Elements Of Fiction, by Walter Mosley
What is it that makes people want to write about writing? Part of the reason why, at least to me, is because writing is one of those crafts that has a high degree of impostor syndrome about it, where people self-identify as writers and then seek to justify their identities to themselves and others. When one is engaged in a task where one’s achievements are perhaps a bit limited (although that is not the case here) or where one’s identity may be called into account, or where the legitimacy of one’s efforts are definitely less than obvious, the human tendency to justify oneself is immense and this book is certainly an example of that. The author has a particular perspective and worldview and background and this book shapes that heavily, as the author tries to justify the “truths of his heart” that contradict the objective facts of existence that he finds somewhat unpleasant or even problematic. Perhaps it is unsurprising that this is so, as it would likely be the case for anyone who is writing a book like this. But that is why there are so many efforts like this one where people subjectively, out of their own biases and perspectives, seek to advice others as a means of helping them better justify themselves.
This book is a short collection of the author’s thoughts about writing that is a bit more than 100 pages. The author begins with a preface that seeks to frame and justify this work and the author’s own perspective on writing and creativity in general. After that the author discusses an introduction where he (as is customary in this sort of effort) also plugs another book he has written. The author then discusses the structure of revelation that appears in the author’s writing (not surprising given the author’s interest in mysteries) while also wrestling with structure in fiction and the blank page. The author uses his own writings and ideas to address the questions of scope, character, and context in literature. The author spends some time looking at narrative voice and details and spends a few short essays on description. The author also deals with questions of rewriting and originality while also discussing the need to take a breather and the question of both improvising and putting things together. By and large this book feels like it was constructed out of blog entries, which is not the worst thing but is certainly far less universal and far more of a personal essay than the ponderous title would indicate.
That said, just because this book is an exercise in self-justification and that I do not necessarily find the author’s work all that edifying does not mean that this work is therefore pointless. Even where (perhaps even especially where) one’s own perspective differs greatly from that of an author, a book is worthwhile in providing the point of view of an author, even apart from anything else that the book has to offer. As someone who is not very acquainted with the author’s works, I probably did not get as much out of this effort as someone would who was more favorable to his writings. That said, even without a close familiarity with the author’s other works, it was clear that the author was drawing upon his own writing (and presumably the body of experience and reading that his writing is informed by) as a way of making general points about writing. As human beings we frequently seek to turn the particular matters we are most familiar with and then turn them into abstract and general truths that we seek to promote as being the case for areas where our experience is extremely partial and limited. If this book speaks to you, use it. If not, then know that it comes from the author’s own subjective experience and perspective and seek to find one that speaks to you more.