- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (January 9, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0802142575
- ISBN-13: 978-0802142573
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 68 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,341 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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I would recommend this book to all writers, particularly short story writers.
Mr. Butler also has a Creative writing video session in 17 videos on you tube. Very interesting to say the least, and challenges you to think and employ realism into any fiction story. Well worth the view, if you are patient.
If I enjoy eating apple, I would not want to eat an apple that taste like an orange. As simple as that.
In this book Butler assigns himself the task to teach how to write literary fiction. Unfortunately he never defines what literary fiction is, nor does he give a list of novels he considers literary fiction. He does give a well-written passage from Charles Dickens, but I don’t think Mr. Dickens himself or his readers would classify his fiction as literary. Classics, yes. Masterpieces, yes. But literary? No.
The book has two main points. First, a stream of sensory impressions must flow one into another without any analysis or interpretation; that is, the author strives to give the moment by moment sensations of the fictional character without reflection. I agree that this can be effective, but in a novel it must be done in small doses, in those places where the author needs the cinematic lens to come in for a close-up. If it is overused--as many of the student passages in the book bring home--the effect is cloyingly claustrophobic.
Second, he insists the underpinning and thrust of the work must be yearning by the protagonist. This yearning should be mostly unverbalized. Well, yes and no. I think it was John Gardner who said it best, something to the effect that ‘Fiction is the only art or science whose subject matter is emotion, both big and small.’ Yearning, as Mr. Butler uses it, is an existential emotional/spiritual desire for fulfillment. How boring it would be if every novel had as its core the longing for a sense of belonging, or of being needed, or of romantic connection, or of going home again (all of which are basically the existential longing for completion).
Mr. Butler is too restrictive in defining the impetus of a novel as being yearning. A story must have a character who strives for a goal. That goal may well be yearning for completion, or it could be to save the world from cataclysm. Does one necessarily make a literary novel and one necessarily make a pulp novel?
Mr. Butler does make many good points, but I don’t think the presentation in this book (It is an editorial adaptation of classroom lectures.) gets the balance of things right.
Among the finest of these points is his likening the subconscious to a compost heap where all our memories, emotions, and learning melt together. He makes the point that good fiction must arise organically from that compost heap, not from an intellectual plotting of the story. I couldn’t agree more. Fiction that is plotted out, scene by scene, is much like the CSI series on television. While such fiction may be mildly entertaining, it leaves a bad aftertaste and doesn’t resonate in imagination.
Butler suggests only one way to tap into the subconscious, by the willful act of sitting in your writing place for hours a day just ‘dreaming.’ Atchity’s A Writer’s Time is much more helpful in understanding the stages of creation, and the time it takes for ideas to percolate from subconscious into a tangible form.
In summary, a thought-provoking read, but as another reviewer suggested, it needs to be taken with a generous sprinkle of salt. Mr. Butler is very prescriptive (narrow?), and one chef’s palate may not please, unadjusted, all diners.
I was so intrigued with this teacher and his process that I bought his Pulitzer Prize winning short stories "A Good Scent From A Strange Mountain:Stories" and was enchanted as I watched in awe the same creative process come out of him.
I am so very thankful for the labor of love it was to record his lectures. So very grateful.