January 10, 2016

WRITING ADVICE (Part2): 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 #29

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!

Addendum: Compared to Ursula K. LeGuin, most speculative writer’s work fall short of literary merit. But LeGuin won The annual 2004 Edwards Award, the panel noting that: “LeGuin ‘has inspired four generations of young adults to read beautifully constructed language, visit fantasy worlds that inform them about their own lives, and think about their ideas that are neither easy nor inconsequential’” (Wikipedia)

(The following is how I started the last Writing Advice Entry – but it’s necessary to set the stage for my observations beginning in paragraph four…)

I started reading this book (the 2015 edition), which was originally published in 1998, a few days ago. I have found it slow going – not because it’s badly written, but because every sentence invites me to pause and reflect.

Before her, only two other writers – and I mean no offense here – have inspired me to consider their non-fiction works with the same kind of attention. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and C.S. Lewis have given me such pause that it seemed to take forever to read THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP and MERE CHRISTIANITY because I was marking, underlining, or commenting on two or three things on every page.

I mean no offense because I am well-aware of LeGuin’s opinion of religion, and of Christianity in particular, but my writing is almost as important to me as my faith – and LeGuin has forced me to think about my writing in a way I have never done before.

And so, to work: “I see the biggest difference between past and present tenses not as immediacy but as complexity and size of field…the difference between a narrow beam flashlight and sunlight. One shows a small, intense, brightly lit field with nothing around it. The other shows the world.” (p 52); “So make sure, if you change tenses in midstory, that you know that you’re doing it, and why. And if you do it, make sure you carry your readers effortlessly with you, and don’t maroon them like the hapless crew of the Enterprise, in a Temporal Anomaly that they can only get out of only by using Warp Speed Ten.” (p 56)

I have a book coming out this year in which I did this deliberately: I flipped from past and present tenses EVERY CHAPTER…I very likely made it almost impossible to find a publisher for the book, but I honestly couldn’t see any other way to make the point I wanted to make.

In VICTORY OF FISTS (you can read the first two chapters in first-draft form here: http://theworkandworksheetsofguystewart.blogspot.com/), Langston Hughes Jones has a big problem with fighting. He’s been defending himself  by punching people’s lights out since kindergarten. He’s smart too, and knows that he had to find some way to deal with that anger or he’d destroy his future.

So he writes poetry. Lots of it. All the time. He writes it after he has to deal with things that make him mad and he writes to deflect that anger.

I wanted to show (among other things) that we don’t have to choose self-destructive behavior. STUDENTS don’t have to choose self-destructive behavior. They can choose to deal with the world in ways that will move them closer to their goals and their dreams.

I wanted Langston to achieve his dreams; but I wanted more than that. I wanted the reader to SEE him working out his future. They needed to see him get mad repeatedly and then work through the anger.

The only way to do that was to show the incident and then show his thought processes. So, I used third person, past tense when I was describing what happened and first person – past tense (I hate writing in present tense. For some reason it makes me, pardon the pun, “tense”) when he wrote poetry. He makes notes, talks to the reader/himself, and then finds a format of poetry that fits what he wants to say. He does one in the style of Seuss, one in the style of Shel Silverstein, another in Shakespearean sonnet form, still another like the poems of Walt Whitman. It was hard to communicate his thought processes any other way but by getting into his head.

That created another problem. How could I make poetry violent? How could I make a teenager writing poetry exciting?

LeGuin clearly defined what I needed to do: “I define story as a narrative of events (external or psychological) that moves through time or implies the passage of time and that involves change. I define plot as a form of story that uses action as its mode, usually in the form of conflict, and that closely  and intricately connects one act to another, usually through a causal chain, ending in a climax.” (p 122) So I had to make writing poetry active.

*sigh* It was hard, but I think I accomplished what I set out to do: make a cross between FIGHT CLUB and CRANK…
What did I learn? Obviously NOTHING! Ms. LeGuin would probably hate me for what I did in VICTORY OF FISTS…

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