Mastering the art of fine writing

Writing-craft manuals never cease to impress the Fairfield Writer’s Blog (FWB) with their penchant for coining new names for timeless elements of storytelling, and for enumerating those elements.

Consider these colorful, random vocabulary lists, compiled from three favorites: Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!, John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story and the newest addition to the FWB’s collection, Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid.

Snyder: “Break Into Two,” “Fun and Games,” “All Is Lost,” “Dead Night of the Soul,” “Break Into Three,” “Final Image.”

Truby: “First Revelation and Decision,” “Second Revelation and Decision,” “Scene Weave,” “Gate, Gauntlet, Visit to Death,” “New Equilibrium.”

Coyne: “Beginning Hook,” “Middle Build,” “Ending Payoff,” “The Best Bad Choice,” “Value Shift,” “Polarity Shift,” “Resolution.”

As for enumeration, Snyder prescribes that you follow a 15-step beat sheet. Truby’s book is subtitled 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller, and one of its chapters is “The Seven Steps of Story Structure.” Coyne’s chapters include “Genre’s Five-Leaf Clover” and “An Editor’s Six Core Questions,” and Part 5 of the book defines six “Units of Story.”

Admittedly, the FWB’s copies of these three guides abound with dog-earred pages, underlined passages and scribbled annotations in the margins. They all offer hopeful advice, at least to this still-aspiring novelist.UKLbyMarianWoodKolisch

Nevertheless, it was refreshing indeed to come across a jargon-free, common-sense blog post by renowned fantasy and science fiction author and poet Ursula K. Le Guin (right, photo Copyright © by Marian Wood Kolisch) at the website Book View Café, via a link on the U.K. newspaper The Guardian’s Books homepage. Le Guin’s post was in answer to a question from one Nancy Jane Moore: “How do you make something good?”

Not by following a step-by-step, “check-that-off-the-list” progression, Le Guin writes.

Here are some short excerpts. After reading them, the FWB strongly recommends clicking through to read Le Guin’s entire text.

“Inexperienced writers tend to seek the recipes for writing well. You buy the cookbook, you take the list of ingredients, you follow the directions, and behold! A masterpiece! The Never-Falling Soufflé!

“Wouldn’t it be nice? But alas, there are no recipes. We have no Julia Child. Successful professional writers are not withholding mysterious secrets from eager beginners. The only way anybody ever learns to write well is by trying to write well. This usually begins by reading good writing by other people, and writing very badly by yourself, for a long time. . . .

“Making anything well involves a commitment to the work. And that requires courage: you have to trust yourself. It helps to remember that the goal is not to write a masterpiece or a best-seller. The goal is to be able to look at your story and say, Yes. That’s as good as I can make it. . . .”

—Alex McNab


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