Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Useful advice plainly given

Book: By Cunning and Craft: Sound Advice and Practical Wisdom for Fiction Writers

Author: Peter Selgin

Published: 2007 (F+W Publications)

Pages: 255

If you’re a beginning writer, this book is full of solid, basic advice that is not afraid to tell you it means nothing if you don’t have instinct underpinning it all.

If you’re a veteran writer between projects, this is a good comforting reminder of what you already know but need to have planted deep into your words.

If you’re me, this book makes you think about and subsequently lose a little ground in a process that has slowly, shakily become subconscious enough for you to trust it by itself. (And you also read it in between other books because you've got a full-blown addiction to narrative.)

I so appreciate its pragmatic, mostly non-mystical approach. Selgin assumes you’ve already wrestled with that and won, so now down to brass tacks. He’s bitter about writing conferences even though he contributes to them all the time; he reuses the beginning paragraph of Moby Dick to illustrate like five different, unrelated points; he says snobby things about genre fiction (THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS, lit fic peers); and all of the examples he takes from his own works are stories about car rides to the point where I’m not sure if he writes about anything else.

But it’s definitely stuff every writer needs to know, presented clearly and simply without condescending. That is a minor miracle in writers’ manuals.  

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