by Rhonda Browning White
John Dufresne’s The Lie That Tells a Truth is broken into three separate sections; “The Process” (3-115), which addresses writing habits and the writer’s life; “The Product” (119-264), a section tackling writing craft issues such as plotting, characterization, point of view and dialogue; and “Other Matters” (267-298), which discusses the importance of critical reading and also gives dozens of grammar, style and word-use tips for writers. In addition (and this is perhaps one of the things that endears this text to me), there are at least a hundred writing exercises and prompts that apply to each specific topic Dufresne discusses. The text is also sprinkled liberally with encouraging, sometimes humorous, quotations from well-known writers.
The chapter “Getting Her Up the Tree, Getting Her Down” (120-131), addresses story beginnings and endings. Story endings are a terrible sticking point for many writers. Dufresne provides a story example in this chapter in which the surprise ending of the example would best make a story beginning, which underscores that it’s important to write freely until we reach the crux of the story, then delete all that came before. Dufresne asserts that, “Endings shouldn’t be loose, shouldn’t drift or dissolve. They have to make a statement. They can be dramatic, but more often are muted, subtle” (125). This tells us that the ending of a resounding literary piece can’t simply go with the flow of what came before it; instead, the end must be evident in the beginning of the story, without repeating what has already happened. Tricky things, these endings. Dufresne also suggests ending a story with “a compelling visual image of the central character, one that is so resonant and compelling that it stays with us when we close the book” (126). I love that idea, don’t you?
The writing exercises and prompts you’ll find throughout this text are inspiring. Utilizing these writing-problem-specific exercises will do more than simply help you fill a page with words; they will help tackle specific areas where your writing needs improvement. This book supportively and helpfully addresses so many writing problems—both craft and style issues—in one place. One inspiring, liberating place. My copy of this text is tabbed, dog-eared, underlined and annotated. It has earned an important spot on my desk, within reach. For me, it is the right guide to writing fiction at exactly the right time. I hope you’ll find it perfectly timed for your writing, as well.
Dufresne, John. The Lie That Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. Print.