Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew 1st Edition
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Accompanying Le Guin's text is a handful of clever writing exercises, each as enticing as its name. Among them are "I am García Márquez," which requires writing with no punctuation; "Chastity," which challenges one to write without adjectives or adverbs; and "A Terrible Thing to Do," which proposes taking an earlier exercise and cutting it--by half. --Jane Steinberg
From Library Journal
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
- Publisher : The Eighth Mountain Press; 1st edition (April 1, 1998)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 180 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0933377460
- ISBN-13 : 978-0933377462
- Item Weight : 10.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #559,299 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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First, you can read it as a learning tool to help develop your craft as a writer. The lessons and exercises will almost certainly help any writer who is striving to find paths to improve their ability as a story teller. Even if you are familiar with the concepts, they are presented in ways that make you think more deeply about them. And if you are not familiar with the concepts, you will find them extremely valuable and they are presented here in especially illuminating fashion.
Second, you can read it as a guide to appreciating writing. Even if you never intend to write, you will find the lessons here will help you view the stories you read in new and refreshing ways. You'll find yourself noticing things you were previously unaware of, resulting in a deeper understanding and appreciation of the things you read.
Third, you can read this as a way to cherish Ursula Le Guin. With her recent passing, use this as a way to celebrate her passion for writing. It's hard not to read these lessons without gaining admiration for Le Guin. These deep insights into the craft paint a picture of someone who loves writing and whose works should be treasured. Read this to get a peek at how she views the art of writing, then read her works and be enriched by them.
I love this book because it gives me permission to explore.
As a beginning novelist, I've been told not to use the same word twice in close proximity. Often finding a suitable synonym or alternative way of wording something is difficult, but I can do it. Usually, when I repeat a word or phrase, it's for effect--and guess what? According to Le Guin, that's okay: ". . . to state flatly that repetition is to be avoided, is to throw away one of the most valuable tools of narrative prose." She illustrates verbal and syntactic repetition, and gives me permission to use them, if I use them properly.
She discusses the "sound" of your writing, something I've always loved. The rhythm and musicality of words brought together to illustrate a mood or enhance an emotion. She illustrates the different forms of POV, from what she calls "limited third person" (I always called it "deep third") to "detached author" (what I call "distant third"), gives examples of their use, and permission to use them. She also illustrates shifting POVs within a single scene. I'm not sure I buy that, because the examples she gave aren't from contemporary works, but I can see how handy the technique would be for anyone choosing to write in distant third.
I disagree entirely with her opinion of writing in present tense, because she's basing her argument on the idea that the only reason one would write in present is for "its supposed immediacy, its 'presentness.' " In my current work in progress, I use present tense to separate a character from the rest of the cast. I have a solid reason for wanting to do so, and it has nothing to do with "presentness." But she does have a terrific and valid point:
"Present-tense narrative uses the same temporal vocabulary as past tense. We don't write, "She slaps the Velcro fasteners on her Adidas, now gets up and stretches." We write, "She slaps the Velcro fasteners on then Adidas, then gets up and stretches." Only if we were concurrently reporting a real event like a TV sports commentator, would we use now. We use then because this isn't the present, isn't actual. Fact or fiction, it's a story. Whether we're conscious of it or not, we know the difference between actuality and story, and we use the appropriate vocabulary."
The exercises in this book are challenging and are geared for both individual study and writers groups. In the addenda, Le Guin provides a glossary and an appendix of verb forms. I recommend this book for those who already know the "rules" of writing and who are ready to break a few.
As for me, I re-read this all the time. It has a lot of interesting points--such as the rhythm of your writing. The examples Le Guin uses for good writing--such as Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse" shed new light on why great writers are great. Another chapter discusses "being gorgeous" or using the flow of adjectives. She gives another exercise in on being abstemious with the use of adverbs. (Ultimately, avoiding "Tom Swifty?" No, just tightening up writing and letting the action speak for itself. A great exercise.)
At the end of the book are ideas for starting writers' groups and workshops of your own. A friend who writes (whom I gifted this book to) said he has a critical reading group. They pass around samples of each's others recent work and go over the nuts and bolts: "Why did you have the character do this?" "Why is this word here?" He says it really improves your writing, and this book could really assist such a group, if you start one.
If you like to write fiction, or want to, or just love to read great fiction, I think this is a must-read. One of my favorite books. Wish it were on Kindle.
So far, this is my favorite "how to write a book" book.