Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dorothea Brande's Classic Thoughts About Writing

The following quotes are from Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer (Tarcher/Putnam, 1981), a classic book on writing, first published in 1938.

There are chapters where I argue with Brande's tone, but I'm finding many of her ideas to be extremely useful. Here's a choice quote, from her chapter, titled: The Source of Originality:

"It is well to understand as early as possible in one's writing life that there is just one contribution which every one of us can make: we can give into the common pool of experience some comprehension of the world as it looks to each of us. There is one sense in which everyone is unique. No one else was born of your parents, at just that time of just that country's history; no one underwent just your experiences, reached just your conclusions, or faces the world with the exact set of ideas that you must have. If you can come to such friendly terms with yourself that you are able and willing to say precisely what you think of any given situation or character, if you can tell a story as it can appear only to you of all the people on earth, you will inevitably have a piece of work which is original." ~ Dorothea Brande

Here are two more choice quotes from the same chapter, under the sub-heading, Honesty, the Source of Originality:

"If you can discover what you like, if you can discover what you truly believe about most of the major matters of life, you will be able to write a story which is honest and original and unique." ~ Dorothea Brande

"... We all continue to grow... In order to write at all we must write on the basis of our present beliefs. If you are unwilling to write from the honest, though perhaps far from final, point of view that represents your present state, you may come to your deathbed with your contribution to the world still unmade..." ~ Dorothea Brande

And this, under the sub-heading, Trust Yourself:

"... It is not the putting of your character in the central position of a drama which has never been dreamed of before that will make your story irresistible... How your hero meets his dilemma, what you think of the impasse-- those are the things which make your story truly your own; and it is your own individual character, unmistakably showing through your work, which will lead you to success or failure. I would almost be willing to go so far as to say that here is no situation which is trite in itself; there are only dull, unimaginative, or uncommunicative authors. No dilemma in which a man can find himself will leave his fellows unmoved if it can be fully presented." ~ Dorothea Brande

I'm adding Dorothea Brande's book to my bibliography of recommended books on the craft of writing fiction.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

On Style and Fantasy: Wisdom for Every Writer

The following quotes are excerpted from the Ursula K. Le Guin's essay: From Elfland to Poughkeepsie (1973), as published in The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction (HarperCollins, c1989).

"A fantasy is a journey. It is a journey into the subconscious mind, just as psychoanalysis is. Like psychoanalysis, it can be dangerous; and it will change you." ~ Ursula K. Le Guin

"Many readers, many critics and most editors speak of style as if it were an ingredient of a book, like the sugar in a cake, or something added on to the book, like the frosting on the cake. The style, of course is the book... In saying that the style is the book, I speak from the reader's point of view. From the writer's point of view, the style is the writer. Style isn't just how you use English when you write. It isn't a mannerism or an affectation... Style is how you as a writer see and speak. It is how you see: your vision, your understanding of the world, your voice." ~ Ursula K. Le Guin

"We learn to see and speak, as children, primarily by imitation. The artist is merely the one who goes on learning after growing up. A good learner will finally learn the hardest thing: how to see one's own world, how to speak one's own words." ~ Ursula K. Le Guin

"Why is style of such fundamental significance in a fantasy?... In fantasy there is nothing but the writer's vision of the world. There is no borrowed reality of history, or current events... There is no comfortable matrix of the commonplace to substitute for the imagination, to provide ready-made emotional response... There is only a construct built in a void, where every joint and seam and nail is exposed... A world where no voice has ever spoken before; where the act of speech is the act of creation. The only voice that speaks there is the creator's voice. And every word counts." ~ Ursula K. Le Guin

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Le Guin's essay collections are a delight of original thinking, revelation, and inspiration that never go out of date. This particular collection is out of print, but it can be obtained through the library or a used book dealer.