Writer’s Desk: Shape Matters

A Lesson Before Dying Book Cover - typographic layout with author name and book title with small image of an African American man standing beneath a wooden structure

In 2010, Ernest J. Gaines—the late author of A Lesson Before Dying and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman—talked about how part of his fiction grew out of listening to the stories of the people he grew up around in Jim Crow-era Louisiana.

But, he emphasized, writing is not just about having good material:

Content is probably only 40 percent of it, no more than 50 percent, as far as I’m concerned … If a book doesn’t have form, then damn, it ain’t no novel. We can go down the block right now and find a guy on the next corner who’ll tell the biggest and truest story you can ever hear. Now, putting that story down on paper so that a million people can read and feel and hear it like you on that street corner, that’s going to take form. That’s writing…