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Isabel Allende Discovery

January 8, 2010

Thanks to today’s edition of The Writer’s Almanac, which profiled writer Isabel Allende (whom I have never read), I found this question and answer on her website:

Q: Could you elaborate on the idea of writing fiction, of telling a truth, of telling lies, of uncovering some kind of reality, and of how these ideas might work together or against each other?

A: The first lie of fiction is that the author gives some order to the chaos of life: chronological order, or whatever order the author chooses. As a writer, you select some part of a whole; you decide that those things are important and the rest is not. And you will write about those things from your perspective. Life is not that way. Everything happens simultaneously, in a chaotic way, and you don’t make choices. You are not the boss; life is the boss. So when you accept as a writer that fiction is lying, then you become free; you can do anything. Then you start walking in circles. The larger the circle, the more truth you can get. The wider the horizon, the more you walk, the more you linger in everything, the better chance you have of finding particles of truth.

Later on she writes this:
I try to write the first sentence in a state of trance, as if somebody else was writing it through me. That first sentence usually determines the whole book. It’s a door that opens into an unknown territory that I have to explore with my characters. And slowly as I write, the story seems to unfold itself, in spite of me. It just happens. I’m not the kind of writer who can have an outline, talk about the writing to anybody, or read parts of my writing in process. Until the first draft is ready – and that first draft can take months, and it’s usually, very long – I don’t know what the book is about. I just sit down everyday and pour out the story. When I think it’s finished, I print it, and I read it for the first time. At that point I know what the story is about, and I start eliminating everything that has nothing to do with it.

The long Q/A section on her site (created to answer FAQs from students and journalists) is well done and is full of exactly the kind of stuff I love to discover and then try to keep in mind as I write my own stuff.

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