Andrew Bourne's Reviews > From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction

From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler
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Nov 16, 2011

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Read in November, 2011

Although I find Butler's argument to be pretty mawkish in spots and a certifiable slog during the extended quoting of his own work (and especially of his students' work), he is essentially right about so many foundational things--important things that seldom get articulated. His opinions seem genuinely useful; there are shining passages that really hit home. The man is clearly right, but the whole thing, as a book that you read from cover to cover, gets awfully mired in incredibly tedious classroom doldrums. I mean, I get it. I even like it. But it could be cut by 100 pages.

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Juan (new)

Juan Almonacid so..send me an essay about it, cut it out for me, would you? jajajja. im interested but...any further advice?

message 2: by Andrew (last edited Nov 18, 2011 10:26AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Andrew Bourne Ah, Monacho, you ask for so much. How about a quick gloss? Something fairly sucinto...

Mr. Butler, although certainly an intellectual of sorts, makes his case against certain tendencies in writing that are predicated on the work of the rational intellect--namely, the processes that come from your head, like generalization, abstraction, interpretation, summary, and analysis. These things can be wonderful, but too often occlude the actual process of writing fiction or poetry, which, as Butler insists, come fundamental from the gut, or rather from the unconscious. When you approach writing with an idea, you are already doomed. The best approaches are instead epiphanic and trance-like, freeflowing and intuitive. All of the material of your life experience is composted in your unconscious. Don't wrangle it into a rigid idea, let it bleed.

So, he goes on to make comparisons with cinema, likening the movements of a camera or the tricks of editing to those of writing. And he is absolutely right. Film is so much like the dream, and so is the telling of a story, but because language is so damned utilitarian it falls into mere summarily, generalization, etc...

So when you put pen to paper, it is effective to submerge the reader into a specific, concrete, and sensual experience. Don't say: Monacho had a snack. (summary) Don't say: Monacho enjoyed his delicious snack. (analysis, interpretation) Say something more like this: His sweaty wad of plata was crinkled into a filthy tube and quite nearly gray when he placed it in the flabby palm of the teenage tienda girl. She gave back a coin, bored and yanking at her pants, then dropped a single golden bunuelo into a plastic basket. Monacho pinched at it and found that the center was raw as yolk. He ate around the crust and flirted with the innards until it was time to return to work.

message 3: by Juan (new)

Juan Almonacid thanks a lot! jaja i really enjoyed the last paragraph and my buñuelo. (i just needed to have one after reading this)

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