We’re thrilled to welcome James Scott Bell back to WU today! James writes thrillers and books on the craft of fiction. He has been a finalist for an International Thriller Writers Award, and served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine A sampling of his books may be found here. He lives and writes in Los Angeles.
Is Your Fiction Big Enough?
I love the craft of fiction––the tools and techniques we apply to the parts or the whole of our stories. To help the books live and breathe and connect with readers.
There are techniques that apply to the things we can do, and others that help us identify things we ought to avoid. I call this latter group “speed bumps.” The reader may not notice them consciously, but in subtle ways they interrupt the fictive dream. They are often the difference between a reader thinking, “That book was pretty good” and “Wow! That blew me away!’
And then there’s a quality we can bring to our fiction that I haven’t really seen addressed before. It came to me one day when reading a story by the famous (and doomed) pulp writer Robert E. Howard.
For want of a better term, I call it the quality of bigness.
Maybe the best way to explain it is through examples.
In an unpublished story written shortly before his death, “Sword Woman,” Howard introduces Agnes, who might have become a character as popular as his most famous creation, Conan the Cimmerian.
Written in first person POV, the story begins with Agnes escaping from her father and the loveless marriage he has consigned her to. She enters a tavern, dressed in men’s clothes. There she meets the leader of a group of mercenaries, Guiscard de Clisson, and expresses a desire to join his band.
Guiscard answers, “By Saint Denis, girl, you have a proper spirit, but it takes more than a pair of breeches to make a man. … Don thy petticoats and become a proper woman once more.”
Ripping out an oath that made him start, I sprang up, knocking my bench backward so it fell with a crash. I stood before him, clenching and unclenching my hands, seething with the rage that always rose quickly in me.
“Ever the man in men!” I said between my teeth. “Let a woman know her proper place: let her milk and spin and sew and bake and bear children, nor look beyond her threshold or the command of her lord and master. Bah! I spit on you all! There is no man alive who can face me with weapons and live, and before I die, I’ll prove it to the world. Women! Cows! Slaves! Whimpering, cringing serfs, crouching to blows, revenging themselves–– among men? By God, I’ll live as I please and die as God wills, but if I’m not fit to be a man’s comrade, at least I’ll be no man’s mistress. So go ye to hell, Guiscard de Clisson, and may the devil tear your heart!”
Howard, a boxing fanatic, does not pull his punches, does he?
When a group of thieves, led by a man named Tristan, bursts into a room to kill a wounded man Agnes is protecting, Howard gives us this: [Read more…]