Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've long admired Ursula Le Guin's writing, which manages to be simultaneously literary-not-pretentious and genre-not-cliched. So as part of my project of reading books on writing craft to improve my own writing, I picked up this little volume.
I'll admit that I have a bad habit of not doing the exercises, so I didn't get as much out of it as I perhaps could have. I applaud the general approach, though, of looking at the basic elements of writing (definitely including getting grammar and punctuation correct), isolating them, and working through exercises to see what the effect is. Only by understanding our tools and the effects they produce do we become capable craftspeople.
I also appreciated the acknowledgement that plot is not the only way to get a story, and conflict is not the only way to get a plot. Here's Ms Le Guin:
"I define story as a narrative of events (external or psychological) which moves through time or implies the passage of time, and which involves change.
"I define plot as a form of story which uses action as its mode, usually in the form of conflict, and which closely and intricately connects one act to another, usually through a causal chain, ending in a climax.
"Climax is one kind of pleasure; plot is one kind of story. A strong, shapely plot is a pleasure in itself. It can be reused generation after generation. It provides an armature for narrative that beginning writers may find invaluable.
"But most serious modern fictions can't be reduced to a plot, or retold without fatal loss except in their own words."
Did I learn a great deal from this book, as an intermediate writer trying to reach the next level? No. But I'm glad I read it, because it helped me think through (again) some important ideas about writing, and I would definitely recommend it.
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