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Writing from Deeper Within: Advanced Steps in Writing Fiction and Life Stories

Writing from Deeper Within: Advanced Steps in Writing Fiction and Life Stories

by Bernard Selling

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Works of art cause us to contemplate our human condition with unending fascination. They take us into another dimension, a dimension in which our understanding of the world we live in becomes richer, and our appreciation, even awe, of the power of a human hand to craft such a work, grows. In this way, the works of Leonardo, Ibsen, and Mozart enrich our understanding


Works of art cause us to contemplate our human condition with unending fascination. They take us into another dimension, a dimension in which our understanding of the world we live in becomes richer, and our appreciation, even awe, of the power of a human hand to craft such a work, grows. In this way, the works of Leonardo, Ibsen, and Mozart enrich our understanding of the world in which we function.

The techniques required to create works of art are neither difficult to grasp, nor difficult to use. They simply take time, thoughtfulness and a willingness to experiment (rewrite) to see which are most useful. Bernard Selling guides people through the writing process, explaining what makes writing great one step at a time.

Selling has taught writing courses for over thirty years, and the 25th Anniversary Edition of his seminal guide to life story writing, Writing from Within, will be published by Hunter House in April, 2012. Writing from Deeper Within, a special eBook-only sequel, contains Selling’s refined and expanded curriculum. The sequel includes a summary of Selling’s Writing from Within method, which teaches people to learn how to write by using the subject they know best—themselves. Then, with techniques that will help people create more complete, powerful and universal stories, Selling shows how people can expand their work into full-length plays, memoirs, screenplays, or novels.

Essentially, Selling teaches that all great stories—no matter the genre or form—have well-developed, fascinating main characters and intriguing plots. All characters need goals that they pursue--the greater the obstacles in the way of that goal, the more interesting the stories become. The difference between shorter works and longer works is that shorter works usually only have one obstacle for each goal, and longer works have smaller goals and obstacles within the main plot. The goals and obstacles push the story forward, while minor characters and well-crafted backstories contribute to the audience’s understanding of what has happened before the curtain comes up and is essential to most narratives.

To help writers, Selling provides draft samples each step of the way to show how his advice improves every piece of writing. He describes:
Story pacing techniques
Strategies for subtly adding exposition and denouement
Revealing and unraveling character
Writing stories within stories
Developing unique voices within the same story
Researching and writing family histories
Advanced steps like creating visual motifs, employing sub-text, and separating the writer from the central character
He also includes a full chapter of his students’ finished work to show the potential of his method.

All of the techniques that Selling presents are just as relevant to the non-fiction writer as to the fiction writer, and all writers, new and old, will write with more skill, understand themselves and their characters better, and be able to turn their writing into art.

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Writing from Deeper Within

Advanced Steps in Writing Fiction and Life Stories
By Bernard Selling

Hunter House

Copyright © 2012 Bernard Selling
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780897936477

From the Preface

Writing from Within, 4th edition, is all about transitions and transformations. If the 3rd edition gave the life-writer a path to follow, enabling him or her to write a good life story, this edition provides the writer a path that will lead to writing a great story, perhaps even one that rises to the level of a work of art. In Units I, II, and III, this path covers advanced steps to follow, paying special attention to the development of character in each story. Units IV, V and VI address the issue of ‘What other kinds of writing will I be able to do with my well-developed life-story-writing skills?’ Finally, Unit VII provides the reader with a number of stories that typify the unfolding advanced steps in the ‘Writing from Within’ process.

In discussing this projected book with Kiran Rana, my publisher for over twenty-five years, I heard him say, “Writing from Within did not do what the title suggested.” I was stunned. From my point of view, the book had done exactly that: teach people how to write from an inner as well as an outer place. Upon reflection, I decided that perhaps this new book ought to take that the writer’s journey farther into that ‘inner place’. After all, in the years since the 3rd edition of Writing from Within (1998) came out, more and more of my students had explored this world of the ‘inner place’.

Where should I begin, I wondered? What still needed to be explored in the writing process which I have termed ‘Writing from Within’? When the first edition of Writing from Within appeared in 1988, I had been teaching life story writing for some six years. The ten writing steps that I suggested were gleaned from my classes and from my experiences writing screenplays for short films. Those steps appear to have worked for my readers and my students, even twenty-five years later.

However, the 3rd edition of WFW, published in 1998, expanded those ten steps, providing readers with some perspective about the emotional commitment that writing requires, as well as some of its rewards and the obstacles to be overcome to achieve a cohesive, finished product. That edition was very well-received.

In the thirteen years since the publication of the 3rd edition, I have found a number of my students wanting and being able to do more than write a good story: those with talent and dedication found themselves crafting stories that one could say are works of art, often going to deeper layers of their inner lives — exploring emotions that they could bring to the surface in no other way.

What is the relationship between a work of art and exploring deeper levels of feeling? As I write these words, I realize that this is material worth exploring.

What is a work of art? Nowadays, writers exist in every corner of the earth. Ours is a world energized with a desire to put thoughts and experiences, as well as the fruits of our imaginations, in print. This is a good thing. Much of the writing may be interesting, even compelling. Characters may be vivid, narratives well-crafted and literary devices thoroughly planted. But their authors are not necessarily crafting works of art.

What mystical ingredient infuses a lesser work and molds it into a work of art may not be definable. A work of art takes us into another dimension in which our understanding of the world becomes richer and our appreciation, even awe, of the power of a human hand to craft such a work, grows. The works of Leonardo, Peter Bruegel, Picasso, Mozart, Ibsen, Strindberg and Fellini enrich our understanding of the world in which we function.

Since the last edition of my book, I have seen certain students develop the techniques that enable their work to move from ‘a good story’ with interesting characterizations to ‘works of art’ that cause us to contemplate our human condition with unending fascination. These techniques are neither difficult to grasp, nor difficult to use. To do so does take time, thoughtfulness and a willingness to experiment (rewrite) to see what works.

If asked to summarize what the book teaches, I would reply deeper layers of feeling and ‘expanding concentric circles.’ Fine writing often provides the reader with interesting, quirky, well-drawn characters around which the reader will find a circle containing a spicy array of obstacles, minor characters, well crafted back stories suffused in a taut narrative. The many MFA in Writing programs around the country have done their jobs well.

Rising to the level of art are those works that contain a larger concentric circle—of concerns, characters and obstacles that cause the major characters to do more than solve problems; they must reevaluate the world in which they live while at the same time coming to understand their inner lives, asking and answering fundamental human questions: What is real? What is illusion? What is the nature of man? Is he at heart good…or evil? How do we go about stripping away outer layers of who were/are (and who we appear to be) to get to the deeper layers of who we are?

The reader is also encouraged to explore the ways in which another group of creative people, filmmakers, answers such questions, a discussion that takes place in The Art of Seeing: Motion Pictures as an Art Form and as a Business, another of my books.

In Unit I of this new book, we review the basic techniques of Writing from Within, amplifying some of those techniques as we acquire more skill. In Unit II, we look at ways in which these techniques can be used to gain greater emotional intimacy with and deeper understanding of the characters we create. In Unit III, we lay out the techniques that will lead any user to create a more complete, powerful and universal story, to be used in addition to the techniques in Unit I. Unit IV gives the reader an opportunity to see how these techniques can be used to move from the sketch (short story or life story) into a full-length novel, screenplay or play. Units V and VI give the reader a picture of other uses of the techniques of life story writing to understand ourselves and to provide a richer experience of writing in school systems across the country. In Unit VII, the reader will find a number of stories by skilled writers who use these techniques in ways that we might very term works of art.

From Chapter 12: From Life Story to Novel

Most of us find the prospect of writing a lengthy work of fiction such as a novel or a screenplay quite daunting. I know I did when I began writing many years ago. In fact, throughout my years as a filmmaker, I found it almost impossible to tackle a project longer than a few pages. My uncertainties and insecurities got the better of me.

Eventually, I began to see that it could be done, and I advised some of my students to take their short life stories into the realm of fiction. All you need, I found out is a good character.

If such a character can maintain interest and can overcome substantial obstacles in a short story, then that character can do the same in a longer work of fiction. “Give the character more substantial obstacles and see what happens,” I said to my students.

Here is one such character, created by Dirk Tousley, a student of mine for a number of years. Dirk had been something of a rebel as a youth. He went to college on a hope and a dime, keeping himself flush with cash thanks to his local pool hall skills. His first story looked like this:

This doodling is an UNFINISHED TREATMENT of a short story or maybe a film I couldn’t seem to get a hook on several years ago, but the character undoubtedly morphed into Tack in DANGLING IN THE ADIOS. The story is autobiographical only in my dreams.

By J.D. Tousley,

My life as a young pool hustler was about as sweet as life gets. In those days, long before MasterCard, when you could sit down at a nice clean lunch counter and get a bowl of steaming chili for a quarter, a slab of apple pie juicier than mom made for a dime, and a steaming cup of coffee with free refills for a nickel, I usually carried at least two hundred bucks in my right front pocket and a couple of fifties hidden in my wallet. So I was doing all right.

I'm telling you, business life couldn't have been sweeter, played out day by day on a rectangle of green felt four and one half feet wide by nine feet long. And I knew every inch of it.

I was strictly my own man, too. No alarm clock kicking me out of bed at six in the morning. No cranky boss to kiss the ass of. No measly paycheck creating resentment. Instead, I played pool for a living and usually came out ahead. Usually, but not always.

That's when my plucky little blonde girlfriend would rise to the occasion. Sugar loved me dearly and I loved her, loved to hold her in my arms, squeeze her and feel her quiver in a giggle. Most of the time she had some kind of job, maybe waiting tables, maybe clerking at a drug store, maybe pounding a typewriter in some small office, but always showing up Friday nights with a few tens and maybe a twenty hiding out in a little brown pay envelope. Yet as scant as her pay might be, Sugar was always willing to share if need be. It seems what you may have heard about pool hustlers was occasionally true even of me: Chicken one day, feathers the next. But I loved that little gal and on those rare occasions when I tapped her for a loan, I always paid her back in a day or two, you can be sure.

The opening of this first draft is reminiscent of Dirk’s earliest stories of his life as a pool hustler while he was in college. Notice that his first draft is all narrative. Interesting narrative to be sure, but narrative all the same.
Eventually, his life experience as a pool hustler morphed into a novel of a young man’s experiences:

Dangling in the Adios
Chapter One

I’ve had it with stuck-up sorority girls. They act like they’re too grand…(that) they own you lock, stock, and barrel. Take Carolyn Forsythe for instance.... After we first met, I rolled around with her in the backseat of my convertible every night for two weeks…. But I’m paying for it with my freedom. Whenever Carolyn crooks her finger I’m supposed to roll over and bark. You’d think she owned me. Now she’s ragging me to quit playing nine ball so we can study together. Hell, I don’t need study. That’s what brains are for. And I’m not about to give up nine ball. Pool is my life, and besides, it brings in about thirty bucks a week.

How different with Cricket, my appreciative little drugstore clerk…. she spends a lot of time in the crook of my arm, looking up at me attentively and asking questions I can answer.

I met Cricket a couple of weeks ago. She clerks at the drugstore around the corner from campus. One day I went in to buy a comb. Five minutes later I had a new comb and a new girlfriend. Mostly I take her to drive-in movies and an out-of-the-way beer joint called Snookums in south Kansas City where I won’t run into anyone Carolyn knows. Carolyn has gone home to St. Louis for a few weeks during summer break, which gives Cricket and me time to get acquainted...


Excerpted from Writing from Deeper Within by Bernard Selling Copyright © 2012 by Bernard Selling. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Educated at the University of Michigan with an MA in English literature and art history, Bernard Selling taught English and humanities at the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. After returning to civilian life, he received an MA in film and theater from UCLA, then made short films for the following decade during which he also studied acting, directing, and writing with Lee Strasberg and Jack Garfein. He has produced films from stories by major American writers and produced and directed several documentaries.
A creative writing teacher by profession, Selling’s first book, Writing from Within: A Unique Guide to Writing Your Life Stories, was published by Hunter House in 1988 and has sold over 65,000 copies and is now in its third edition. He is also the author of In Your Own Voice, a students' guide to developing writing techniques and skills. Subsequent books include Character Consciousness, The Art of Seeing, as well as two novels of intrigue set in the Italian Renaissance, The Duke’s Musician and Predators.
Bernard Selling has taught "Writing From Within" workshops to teachers, writers, older adults, adults in recovery and those seeking greater self-awareness. He has also taught composition and literature at Loyola Marymount University, West Los Angeles College, and UCLA Extension. He lectures in the United States and Europe, and has taught his writing techniques to teachers along the Eastern Seaboard from New Hampshire and New York to Florida, Louisiana and Texas. He has also worked with a German Educational Foundation: the Eckenroth Foundation which nurtures young German writing talent. Selling lives in Topanga Canyon, CA.

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