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Megan Voegele

ENGL 289 09A 901

Professor Hudson


Comparative Analysis of “Sweat the Small Stuff” by Stephen Delaney and “The Act

of Writing Fiction” by Felix Martinez-Bonati

Stephen Delaney offers a wonderful perspective of small nuances in writing with

his article “Sweat the Small Stuff.” He uses passages from several novels to illustrate

what authors use details for. He highlights the importance of everything from a single

strand of hair to “a pebble in one’s shoe”. Related to a different area of the novel is

Martinez-Bonati’s “The Act of Writing Fiction.” It gives a more philosophical view to

the subject, exploring the authenticity of the writer’s world. He questions the idea of the

novelist “pretending” to make assertions through his narrative. This article lies in a

formal genre categorized by its content, structure, and language whereas the Delaney

article focuses on a more casual subgroup.

Both of the articles call for a somewhat educated age bracket, but the Martinez

article requires a higher level of specification. The writing seems to be intended for

scholars, fiction theorists, professors or graduate students. He assumes that his audience

can identify with several of the major theories involving novelistic discourse and that

scholars want to apply this knowledge to the article. The readers will spend anywhere

from a half hour to an hour interpreting the work and gleaning it for information. The

audience may be reading this article to broaden their studies of fiction or use it for their
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essays or dissertations; they could use it as a citation in defense of or in opposition of

other novelistic theories, just as the author argued against several with his own support.

Martinez wants his readers to realize that statements in novels “have referents beyond

themselves, are true or false. But they are not real utterances. They are as fictitious as the

events they describe or narrate. “(427). It is expected that scholars will use the argument

of the article to embellish their own theses.

The Delaney article targets a completely different audience. While Martinez

attacks theory, Delaney reaches out to aspiring fiction writers (or gives tips to the already

established). His article exists as a sort of teaching guide that shows writers how to use

details to give depth to their work. He expects his audience to have basic working

knowledge of novels and skill in literary interpretation. Most of the people reading this

article will be college students, book club members, or authors looking to improve their

work. The article came from Writer Magazine and that seems to consist of most of the

community there. Most are casual readers that will not want to spend any more than 15

minutes reading a featured piece, and it is expected that they will use it to brush up on

their own use of detail. The magazine has articles focusing on various aspects of the

writing process, and this is just one of many. The most important thing Delaney wants

his audience to learn is that “ If we imagine a work of fiction as a house, small things

aren’t just the clapboard and trim (though they often are), but they can be structural

elements as well.” (1-2). In other words, details can be pivotal, observed out of habit, or

used to highlight some theme of a novel such as tragedy. Delaney wants aspiring writers

to use these details to their advantage.

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Just like his keen attention to details, Delaney has carefully selected passages

from stories such as ”A Rose for Emily” by Faulkner or “ The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W.

Jacobs. He uses these passages as examples for the type of details great authors should be

writing. With each new story he shows what degree the detail was in terms of its effect

for the narrative. For example, in “A Rose for Emily” the hair lets the reader know the

final outcome of the plot. Details can also be used to deceive the reader, like in Edgar

Allen Poe’s “Ligeia”: “ At length it became evident that a slight, a very feeble, and a

barely noticeable tinge of color had flushed up within the cheeks,…” (2). This causes the

reader to think that she’s alive, but the next sentences reveal that she’s truly not. These

references do an excellent job of backing up Delaney’s thesis and lend themselves as

didactic sources. Since the article was from a fiction writing magazine, it was appropriate

that he chose only fiction stories.

Martinez has to choose a different kind of source for his article—he is not

analyzing the individual mechanics of fiction but the validity of the writer’s sentences in

a narrative. Therefore he turns to several philosophers that he disagreed with, including

John Searle, Frege, and Roman Jakobson. They hold that the author makes

“semistatements; they are statements and have meaning, but are, nonetheless, neither true

nor false.” (427). Martinez argues that “they are statements, function fully as assertions,

have referents beyond themselves, are true or false. But they are not real utterances.”

Martinez rolls through several similar theories in his article and he questions each one.

The philosophers are critical in hammering along his thesis. It would have been

impossible for him to present the readers with a passage from a novel and expect them to
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trust his argument just because novels exist. He needs evidence outside of that source that

would show the true nature of the novelist.

Structurally speaking, “The Act of Writing Fiction” is simple. It is an academic

article and therefore written single spaced, indented, with no spaces between paragraphs.

It starts with an introductory paragraph and leads into a paragraph explaining a

philosophy. He gets to his thesis at around the end of the second page, and continues

batting theory against theory in each following paragraph. He concludes with a final stab

against his opposition and then follows with the notes page. The structure was designed

to show a logical progression of arguments that the audience could work from.

“Sweat the Small Stuff” definitely has a different look. It has similarities to a blog

post, with its single spaced but not indented paragraphs. There are spaces between the

paragraphs. Delaney starts off with a quote to grab his audience attention and then

expands on the many different uses of details with every following paragraph. Its simple

structure helps the audience stay focused and narrow down each area Delaney touches on.

He ends not on an argument but on a meditative statement, and then the article follows

with a blurb about the author.

Delaney’s work is somewhat informal. He uses shorter sentences, and some of his

paragraphs are only three sentences long. He definitely makes an attempt to get down to

the same level as the reader. He questions the reader directly and offers his own

emotional responses to the details he has provided. His diction isn’t as specialized, but he

does use words specific to the genre such as “Truism”, “elements”, and “narrative force.”

In contrast, Martinez has an extremely formal article. The sentences are on

average about 40 words long and separated by dozens of commas. The paragraphs can
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sometimes take up nearly half the page, and the diction is very academic. He uses

specialized words such as “novelistic discourse”, “anomalous”, “qua talis”, and

“semistatements”. He rarely uses “I” even though the essay is written in first person, and

this gives him a distinct objectivity toward his subject. It also distances him from the

reader, whom he never directly addresses.

While “The Act of Writing Fiction” dives into a more complex and compelling

argument, “Sweat the Small Stuff” is definitely easier to read. They are two prime

examples of how two articles on a common subject can be so drastically different when

they are split into separate genres. It is also interesting to note that the two articles had to

use different kinds of sources in order to validate their theses. It’s fascinating that while

Delaney’s article focuses on improving fiction as a craft, Martinez works on defending

the narrator’s validity for the sake of fiction itself. It is an excellent thing to explore a

topic beyond the genre one is used to; it results in unlikely discoveries and most of all—

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Works Cited
Delaney, Stephen. "Sweat the Small Stuff." The Writer Magazine Jan. 06. Print.

Martinez-Bonati, Felix. "The Act of Writing." New Literary History 11.3 (1980): 425-34. Print.