make up for and in some ways substitute for the lack of this other dimension.
In any case, for a new writer to take Butler's ideas in this book as gospel would be to limit him or herself greatly. An older writer could probably better benefit from the collected lectures. A pleasant enough read if you remember to hold it at arm's length and to eye it critically. No, I wouldn't say this author has found the way.