Walter Mosley on Writing Fiction

Last week Walter Mosley’s “Elements of Fiction” appeared on my library’s new book display. Delighted, I nabbed it.

Mosley is best known for his hard-boiled Easy Rollins series that features a black Los Angeles PI. Maine crime writers will remember Mosley’s presentations at last year’s New England CrimeBake meeting. He was everything a speaker should be—funny, smart, informative, memorable.

In “Elements of Fiction” Mosley explains no less than what fiction writing is and how to write a novel.

In the preface, Mosley first tells us what his new book isn’t. “I do not believe there is a roadmap to Successville in fiction writing,” Next he draws the big picture. “Fiction is one of the few constructive human activities in which we have to potential to make something from nothing…  you take a small section of the larger world … and then crush the subject down to only those elements salient to the story … .”

[Further] “you add as little of the commonplace as possible to make a story that seems large and real and pedestrian and, hopefully, revealing. That’s what our experience of the world is. Good novels are the same.”

Reading this, I was hooked. 

More Mosley: “There are places and states of mind the novelist can discover that have never been seen, heard of, or imagined … The potential of novels to reveal what was previously unimaginable is so vast that I don’t believe any manual or reference books, road map, field guide or library could exhaust the possibilities.”

“How does one, for instance, become a predictive genius like Jules Verne? A writer who foretold the major scientific advances of the following century, an explorer who didn’t leave his writing desk to see worlds invisible, impossible to almost anyone else …  How did these writers, and so many like them, pierce the veil of convention and create works of such power and individuality that their books might be thought to have lives of their own? … In this text I will present one jigsaw piece that I have a tentative hold on.”

Readers of Maine Crime Writers, do I have your attention?? Truly, you must read “Elements of Fiction” to hold Mosley’s jigsaw piece in your hand. I will, though give you a hint.  Mosley’s first chapter is titled “The Structure of Revelation”. Here he explains that writing can transcend itself if we chose the right moment to reveal that story’s truth. That way, we might create an epiphany for our readers.

About Charlene DAvanzo

I'm a marine ecology/college professor who never, ever thought I'd write fiction. That assumption changed in an instant as I listened to another scientist - a climatologist named Ray Bradley at UMass, Amherst - describe being harassed by climate change deniers. The idea to write mysteries with climate change understories to help readers understand what's happening to our climate in the context of a fast-paced exciting story came to me out of nowhere. That's what I do in my "Maine Oceanographer Mara Tusconi" series.
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3 Responses to Walter Mosley on Writing Fiction

  1. Darcy Scott says:

    Great post, Charlene. Just ordered this. Sounds terrific.

  2. I’m hooked! Ordering a copy of my own! 🙂

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, both of you. I’m sure Mosley would appreciate it as well!

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