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The following is an excerpt from Part III of the book Making Shapely Fiction, by Jerome Stern. The first two parts are very much worth reading as well. The book is available in paperback.



Tour de Force

A show of skill. Paganini wrote such difficult pieces for the violin that only he could play them. Dali painted details so minute that only magnifying glasses can reveal them.

Some writers are like literary pyrotechnicians, shooting off stories in deliberately difficult ways and set themselves problems that require ingenious solutions. Nabokov, Pynchon, Kundera, and Borges are all on the high wire. Instead of seeming artificially difficult, these writers express an intellectual and emotional urgency so powerful that it bursts the bonds of convention. What they do seems right, appropriate, inevitable. They are so dazzling that other writers are often enticed to emulate them. But lesser writers who are hypnotized by technical ingenuity sometimes don't realize they have forfeited the warmth, the humanity, and the urgency that makes fiction live. If your readers don't care what happens next, it doesn't make any difference how smart you are.

See Documents / Diaries / Letters, Fa├žade, Metafiction, Style.

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