John C. Wright on writing fiction

John C. Wright has recently reposted an excellent introductory essay on the mechanics of fiction-writing. In his survey of the subject, he blows the gaff on one of our more undeservedly disreputable techniques:

This, by the way, is why writers use stereotypes. Far from being the evil thing all the rest of the world regards them as being, writers cannot write without stereotypes of people, places and things, and this is because our entire art consists of creating the illusion of a complete picture or a complete world out of a splinter or fragment of description, with the reader’s imagination filling in the majority of the details. One cannot do this without knowing what pictures the reader is likely to have in his imagination beforehand.

What the writer wants not to do is to be asked by the writer to use the stereotype in his head in a tired, trite, shopworn, or expected way, because then the reader notices, and is rightly put off, by the trick being pulled on him.

Incidentally, I still want to see someone write Old Men Shall Dream Dreams. Go and read, if only to appreciate the opening scene he offers as an example for dissection.

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