If you wanna be a writer you gotta be a reader. We likely all agree on that. But what kind of reader? It’s fun when a novel totally engages us. We get lost in it. It becomes, as John Champlin Gardner described, a “vivid and continuous and dream.’ We float along on the story. Let it take us where it will, which is proof that the writing is REALLY good. There are no distractions. No over-written (or under-written) parts. It has what George Orwell called “window-pane prose.” That is, we see right through the sentences and paragraphs into the world the writer has created–vividly and believably.
So how do we achieve that kind of top rate writing? It starts with (yawn) basic fiction writing techniques. You know what they are (plot, character-building, setting, description, imagery, tone, etc). But rather than harp on these, let’s come at them “aslant”, as Emily Dickinson would say. A while ago I ran across a neat article in an old Smithsonian magazine (Jan 09) about Van Gogh the painter. The article’s author Paul Trachtman writes: