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Vivid and Continuous

Essays and Exercises for Writing Fiction

John McNally

Publication Year: 2013

Taking off from The Creative Writer’s Survival Guide, John McNally’srelentlessly blunt, bracingly cheerful, and immensely helpful map to being a writer, Vivid and Continuousis an equally blunt, cheerful, and helpful map to learning to be a writer. While acknowledging that many fine books cover such essentials of fiction writing as point of view, characterization, and setting, McNally sets out in this new book—intended as a supplement to beginning fiction-writing classes or as the sole text for upper-level or graduate courses—to solve the tricky second-tier problems that those books cover only in footnotes.
Vivid and Continuous takes its inspiration from John Gardner, whose essential truths in On Becoming a Novelist clarified McNally’s goal of communicating a “vivid and continuous dream” with his own writing. In fifteen concise, energizing chapters, he dispenses advice gained from almost thirty years of studying, writing, and teaching. How do you avoid the pitfalls inherent in the most common subjects for stories? How do you create memorable minor characters? What about managing references to pop culture without distracting your readers, revising a story to bring its subtext into focus, or exploring the twenty most common craft-related quirks that lessen immediacy for your readers? How do you keep from overdosing on similes and metaphors or relying on too many flashbacks to provide necessary backstory? How do you learn to listen when your story tries to talk to you? Finally, how can you resist “John McNally’s Sure-Fire Formula for Becoming Funnier in 30 Days”?
McNally cites many novels and short stories as examples that best illustrate the lessons he wants to impart, the writer’s life, or the writer’s craft, as well as his own favorite authors’ novels and short story collections. Exercises at the end of each chapter reinforce its point and serve as practical catalysts for new writings and directions.
Just blunt enough to get your attention but not blunt enough to crush you, challenging but not discouraging, personal but not ego-ridden, snarky but not mean, John McNally will prompt you to think more deeply about a variety of issues that will push you toward writing more meaningful, more accomplished work. 

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xx

Every semester in my beginning fiction writing class, after a discussion of craft, a student will ask, “Do you really think about all these things before you sit down to write?” Their fear is that attention to craft...

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pp. 1-7

What’s your process like? When do you write? Do you have a routine? Do you write in the morning or at night? Do you write every day? Do you write longhand or type? How much do you write each day? How many hours a day do you write?...

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The Ideal Reader

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pp. 8-13

I have never sat down to write a story or novel and thought, “Okay, so who’s my audience going to be?” When asked by others who my audience is, I’ll sometimes say, “Writers don’t choose their audience; their audience chooses them,” which sounds good and which, to a certain...

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Subject Matter

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pp. 14-30

In his terrific book Making Shapely Fiction, the late Jerome Stern has a section titled “A Cautionary Interlude,” in which he lists different kinds of plots that writers should avoid writing. It’s a smart list that illuminates a host of common problems, and I have read that list aloud...

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pp. 31-39

The fiction-writing courses I teach should probably be called “The Art of Manipulation” since what the student is graded on at the end of the semester is, in large part, her skill as a manipulator. It’s as simple — and as difficult — as that. There are countless aspects of craft...

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pp. 40-45

What makes a good book title? I used to think that using concrete words instead of abstract words was the ticket, and that the reader should be able to walk away with an image in her head, but now I’m not so sure. Concrete words?...

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The Narrator’s Likeability

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pp. 46-52

Think about your own experience of meeting someone for the first time: You usually have a gut response, sometimes before the person speaks. And once the person speaks, you unconsciously move forward or take a step back because you’re forming lightning fast opinions...

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Minor Characters

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pp. 53-62

The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference is the oldest writing conference in the country. Suggested by Robert Frost and founded in 1926, the conference is an institution in American letters, an eleven-day orgy of, among other things, poetry and fiction workshops and readings. The readings by both novice...

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pp. 63-98

You start reading a book, and without realizing it, you’ve blocked out everything around you: noises, the room you’re in, the people around you. It’s classic sensory deprivation, similar to what you experience during a good movie in a dark theater when your attention is fully...

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Pop Culture

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pp. 99-101

I’m a hypocrite. I warn my students against using pop culture references in their fiction, citing for them stories from the early twentieth century that are unreadable now because we don’t recognize the pop culture references in them. Even recent stories will include meaningful winks...

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pp. 102-111

I’ll admit it: my tastes are low-brow. I’m an academic only because I happen to teach at a university. At an on-campus interview several years ago, I was asked about the humor that runs through my fiction and who my influences were. While I stared blankly ahead, a few of the professors interviewing me offered...

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pp. 112-117

When I first began writing fiction, my stories’ settings were often amorphous, sometimes nonexistent, or they were rural, probably since I had spent several years living in southern Illinois, where, as an undergraduate, I had decided to become a writer. But it took years for me...

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The Imitative Fallacy

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pp. 118-126

The imitative fallacy is when a writer attempts to mirror the narrator’s state of mind through some aspect of craft (prose, structure, plot, etc.). The drunker the narrator, the less coherent the prose becomes. The “crazier” the narrator, the less lucid the story’s structure becomes...

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pp. 127-131

If I were to sit down and calculate how long it sometimes takes me to write a short story from conception to final draft, I would probably quit writing altogether. And yet I begin each project optimistically, naively thinking that I understand what the story is about, when in fact...

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pp. 132-140

I used to think that there was a logical way to write and revise a story. Why wouldn’t there be? You sit down and hammer out a story, and then you take it through several drafts. Eventually, the story comes together or it doesn’t. If it does, it’s finished. If it doesn’t, you discard it . . . or you send...

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pp. 141-148

When you think about the craft of writing, you probably don’t think about humility, but I would place humility at the top of that list. Humility is vital in order for a writer not to be myopic about her own work. What is humility? As defined by dictionary.com, humility...

Further Reading

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pp. 149-158


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pp. 159-167

E-ISBN-13: 9781609381578
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609381561

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2013


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