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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Reading For Craft


Short Stories

“I think that finding a voice in writing has everything to do with integrity and little to do with stylistic imitation.” Maeve Binchy

As writers first trying to identify voice, and then discover our own is often a long difficult road. We often hear editors say they are looking for a fresh voice and sigh, not sure whether we fit or not. Reading through a variety of different and distinct voices helps us to clarify distinctions, which in turn can give us a roadmap to seeing our own so that we can avoid imitation.

When we read through a compilation of short stories by different authors we will find ourselves automatically drawn to some stories, ambivalent about others, and perhaps even bored by a few, regardless of the quality of writing. This is a valuable method of studying voice because now we ask ourselves some hard questions as a reader. First read a short story for sheer reading enjoyment. Then take a few moments to jot down your initial response. Let it sit for a few days and then re-read with a critical eye. What exactly affected you positively or negatively and why?

Are you bored by the subject itself or the viewpoint? What would you do differently? Is your ambivalence due to the POV character? Why? Do they remind you of someone personally or is their tone of voice off putting? What would you do to change it? Same questions re the areas you feel positive—why exactly? What changes if made in that story would cause you to dislike it?

Sometimes it is daunting to dissect a novel in order to discover just how did the author manage to do that. Reading a short story collection opens many opportunities to not only examine voice, but also character, scene, theme, language and plot under a welcoming magnifying glass.

Reading in one theme genre alone helps to narrow a study even more while also showing the wide possiblity of diverse voices on one topic. With Christmas coming it’s a perfect match for Christmas spirit and  meaningful examination.

Below are three Christmas series I have read and am reading this year. The series 12 Days of Christmas by Kathy Macias, told by twelve authors, includes historical and contemporary stories with both first and third person POV. The Pioneer Christmas Collection has several voices. And last year’s The Log Cabin Christmas  includes a variety of authors.
                  read deep, marcy

Share: What short story collection has helped you study writing?


                                          The Twelve Days of Christmas Series, Kathy Macias      

                                                     The Pioneer Christmas Collection


 The Log Cabin Christmas Collection

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Reading For Craft

Classic Corner

The Key, by James N. Frey

This timeless book is a must have for anyone who writes fantasy or science fiction. However The Key addresses core issues that impact all genres, because mythic elements are found at the very heart of all stories that have any impact on a reader.

Mythic features are often considered to be the domain of speculative fiction.  But James N. Frey considers them to be the foundation markers for all quality fiction. In The Key, he sets out the reasons, the functions, the techniques and the possibilities.

One reason Frey gives is that every great fiction story experiences a transformation of character, and mythical journeys and heroes provide universal and ongoing dramatic patterns. We, as readers, are emotionally and psychologically hotwired to respond. Using mythical motifs increase reader identification and satisfaction in the story. 

“If the modern writer is made aware of these forms and the cultural role of myth in the lives of modern man, he or she will be able to use them as a powerful tool that speaks to the reader at the deepest level of the unconscious mind.”

To demonstrate, he develops a sample myth-based story. Step by step he introduces the character types, motifs and structures giving clear definitions, and then implements them into the creative draft from idea to outline to rough scenes. And along the way he points out variations and difficulties. This is not a blueprint formula, especially for your hero.

Frey himself warns against the danger of this trap. “Nothing could be farther from the truth. The mythic hero needs to be just as three-dimensional, interesting, passionate, and dramatically driven as any other dramatic character.  You will need to put more work and care—not less—into the creation of mythologically heroic characters.”

Another important aspect he highlights is subtle perceptions that affect out attitude. He proposes a situation in which his daughter is dating a gas station worker.  If he is rude to customers, shortchanges and unreliable, then he’s a jerk. But if he’s employee of the month, courteous and attentive to customer needs, then he’s okay. Frey notices that we respect people who are good at what they do, regardless of the job. Recognizing values plays a key insight into mythic heroes in the everyday. Where Frey also adds we find the conflict—in common-day struggles.

Just as his subject stands up to the passage of time, so does Frey’s analysis of a myth-based novel in development. Definitely belongs on a writer’s classic bookshelf.

Share: Who do you think is the most complex mythic hero that you have read?

Read deep, marcy

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