January 31, 2016

WRITING ADVICE (Part3): What Happened When I Read Ursula K. LeGuin’s Newly Revised Book, STEERING THE CRAFT: A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story (September 2015) Guy Stewart #30

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/73/Ernest_Hemingway_Writing_at_Campsite_in_Kenya_-_NARA_-_192655.jpg“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one

ever becomes a master.” Ernest Hemingway

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book -Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Since then, I figured I’ve got enough publications now that I can share some of the things I did “right” and I’m busy sharing that with you.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote above will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

“Any shift of POV…to another is a dangerous one. It’s a major change of voice…The shift will affect the whole tone and structure of your narrative…A writer must be aware of, have a reason for, and be in control of, all shifts of viewpoint character…I feel like writing the last two paragraphs all over again, but that would be rude. Can I ask you to read them over again?” (p 70)

Then I am a danger-loving daredevil in my next book, VICTORY OF FISTS.

As I pointed out before (in Part2), I flipped from first person to limited omniscient every other chapter.

Quite likely, this is what kept me from finding a home for the book until I sent it to my agent, Karen Grencik who eventually sent it to daring Canadian publisher, Lea Schizas at MuseItUp…both of them loved it enough to both represent it and publish it.

That still doesn’t diminish the fact that I wrote against the advice of one of the most respected and significant writers of speculative fiction.

As for changing the voice of the narrative…wow. I go back and forth from an intimate narrative of a young guy trying to redirect his urge to punch people in the face by writing poetry (and reading about other warrior-poets in history like King David, Sri Aurobindo, and Muhammed Ali) as well as trying to keep his ex-best-friend at bay – and you read about what’s happening INSIDE him.

Then I go back to a movie point of view where you read about what’s happening TO him.

Then I go back.

But this was the best way to write the story! There wasn’t any other way to achieve what I wanted. While LeGuin doesn’t exactly give her nod of acceptance, she DOES note that if you are going to break the rule, then do it intentionally and “be aware of, have a reason for, and be in control of, all shifts”.

Ultimately, my success or failure in trying this will be determined by the young people who read my book – and by the adults who CHOOSE books for young people to read. I’ll keep y’all posted!

Another issue that I’ve worked on harder since reading the book, “By crowding I mean keeping the story full, always full of what’s happening in it; keeping it moving, not slacking or wandering into irrelevancies; keeping it interconnected with itself, rich with echoes forward and backward. But leaping is just as important. What you leap over is what you leave out, which is infinitely more than what you leave in…Some say God is in the details, some say the Devil is in the details. Both are right…go ahead and crowd in the first draft…Then in revising consider what merely pads or repeats or slows or impedes your story and cut it. Decide what counts, what tells, then cut and recombine until what is left is what counts. Leap boldly.” (p 118)

Powerful words. Very powerful.

Before reading the book, I noticed that when I write short stories, they tend to be very close to 6000 words long. Whatever I try, I can’t seem to make them shorter. The problem with this is that it’s so close to the 7500 word limit usually assigned to short stories. Longer than that gets you into the almost un-sellable novelette (up to 17,500 words) and the practically suicidal novella which is from 17,500 up to 40,000 (which can be a middle grade novel!

With this advice though, I started to look at what I can leave out and what I can include and while I haven’t submitted any stories using this rule, I have finished two and I’m working on a third. The question now when I write is, “What do I leave in to make the story vivid enough – yet continue to move the story forward?”

If I cut too much, then the story fades from being engaging to being something someone “watches” – rather like a typical sitcom on TV. It’s not that the form CAN’T be engaging, it’s just that it’s so much work to write an engaging story that keeps not only the current plot moving forward, but also contributes to moving the story arc forward (Joss Whedon did this incredibly well in the FIREFLY series; Anne McCaffrey did this in the original Pern stories in ANALOG in the late 1960s as well).

I am working on a series of short stories set in different futures – one in which Humanity has split into a “genetically purist” line and a “genetically experimentalist” line and there are no aliens; the other in which Humanity has pulled into huge arcologies on Earth in order to let the land recover and here are aliens. I hope I’m beginning to learn this skill.

So, what have I learned in the three parts of this series? I can’t apply every single suggestion from the book, so what IS the takeaway?

1) Keep the story going somewhere.

2) Use language well.

3) Point to a higher purpose.

4) Take responsibility!

5) If you’re going to break the rule, KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING!

6) Story is events that make it seem like time passing that leads to change.

7) Plot is action, usually conflict, that connects the events logically and ends in a climax.

8) Decide what matters so that every word counts, leaping over the other stuff BOLDLY.

I will keep you informed of how I apply these eight points as I continue to grow as a writer.


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