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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Adding the 'vitality'

“I think almost always that what gets me going with a story is the atmosphere, the visual imagery, and then I people it with characters, not the other way around.” – Ann Beattie

An American short story writer and novelist born on this day, Beattie is noted for her dry, matter-of-fact irony – particularly in writing about the members of our Baby Boom generation (she and I were born in the same year).  Her keen style, especially reflected in Distortions, her first book of short stories, won her several awards for excellence in writing, including from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Her first novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter, was also made into a film. “I don't write about things that I have the answers to or things that are very close to home. It just wouldn't be an adventure. It wouldn't have any vitality,” she said about her particular style.

The Edgar Allan Poe Chair of the English and Creative Writing Department at the University of Virginia, she is married to the Virginia painter Lincoln Perry, and has also collaborated with him on a book about his works.

Beattie has this advice for writers who are trying to determine who should be their story’s narrator.  “Quite often my narrator or protagonist may be a man, but I'm not sure he's the more interesting character, or if the more complex character isn't the woman.  You have to figure out who the right person is.   People who are very self-aware will only sound as if they are pontificating if you choose them to tell your story.”  So how does the voice of your character sound?  Believe it or not, you, as the writer, have the ability to listen before you put those words into his or her mouth.   Listen carefully and happy writing.

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