Max Sebald on Writing

January 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

At Richard Skinner’s blog, two former students of W. G. Sebald share some of the lessons learned from the late novelist, distilled into categories (Approach, Narration, Description, Detail, Reading and Intertextuality, Style, Revision). Some of my favorites:

Approach: Fiction should have a ghostlike presence in it somewhere, something omniscient. It makes it a different reality.

Narration: The present tense lends itself to comedy. The past is foregone and naturally melancholic.

Detail: It’s good to have undeclared, unrecognized pathologies and mental illnesses in your stories. The countryside is full of undeclared pathologies. Unlike in the urban setting, there, mental affliction goes unrecognized.and

Dialect makes normal words seem other, odd and jagged. For example, ‘Jeziz’ for Jesus.

Reading: Get off the main thoroughfares; you’ll see nothing there. For example, Kant’s Critique is a yawn but his incidental writings are fascinating.


I can only encourage you to steal as much as you can. No one will ever notice. You should keep a notebook of tidbits, but don’t write down the attributions, and then after a couple of years you can come back to the notebook and treat the stuff as your own without guilt.


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