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Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew

Guin, Ursula K. Le

Eighth Mountain Press
Published:April 1, 1998

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Ursula K. Le Guin's extraordinary writing primer is full of charm, wit, and opinion. Le Guin likens writing to "steering a craft," and as one reads through this volume, one has the sense of floating down a river, with the waves of Le Guin's words lapping at one's craft. Le Guin veers sharply from the mainstream of contemporary writing manuals by challenging their very definition of story. While it is common to "conflate story with conflict," Le Guin writes, she finds that limiting. "Story is change," she says. While that change may be the result of conflict, it is just as likely to evolve from "relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, [or] parting." Le Guin demonstrates this complexity with well-hewn excerpts from the works of such writers as Jane Austen, Mark Twain, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charlotte Brontë, and especially Virginia Woolf. The many aspects of fine fiction writing Le Guin addresses here include the role of the narrative sentence (its "chief duty [is] to lead to the next sentence--to keep the story going"); avoiding exposition doldrums ("break up the information, grind it fine, and make it into bricks to build the story with"); and the concept of "crowding and leaping." While prose should be "crowded with sensations, meanings, and implications," don't forget that "what you leave out is infinitely more than what you leave in."

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
Le Guin (The Left Hand of Darkness, Walker, 1994), the author of more than 30 novels, short stories, poetry, children's books, and essays, demonstrates here why she is a master of her craft. The title refers to a workshop she gave at the Flight of the Mind in 1966; collected here are the discussion topics and exercises for self-guided study. Although she focuses on the technical aspects of writing, Le Guin's skill pushes this beyond a handbook or style manual. Through "opinion pieces" about specific concerns, through her eclectic selections of writing to illustrate various techniques and the progression of exercises crafted to give experience to the novice and to flex the muscles of more seasoned writers, Le Guin's style is warm and encouraging, yet her standards of what turns writing into art are clearly defined and never compromised. A separate section covers collaborative workshops and "peer review" groups, offering sound suggestions for making the time spent both productive and challenging. Highly recommended.?Denise S. Sticha, Seton Hill Coll. Lib., Greensburg, PA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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