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review 2018-07-24 06:50
Profound insights on writing presented with grace, charm and wit.
Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story - Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin describes Steering the Craft, A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, as “A handbook for storytellers - writers of narrative prose and not for beginners.”

 

Indeed, it is not a book for beginners as much of what she addresses would be beyond the comprehension of novices. What it does concentrate on are those problems that challenge writers and impede the tone an flow of the narrative.

 

For example, she asks you to listen to the sound of your writing which involves diction and syntax.

 

Sophisticated consideration is given to verbs: person and tense, as well as point of view and changing point of view.

 

Indirection narration or what tells including avoiding expository lumps is discussed in depth.

 

There’s an excellent chapter entitled Crowding and Leaping which involves the necessity of focusing on some areas while leaping ahead in other parts while still following a fixed trajectory.

 

Steering the Craft is primarily a workbook with “exercise consciousness-raisers that aim to clarify and intensify your awareness of certain elements of prose writing and certain techniques and modes of storytelling."

 

These exercises are challenging but illuminating. I particularly benefitted from one called A Terrible Thing to Do that involved writing a narrative of about 500 words and then cutting it by half still keeping the narrative clear and not replacing specifics by generalities.

 

The book also includes the best advice I’ve read on running peer group writing workshops.

 

This slim volume has profound insights on writing and presents them with grace, charm an wit. The goal, according to the author, is to help you develop skills that free you to write want you to write.

 

Or as Le Guin puts it so that you’re “ready to let the story tell itself; having the skills, knowing the craft so that when the magic boat comes by, you can step into it and guide it where it wants to go, where it ought to go.”

 

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url 2018-07-03 12:30
Should You Read While You Write?

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text 2018-04-01 00:35
Just some highlights - I'll add to this post as I go along.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft - Stephen King

I read this book a year or two ago, and I really don't understand why it wasn't showing up on my BL list. But it wasn't, and now it is.

 

There are a lot of funny personal moments, but the insights on writing are important -- for writers and for readers.  I think we have a problem with bad writing these days, but maybe it's because we don't have enough good readers.

 

So here's this:

 

Gould [King's editor at the local newspaper] said something else that was interesting on the day I turned in my first two pieces: write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right—as right as you can, anyway—it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it. If you’re very lucky (this is my idea, not John Gould’s, but I believe he would have subscribed to the notion), more will want to do the former than the latter.

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft (pp. 57-58). Scribner. Kindle Edition.  (My emphasis.)

The most important is that the writer’s original perception of a character or characters may be as erroneous as the reader’s. Running a close second was the realization that stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft (pp. 77-78). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

 

This next one I would put right up close to Josh Olson's as a rebuke to those who think they can get away with . . . anything.  Writing is hard, in the sense that it requires a commitment not just to doing it but to doing it well.

You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair—the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.

Wash the car, maybe



King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft (p. 106-107). Scribner. Kindle Edition.  (Emphasis King's.)

 

King isn't perfect, and if he took the following information from The Elements of Style, then Strunk got it wrong, too.

 

Verbs come in two types, active and passive. With an active verb, the subject of the sentence is doing something. With a passive verb, something is being done to the subject of the sentence. The subject is just letting it happen. You should avoid the passive tense. I’m not the only one who says so; you can find the same advice in The Elements of Style.

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft (p. 122). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

 

Active and passive are not tenses; they are voices.  Tenses are things like present, past, future perfect, conditional present progressive.

 

Active voice:  I caught the ball.

Passive voice: The ball was caught by me.

 

Active voice: The managing editor runs the paper.

Passive voice: The paper is run by the managing editor.

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text 2018-04-01 00:23
I don't know why this wasn't on my BL shelves
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft - Stephen King

Stephen King highly recommends Strunk & White's Elements of Style.  I abhor it.

 

Except for that, this is pretty much the single best book on writing style I can recommend.

 

Chris Vogler's The Writer's Journey remains hands-down the best for story-telling.

 

I'll get to a review later.

 

 

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review 2018-01-31 06:41
An autobiography long on author's accomplishments, short on practical applications

 

The Way of the Writer, Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling is filled with the accomplishments of Charles Johnson, his philosophy in regards to writing and the benefits of academia. Somewhere among this rather high-minded autobiography (because that's basically what it is) are some insights about actual writing (that would be literary fiction with a capital L since Johnson considers anything else "pork" or industrial writing and not worth the effort).

 

Much of his philosophy is similar to John Gardner's who was his teacher and mentor. Indeed, one might be better off reading Gardner's On Moral Fiction as well as The Art of Fiction for more specifics on these two areas unless you're want to know more about Johnson's career highlights beginning in grade school.

 

I did find it interesting that he places more emphasis on plot than character development which could be considered a contradiction since one definition of literary fiction is that it's character driven. That's it you ask? Perhaps it's his lifetime as an academic, with thirty of those years as a teacher, that gives him, in my opinion, a rather limited point of view.

 

Though I'm now inclined to read at least one of his novels - to see if it is actually as good as he thinks it is.

 

 

 

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