Steering the Craft, A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K. Le Guin
Book Review and Commentary May 17, 2016
Are you a storyteller? Have you been writing for a while now? Steering the Craft is a comprehensive but short guide for writers who are not beginners, but those who need direction about their narrative prose. Ready to target some of your writing weaknesses?
Filled with lots of exercises (I’m not big on writing exercises but these are better than most), this book can function as you own private writing workshop. There’s a wealth of examples of writing achievements by authors like Alice Walker, Jane Austen, Dickens, Grace Paley, Virginia Woolf.
In Chapter One, Le Guin asks you to listen to the sounds of your writing. Listen to the forward movements, pace, rhythms, the silences. How does the changing sentence rhythms express the emotions of the characters? The examples here are breathtaking.
Of course, she touches on punctuation and grammar, but more importantly she touches on the ‘fake rules.’ Yes, she recommends breaking the rules. Every grammar bully should read this book.
“Craft enables art.” Learn how to bring deeper understanding to your craft. Le Guin goes beyond the mechanics and execution and shows you how to elevate your writing. On page 46, Le Guin discusses the famous F-word. When will that word strengthen or weaken the prose? When will it trivialize or invalidate? Good advice here. If first person vs. third person, passive voice vs. active voice has you in a jumble, these chapters will set you straight. What is “pathetic fallacy”? What is the skeleton of a sentence?
Do you know the difference between story and plot? When I think of all the writing I’ve done over the past 20 years in fiction, the difference between story and plot is always a fascination and so important to understand. Is story plot? Is story action? Aristotle addressed it and so did E.M. Forster in Aspects of the Novel (1927): This is the famous example of the King and the Queen. In Chapter 9, Le Guin gives us a counterweight opinion.
Le Guin says “The story is not in the plot, but in the telling. It is the telling that moves.”
Le Guin’s Steering the Craft is a “story boat, magical, and knows its course. You, as writer, will help it find its own way to wherever it’s going.” Come aboard!
Ursula Kroeber Le Guin is an American author: novels, children’s books, and short stories. She writes science fiction and fantasy. She has won the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards.
If you are interested in learning more about Le Guin’s thinking about breaking the rules of writing, see About Writing, On Rules of Writing from her website: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/AboutWriting13-OnRulesofWriting.html [Photo credit: Copyright © by Marian Wood Kolisch].
Paris Review, The Art of Fiction, interview with Ursula Le Guin.
Famous quote: “Listening is not a reaction, it is a connection. Listening to a conversation or a story, we don’t so much respond as join in — become part of the action.”
My Recommended List of the Best Writing Books I’ve Read.
Writing Wild, Tina Welling (book review here)
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg (book review here)
Method Writing, Jack Grapes (book review here)
Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury (book review here)
On Writing, A Memoir, Stephen King (book review here)
Writing Fiction, A Guide to Narrative Craft, by Janet Burroway. All the basics of how to write: the writing process, show vs. tell, characterization, fictional atmosphere and place, story structure and plot, point of view, theme, and revision.
Story, Robert McKee
Story Trumps Structure, Steven James
The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner (I reread this book once a year, it’s that good)
Making Shapely Fiction, Jerome Stern
The Art of Character, David Corbett
Getting into Character, Brandilyn Collins
The Secret Miracle, the Novelist’s Handbook, edited by Daniel Alarcon
Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande
The Faith of a Writer, Life, Craft, Art, Joyce Carole Oates
If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland
Reading like a Writer, Francine Prose
Elements of Style, Strunk & White
Best Editing Books for Writers:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King
A Dash of Style, Noah Lukeman
The Grammar Bible, Michael Strumpf & Auriel Douglas
Line by Line, Claire Kehrwald Cook
The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein
Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Second Edition, Ernest Gowers
Chicago Manual of Style
Words Into Type, Third Edition, Skillin & Gay
Next writing book on my list to review is
How to Write Like Chekhov, edited by Piero Brunello and Lena Leneek.