A Kite in the Wind: Fiction Writers on Their Craft

Overview


A Kite in the Wind is an anthology of essays by 20 veteran writers and master teachers. While the contributors offer specific, practical advice on such fundamental aspects of craft as characterization, character names, the first person point of view, and unreliable narrators, they also give extended, thoughtful consideration to more sophisticated topics, including “imminence,” or the power of a sense of beginning; creating and maintaining tension; “lushness”; and the deliberate...
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A Kite in the Wind: Fiction Writers on Their Craft

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Overview


A Kite in the Wind is an anthology of essays by 20 veteran writers and master teachers. While the contributors offer specific, practical advice on such fundamental aspects of craft as characterization, character names, the first person point of view, and unreliable narrators, they also give extended, thoughtful consideration to more sophisticated topics, including “imminence,” or the power of a sense of beginning; creating and maintaining tension; “lushness”; and the deliberate manipulation of information to create particular effects.

The essays in A Kite in the Wind begin as personal investigations — attempts to understand why a decision in a particular story or novel seemed unsuccessful; to define a quality or problem that seemed either unrecognized or unsatisfactorily defined; to understand what, despite years of experience as a fiction writer, resisted comprehension; and to pursue haunting, even unanswerable questions.

Unlike a how-to book, the anthology is less an instruction manual than it is an intimate visit with twenty very different writers as they explore topics that excite, intrigue, and even puzzle them. Each discussion uses specific examples and illustrations, including both canonical stories and novels and writing less frequently discussed, from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, by both American and international authors.

The contributors share their hard-earned insights for beginning and advanced writers with humility, wit, and compassion. The first section of the book focuses on narration, with particular attention paid to various kinds of narrators; the second, on strategic creation and presentation of character; the third, on some of the roles of the visual, beginning with establishing setting; and the fourth, on structural and organizational issues, from movement through time to the manipulation of information to create mystery and suspense.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781595340726
  • Publisher: Trinity University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2011
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 1,476,652
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrea Barrett
Andrea Barrett
A writer whose novels distill historical fact into historically accurate fiction, Andrea Barrett is as much renowned for her storytelling abilities as for her understanding of the history of science. In her books, the real and the fictitious intertwine, as famous scientists from history make appearances in her delightfully imagined and well-researched stories.

Biography

Andrea Barrett combines, as the critic Michiko Kakutani put it, "a naturalist's eye with a novelist's imagination." For the award-winning novelist and short-story writer, natural science, particularly nineteenth-century natural history, is a central preoccupation, and scientists and naturalists such as Linnaeus, Darwin, and Mendel frequently figure in her work. Barrett herself, however, gave up the study of science shortly after completing an undergraduate degree in biology. She entered a Ph.D. program in zoology but dropped out during the first semester.

Yet the way Barrett writes is, perhaps, her own brand of science; it involves long hours of research and the painstaking distillation of historical fact into historically accurate fiction. By her own admission, Barrett is an obsessive researcher: "Often for a story, I will do enough research to write a couple of novels, and for a novel I'll do enough research to have written an encyclopedia," she said in an interview in The Atlantic. But in the end, she adds, "fiction is about the characters, the image, the language, the poetry, the sound; it isn't about information. The information has to be distilled down to let us focus on what's really going on with the people."

Barrett didn't start writing fiction in earnest until her thirties, and she labored in comparative obscurity until 1996. Then, with four novels already behind her, she won the National Book Award for her first collection of short stories, Ship Fever. The collection explores the romantic and intellectual passions of a variety of historical and fictional characters, from an aging Linnaeus to a pair of contemporary marine biologists. In it, "science is transformed from hard and known fact into malleable, strange and thrilling fictional material," said the Boston Globe.

The book's success launched Barrett into the literary limelight, where her reputation continued to grow. Her next book, The Voyage of the Narwhal, tells the story of a doomed scientific voyage to the Arctic in 1855. The writer Thomas Mallon called it "a brilliant reversal of Heart of Darkness: the danger is not that the characters will 'go native,' but that a lust for scientific knowledge and intellectual distinction will drive them to cruelties they would have been incapable of before."

Recently, Barrett's work has begun to feature recurring characters, some of them related to one another. In another collection of stories, Servants of the Map, several characters from Ship Fever reappear, as does the ship cook from The Voyage of the Narwhal. As Barrett follows the trajectory of their lives and relationships, it is increasingly apparent how attuned she is to the emotional lives, as well as the intellectual lives, of her characters. As Barry Unsworth wrote in The New York Times Book Review, Barrett captures "that blend of precision and appropriateness that has always characterized the best prose, an attentiveness to the truth of human feeling that is in itself a supremely civilized value."

Good To Know

When she isn't writing, Barrett plays African percussion with a group of musicians in Rochester, N.Y. The group includes her husband, the biologist Barry Goldstein.
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Table of Contents

Introduction Peter Turchi Andrea Barrett ix

part 1 Narrative Distance and Narrative Voice

The Author-Narrator-Character Merge: Why Many First-Time Novelists Wind Up with Flat, Uninteresting Protagonists Frederick Reiken 3

Self-Awareness and Self-Deception: Beyond the Unreliable Narrator Sarah Stone 25

The Truthless Narrator Judy Doenges 42

First Person: Finding the Right Address Wilton Barnhardt 55

Comic and Cosmic Distance C. J. Hribal 70

part 2 Revealing Character

In the Garden: Revealing a Character at a Moment of Change Megan Staffel 89

The Space Between Stacey D'Erasmo 103

The Literature of Delusion: Approaches to Madness and Mania in Fiction Dominic Smith 119

The Absence of Their Presence: Mythic Character in Fiction Steven Schwartz 136

Emblem, Essence Robert Cohen 156

part 3 Seeing and Setting

"It's a Wooden Leg First": On the Nature of Seeing in Fiction Maud Casey 173

Matrix for Meaning: Physical Setting in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian Alexander Parsons 188

Some Reflections on the Concept of Place in Fiction Karen Brennan 207

The Heart One Knows by Heart: Operating Instructions for Operating Instructions Michael Martone 224

part 4 Pattern and Shape

Size Matters Debra Spark 237

Puzzles, Mysteries, and Other Problems; or, The Seven Bridges of Königsberg Peter Turchi 252

The Breakout Element: Unpredictability and the Novel Lan Samantha Chang 271

Lush Life Charles Baxter 289

On Suspense, Shower Murders, the Sword of Damocles, and Shooting People on the Beach Anthony Doerr 303

The About-to-Be Moment: Imminence in the Grimm Fairy Tales Kevin McIlvoy 324

Contributors 337

Credits 343

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  • Posted February 16, 2012

    Helpful advice for writers

    The contributors to A Kite in the Wind are able to discuss the complexities of writing fiction in an approachable manner, mixing their artistic styles with concrete advice for aspiring writers. The editors describe the book as follows:

    “While there are plenty of insights, and while there is no shortage of strongly urged advice, none of these essays began as an attempt to tell anyone how fiction should be written. They begin instead as personal investigations: attempts to understand why a decision in a particular story or novel seemed successful,” (Introduction).

    Each essay which comprises A Kite in the Wind explains terms with examples and rich analogies; while a background in writing certainly won’t hurt, it’s by no means necessary to get what the authors are saying. A wide range of ideas are presented throughout the essays, but they are held together by a common thread of superb analysis of fiction. I recommend this title for anyone curious about the mechanics of fiction and hungry for vivid instructional commentary.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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