Writing advice from Marilynne Robinson (When I Was Young I Read Books):
"There is a great difference, in fiction and in life, between knowing someone and knowing about someone. When a writer knows about his character he is writing for plot. When he knows his character he is writing to explore, to feel reality on a set of nerves somehow not quite his own.
"Words like 'sympathy,' 'empathy,' and 'compassion' are overworked and overcharged -- there is no word for the experience of seeing an embrace at a subway stop or hearing an argument at the next table at a restaurant. Every such instant has its own emotional coloration, which memory retains or heightens, and so the most sidelong unintended moment becomes a part of what we have seen of the world.
"Then, I suppose, these moments, as they have seemed to us, constellate themselves into something a little like a spirit, a little like a human presence in its mystery and its distinctiveness.
"Two questions I can't really answer about fiction are (1) where it comes from and (2) why we need it. But that we do create it and also crave it is beyond dispute.
"There is a tendency, considered highly rational, to reason from a narrow set of interests, say survival and procreation, which are supposed to govern our lives, and then to treat everything that does not fit this model as anomalous clutter, extraneous to what we are and probably best done without. But what we really know about what we are is what we do. There is a tendency to fit a tight and awkward carapace of definition over humankind, and to try to trim the living creature to fit the dead shell.
"The advice I give my students is the same advice that I give myself -- forget definition, forget assumption, watch. We inhabit, we are part of, a reality for which explanation is much too poor and small. No physicist would dispute this, though he or she might be less ready than I am to have recourse to the old language and call reality miraculous.
"By my lights, fiction that does not acknowledge this at least tacitly is not true."
More dogs (and a few cats) tomorrow.