Tag Archives: writing

Steering the Craft of Fiction

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

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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?

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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!

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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.”

 

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My Recommended List of the Best Writing Books I’ve Read.

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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 StructureSteven 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 Chekhovedited by Piero Brunello and Lena Leneek.

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Filed under Book Reviews, fantasy, fiction, Fiction Writing, Reading Fiction, science fiction, short stories, short story blogs

Method Writing, Jack Grapes’ Art of Creativity

Method Writing by Jack Grapes

Book Review and Commentary   March 2, 2016

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What is ‘method writing’? The term here may remind you of ‘method acting’ a technique created by Konstantin Stanislavsky (An Actor Prepares) for an actor to emotionally identify with a character that he or she plays. Jack Grapes, an actor, playwright, teacher, and author has been teaching method writing since the 1980s.  In his book Method Writing, he states that method writing is a way to find your deepest voice, and yes, it does sound like it can work effectively to empower fiction in any form from novels to poems to short stories to film scripts. I’m trying his suggestions out in my new short story. Very exciting for me so far.

Based on the idea that creativity is a process, “not a prescription for product,” Grapes says a writer needs to allow for the accident of genius in that first draft especially. Discovery has a big role to play here and getting lost is the path. Follow no maps. Fix on no destinations. Risk it and let process take you fast into that first draft.

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I am reminded of a marketing gal who said that too many writers don’t know their target audience before they begin writing a novel. She saw this as a deficit in the writing process, because of course she believes that for a novel to be marketed successfully, the book (product) must be written as pitched to the buyer/reader/genre. Grapes disagrees. He believes that writers need to ‘let go of the desire for product and commit honestly and sincerely to the creative process.’ So, no product, no target audience. There’s a bit of Zen here in the maxim that you get what you want by letting it go.

Grapes spends a lot of time on the invisible motor, Voice—the tone, the rhythms, the dynamic flow of energy. He devotes a whole chapter and more on finding that deep voice and identifying the four different voices. I liked his exercise in exploring what he calls the transformation line. Big self-discoveries here and it works a bit like therapy. This power tool feeds what is termed the image/moment concept. While I won’t describe it here, I will say the image/moment technique can crack open any writer to discover not only drama and description, but real time vs. psychological time in scenes.

Begin here: ‘voice creates character’ and ‘character creates plot.’ Every art has its method we are told, and I believe it too. You will find insights on disquieting muses, Surrealism, and giving space and taking space.  Method Writing is certainly a gem for any serious writer who desires more than the traditional path to creative writing. This is the unpath. Highly recommended.

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Visit Jack Grapes’ website.

Watch the YouTube 2-minute Video of Jack Grapes.

 

Next on my book review list is Writing Down the Bones, Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg.

 

 

wise_owl_on_booksMy Recommended List of the Best Writing Books I’ve Read.

Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury (Read Feb. 2016 book review here)

On Writing, A Memoir, Stephen King (Read Jan. 2016 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

Comments welcome!

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Filed under fiction, Fiction Writing, short stories, short story blogs

Bad Sex in Fiction Writing

05789387_SexyReading_xlargeReading is sexy, yes? Reading sexy scenes is even sexier. What are your favorite sex scenes in books? No trash, no erotica, now, I’m talking just sexy scenes between two characters (or three?) that relates to the story and flow of plot, that entertains and deepens the characterization.  While there probably is no such thing as good literary sex (hmmm, what would that be exactly?), there is bad sex in lots of books out there. And you pretty much know it when you read it.

This blog is a supernatural mystery/horror fiction site with lots of classic shorts, but many of these stories have little or no sex in them. As a writer, I am always on the lookout for good examples of sex scenes in literature, modern and classic. I’m not finding many these days.  So when I found “Bad Sex in Fiction Award,” I had to explore. Today, I’m sharing with you what Literary Review Magazine has to say about bad sex in fiction.

Because my own novel Night Sea Journey on Amazon has a couple of very mild sex scenes, and because in my current work-in-progress (Greylock) there’s several sex scenes leaning into the hot zones, I really need to see how other authors are writing their sex scenes—who is doing it well? who is doing it badly?

Here is a list of critically acclaimed authors cited for writing bad sex scenes.

From The Literary Review Magazine:

“The 22nd Bad Sex in Fiction Award for the most egregious passage of sexual description in a work of fiction will take place on Wednesday 3 December 2014. [Can’t wait!]

The purpose of the prize is to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction, and to discourage them. The prize is not intended to cover pornographic or expressly erotic literature.

The 2014 shortlist includes:

  • The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham,  Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan , Man Booker Prize winner
  • The Hormone Factory by Saskia Goldschmidt
  • Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami , Nobel Prize Winner
  • The Age of Magic by Ben Okri
  • The Affairs of Others by Amy Grace Loyd
  • Desert God by Wilbur Smith
  • Things to Make and Break by May-Lan Tan
  • The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh
  • The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle by Kirsty Wark

Last year the prize was won by Manil Suri for The City of Devi, published by Bloomsbury.

Last year’s list: http://www.theguardian.com/books/poll/2013/dec/03/bad-sex-awards-extracts-poll

For a confessional account on Bad Sex judging by Literary Review‘s senior editor Jonathan Beckman, read his piece in the Financial Times. You will also be able to read a more detailed report on this year’s shortlist in Literary Review‘s December / January double issue – subscribe now. For snippets from the shortlist, follow Literary Review‘s twitter account, @lit_review. The tweets are tagged as #BadSex.”

Read more (with a video) at Literary Review.

From Wikipedia: Winners of the Bad Sex in Fiction award include:

Here is the Guardian’s choices for Best Literary Sex Scenes: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jul/06/best-literary-sex-scenes-writers-favourites

How to Write a Sex Scene: http://www.utne.com/arts/how-to-write-a-sex-scene.aspx#axzz3K1u2SHVX

If you’ve read a sex scene that you think is quality in nature, please post the story or novel title and author. Have a Happy (and sexy) Thanksgiving!

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Filed under fiction, tales of terror

Are you a Stephen King Fan? “Revival” is his new novel.

Stephen King has a new novel out, Revival. There’s talk that this story is Lovecraftian. I’m dying to read it now.

Here’s an interview with King where he speaks about how fear of failure is still a struggle when he’s writing.

http://janefriedman.com/2014/11/11/stephen-king-still-fears-failure/

 

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Art by Oscar Oliva OA / DeviantArt

The Guardian’s Review of Revival : http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/29/stephen-king-religion-dangerous-god-exists

 

 

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On a Personal Note About My Writing

May I take a moment to give you a bit of news?

A writer’s art is mostly about balance. Balance of the elements of plot, dialogue, description, dynamics between protagonists and antagonists, even long sentences and short ones.  I wrote my first novel at age 21 about vampire bats and my second novel about a haunted windmill. Both were dreadful novels and crushing failures.  I wrote a pack of short stories and they also failed to see the publisher’s light of day. I rejected fiction writing for a while, wrote freelance feature articles  for newspapers with surprising success; then I went back to fiction writing, determined to excel in my craft: read, examine, study, write; read, examine, study, write.

Here I am (I won’t say exactly how many years later) with seven short stories published in literary journals and anthologies,  and two “quiet horror” novels selling conservatively  on the internet (The Dazzling Darkness did make the Amazon ebook best-seller list for about 24 hours–a thrilling day), and book reviews  by industry professionals and customer readers that I can be proud of.

Today, I’m happy to announce that Crickhollow Books (Crispin Imprint)  in Milwaukee, Wisconsin will be publishing the print editions of The Dazzling Darkness and Night Sea Journey.  Release dates might be as early as December.

Another piece of good news, Whistling Shade Literary Journal in St. Paul, Minnesota has just published my latest ghost story, Between the Darkness and the Dawn in their print edition (Internet edition will go live next week).

My Reading Fiction, Tales of Terror blog is nearing the 10,000 hits mark in less than a year of posts. And if you are a regular reader here, you can probably sense my dedication to (and my  joy because I love doing Tales of Terror) writing highly inviting story introductions and hunting for the most thrilling and provocative classic short stories  to post every week.

I value every single follower and visitor and especially your comments.  Thank you to all the readers who are following me, commenting here, and reading my novels and short stories. Most of all, thank you for sharing my writer’s  journey.  Which continues, as I’ve got two more short stories on the fire and a third novel drafted.

Balance … kind of like riding a bike, right? Keep on peddling.

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Night Sea Journey, A Tale of the Supernatural

The Dazzling Darkness

$2.99 for Kindle and Nook

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Filed under fiction, Night Sea Journey, quiet horror, soft horror, tales of terror, The Dazzling Darkness, Women In Horror