Recent Reading: Storyteller

I've been reading Kate Wilhelm's Storyteller (Small Beer Press, 2005, $16.00 tpb), a combination memoir of the 27 years she and Damon Knight were guest writers/teachers at the Clarion workshops and a guide to writing well (in a both literary and professional manner).

Overall, this is a very nice book. It's short, less than 200 pages. The memoir portions are entertaining and historically informative. The suggestions and guidelines on writing are succinct and sensible.

A few things stuck out at me:

1) One of the writing exercises she suggests is to take a completed manuscript and cover up everything on a page except a single sentence, one sentence at a time, and examine the sentence in isolation, out of context with the rest of the manuscript. Does the sentence say exactly what you wanted it to say, does it say what it needs to say?

This is, literally, a way to line-edit a story. The thought struck me that it shouldn't be too difficult (he said, with the benefit of ignorance and inexperience) to develop a short program or wordprocessing macro that could extract one sentence at a time, display it in a separate window, allow it to be revised there, and then put back into the manuscript, replacing the original sentence.

2) Wilhelm says, at different points in the book, "Think of the worst incident in your life, and use it", and quotes Alfed North Whitehead: "Art is the imposition of pattern on experience." I think those two go together well. I've tried at various points to use real experiences in my life as the basis for stories. It's very difficult (and mostly unsuccessful); sometimes (usually) that "imposition of pattern" requires major revision and simplification of those messy, complex emotions and interactions to suit the purpose of writing a properly structured story.

And sometimes you find yourself writing about your life unconsciously, in a thematic rather than specific way, and only recognize the influences after the fact. There was a story I wrote about ten years ago, where I was going over the finished manuscript, and read over one character's physical description, and how that character acted in the story, and realized with a start, "Oh crap, it's Alan Bostick!" (I sold the story anyway.)

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