Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Sailing the Sea of Story ~~~ Ursula K. Le Guin


I am a writer; but, I’ve rarely read books about “how” to write.

I’m from the school of read omnivorously, absorb grammar and syntax usage, rub up against all kinds of storytelling; then, write my own…

However, I did recently read Ursula K. Le Guin‘s,  Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story.

The book has Exercises (from workshops she did); Examples, from accomplished authors; and, Further Reading recommendations; but, of course, most of the book is Ursula talking to you about writing.

The best I can do to honor her book on this blog is to share a few choice excerpts and hope writers will read it; and, that readers will tell their writer friends about it.

First is her explanation of why Plot is not the same as Story:

“I define story as a narrative of events (external or psychological) that moves through time or implies the passage of time and that involves change. I define plot as a form of story that uses action as its mode, usually in the form of conflict, and that closely and intricately connects one act to another, usually through a causal chain, ending in a climax. Climax is one kind of pleasure; plot is one kind of story. A strong, shapely plot is a pleasure in itself. It can be reused generation after generation. It provides an armature for narrative that beginning writers may find invaluable. But most serious modern fictions can’t be reduced to a plot or retold without fatal loss except in their own words.

“The story is not in the plot but in the telling. It is the telling that moves.”

The next excerpt might be more fully understood if you first read my past post, How The Words Get On The Screen/Page

“Some people see art as a matter of control. I see it mostly as a matter of self-control. It’s like this: in me there’s a story that wants to be told. It is my end; I am its means. If I can keep myself, my ego, my wishes and opinions, my mental junk, out of the way and find the focus of the story, and follow the movement of the story, the story will tell itself. Everything I’ve talked about in this book has to do with being ready to let a story tell itself: having the skills, knowing the craft, so that when the magic boat comes by, you can step into it and guide it where it wants to go, where it ought to go.”

One final excerpt:

“There are a limited number of plots (some say seven, some say twelve, some say thirty). There is no limit to the number of stories. Everybody in the world has their story; every meeting of one person with another may begin a story.

“I say this in an attempt to unhook people from the idea that they have to make an elaborate plan of a tight plot before they’re allowed to write a story. If that’s the way you like to write, write that way, of course. But if it isn’t, if you aren’t a planner or a plotter, don’t worry. The world’s full of stories . .  . All you need may be a character or two, or a conversation, or a situation, or a place, and you’ll find the story there. You think about it, you work it out at least partly before you start writing, so that you know in a general way where you’re going, but the rest works itself out in the telling. I like my image of ‘steering the craft’, but in fact the story boat is a magic one. It knows its course. The job of the person at the helm is to help it find its own way to wherever it’s going.”

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9 responses to “Sailing the Sea of Story ~~~ Ursula K. Le Guin

  1. philipparees May 31, 2017 at 11:00 am

    Interesting.Much my own view as is clear from this opening to my latest story. Since Ursula Le Guin is a kind of hero(ine) for me it is a nice synchrony!
    (After a first glimpse of my protagonist)
    I think we are going to have to accept that this unpromising aging solitary might be the principal of this story. I could have turned this story down but I have this unshakable sense that a story already exists, long before it manifests. It finds the teller who will tell it, it finds the people to inhabit it and then it stands tall and says ‘I’m ready.’ It takes as long as it takes, and concludes when it has had enough. Since it picked on me I owe it a little curiosity, don’t you think? So I am just its agent, no wiser than you are, and I have no idea why it collared me and frog marched me here. I don’t even know Vermont, except by reputation as a place where Europe trimmed the sails of enterprise and insists upon restraint and good manners. ‘Just follow the spoor’ the commission said.

    Like

    • Alexander M Zoltai May 31, 2017 at 11:05 am

      Marvelous, Philippa! And, very nice having your words here again :-)

      Like

      • Alexander M Zoltai May 31, 2017 at 11:08 am

        Hey, Folks! Go visit the amazing woman who left a cool comment up there

        Like

        • philipparees May 31, 2017 at 11:18 am

          Thanks Alexander. If I have been conspicuously absent it is because I have been largely absent to myself recently! Writing the story mentioned above somewhat restored belief in writing as the only thing that means anything but still have little faith in finding any readers for my kind of work. I think this story you might like. If so would like your opinion and can send.

          Like

          • Alexander M Zoltai May 31, 2017 at 12:25 pm

            Do Send — as long as it’s not novel length… And, my response may take a bit of time…

            I definitely know the feeling of being “absent” to myself………

            I never hope my writings will “soon” be read widely—I work toward leaving behind a “system” of “bread crumbs” so the writing can be found long after I leave for my eternal life…

            Like

            • philipparees May 31, 2017 at 12:49 pm

              Won’t just yet. The intended blue pencil has yet to reduce it in length. But thanks anyway.

              Like

              • Alexander M Zoltai May 31, 2017 at 12:58 pm

                Ah… Very well then.

                Like

                • philipparees May 31, 2017 at 1:13 pm

                  It IS novel length that’s why Alexander! Wanted to spare you. Although I still think the story would appeal!

                  Like

                  • Alexander M Zoltai May 31, 2017 at 1:19 pm

                    Oh, I did understand that, Philippa…

                    I’m sure it would appeal; however my Muse would murder me—I’m committed to a new short story every week; plus, keeping up with this blog…

                    Like

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