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Week of 2/24/19

PUBLISHED: March 4, 2019

In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do.  

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You are safe. You are protected. Continue contributing to the efforts by living happily. I wake up. I look around and try to decide if what I think just happened really did happen. I decide it did. I had a dream. I saw my mother in a dream. It’s something new. New things never happen anymore. There are no dreams except the ones you had the morning of the Flash. I haven’t had a dream in forever. And still, I saw my mother. She was really there with me. I want to see her again. I want to feel her again. I pull out my knife. Her knife. I stare at the blade, and I tell myself it’s only this one time. It’s only this one time and then never again. Then I drag the knife through my arm. I bleed and bleed. Then I go.

Executive Editor Allison Wright
Excerpt from “Through the Flash” in Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah


Thanks to “show don’t tell,” I find writers in my workshops who think exposition is wicked. They’re afraid to describe the world they’ve invented. (I make them read the first chapter of The Return of the Native, a description of a landscape, in which absolutely nothing happens until in the last paragraph a man is seen, from far away, walking along a road. If that won’t cure them nothing will.)

This dread of writing a sentence that isn’t crammed with “gutwrenching action” leads fiction writers to rely far too much on dialogue, to restrict voice to limited third person and tense to the present. They believe the narrator’s voice (ponderously described as “omniscient”) distances the story — whereas it’s the most intimate voice of all, the one that tells you what is in the characters’ hearts, and in yours. The same fear of “distancing” leads writers to abandon the narrative past tense, which involves and includes past, present, and future, for the tight-focused, inflexible present tense. But distance lends enchantment…

As for “Write what you know,” I was regularly told this as a beginner. I think it’s a very good rule and have always obeyed it. I write about imaginary countries, alien societies on other planets, dragons, wizards, the Napa Valley in 22002. I know these things. I know them better than anybody else possibly could, so it’s my duty to testify about them. I got my knowledge of them, as I got whatever knowledge I have of the hearts and minds of human beings, through imagination working on observation. Like any other novelist. All this rule needs is a good definition of “know.”

The Brontes are a marvelous example of fictional knowledge, because they show so clearly the relative importance of imagination and experience. Patrick O’Brian is another. I don’t think he ever sailed in a three-master.

Editorial Intern Sam Nicol
Excerpt from “When to Bend, When to Break” in Los Angeles Times by Ursula K. LeGuin


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