Friday, October 6, 2017

Writing Advice from William Faulkner

I have never thought of William Faulkner’s writing style as a good model for legal writing. The author of page-length sentences would have a tough time with short plain statements. So I was interested to read a collection of “Twenty Pieces of Writing Advice from William Faulkner” at Lithub. Though the advice focuses primarily on fiction writing, I found some that would benefit legal writers. Here is the best relevant piece. It deals with developing the story of a character:

On the best way to start a novel:

“I would say to get the character in your mind. Once he is in your mind, and he is right, and he’s true, then he does the work himself. All you need to do then is to trot along behind him and put down what he does and what he says. It’s the ingestion and then the gestation. You’ve got to know the character. You’ve got to believe in him. You’ve got to feel that he is alive, and then, of course, you will have to do a certain amount of picking and choosing among the possibilities of his action, so that his actions fit the character which you believe in. After that, the business of putting him down on paper is mechanical. Most of the the writing has got to take place up here before you ever put the pencil to the paper. But the character’s got to be true by your conception and by your experience, and that would include, as we’ve just said, what you’ve read, what you’ve imagined, what you’ve heard, all that going to giving you the gauge to measure this imaginary character by, and once he comes alive and true to you, and he’s important and moving, then it’s not too much trouble to put him down.” (from a 1958 q&a with University of Virginia graduate students)

You can read all twenty pieces of advice here.


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