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Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Gifts of Ursula Le Guin


Ursula Le Guin passed away this week, and it got me thinking about her wonderful books, and her thoughts about writing. When I read The Left Hand of Darkness, I was blown away by how much I loved it. I wasn’t sure it would be my “kind” of book—a story set in an alien world with its own rules, it’s science fiction or, some say, speculative fiction. I’ve never read much of either.

But with a wonderful story, genre never matters. Good storytelling transcends genre, drawing us in to the protagonist’s story, making us care about the world and the stakes. With The Left Hand of Darkness, it didn’t matter that I was in an alien world. The drama was human enough, and I cared deeply about what was happening. Not only did I love the book, I thought about it for years afterward, and what it said about the effect of sex and gender on a culture.

If all that Le Guin had given me, that would have been generous enough. But the gifts kept coming as, later in life, I stumbled on her thoughts on writing. She sheds insightful light on why the often-repeated “rule” of writing, “show don’t tell,” is detrimental advice to a more seasoned writer.

Thanks to “show don’t tell,” I find writers in my workshops who think exposition is wicked. They’re afraid to describe the world they’ve invented. (I make them read the first chapter of The Return of the Native,,,                                                          (On Rules of Writing)

She goes on to de-bunk other over-simplified writing advice in a way that helped me to marry my joy in romance and modern genre fiction with my deep love of literature. Her words gave permission to unapologetically dive into narrative paragraphs. To really set a scene and a mood by dipping deeply into a character’s thoughts, without worrying how fast I’d get back to action and dialogue.

Writers like Janet Evanovich do this all the time, even though we think of her Stephanie Plum books as full of action and fabulous dialogue. She starts High Five with a great paragraph about why being a bounty hunter is like going through life without underwear. It’s funny and vivid, and it gives us a snapshot of the character’s thoughts before we have any idea about the action.

“Telling” is not the root of storytelling evil. It’s an integral part of it, and one that I very much enjoy. So thank you, Ursula Le Guin, not just for your amazing books, but for all the writing wisdom you took time to share. I’ll leave you with a few other Le Guin gems for you to enjoy today:

* It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.

* Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.

* When you light a candle, you also cast a shadow.
***Any writers whose work you return to time and time again? Or any classic books that stood out for you in your English classes that were really memorable? Share with me today and I’ll send one random commenter a signed copy of my December Desire, His Pregnant Secretary. My current release, if you’re interested in taking a peek, is January’s Claiming His Secret Heir!

18 comments:

Kay Garrett said...

Definitely sounds like Ursula Le Guin"s words of wisdom were truly gifts not only to authors but to readers as well.

I do so love when authors spend time developing characters letting us in our their thoughts and feelings. Then and only then can we really appreciate where a character has been, where they are and where they are going.

I do so love this - It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end. I think that we all forget about the journey in trying to reach our goals at times. It's good to slow down and appreciate the here and now and know that it's each day that makes a year not a year to make a day.



Joanne Rock said...

You're so right, Kay!! Our culture prizes goal setting so much that we can really over-focus on the goal. The joy is in THIS moment and it's up to us to live in that happy place. Thank you so much for stopping by the blog!

Nova said...

i live to read and re-read Jane Porter. Her descriptive writing makes you feel like you are there without being too descriptive. it washes over you; not bowling you over.

Marcie R said...

When I write I end up reminding myself to show not tell. Now I'll stop.

No need to add me to the giveaway.

Thanks.

Joanne Rock said...

Nova, Jane Porter does this so well. I just read Married in Montana (I think that was the name of the historical one set in Marietta, right?) and I loved how thoroughly she brought to life this small Montana town in a different era. I felt the cold of her heroine's tiny cabin, and her joy when she finally got a stove! Her details are so memorable.

Joanne Rock said...

Marcie, I think it's a helpful guideline for a beginner, a way to think about bringing a story to life in a visual way. But once you have more experience with putting a story together, there are a lot of shades of "showing" and ways to bring the story to life that aren't just action and dialogue. I know when I look at contest entries, I'm asking for more detail in 75% of what I read. And when I sold my first book, that was top of the list for what my editor wanted in a revision-- add to the narrative, set the scene, give us the character thoughts. Readers crave those things too.

Anonymous said...

Ursula was a master....words are very powerful...they must be used wisely...the authors I prefer, for the most part, are very cognizant of this....

Kathleen Bylsma

Linda May said...

I love so many authors that take me to a place where I feel like they are my friends & neighbors & the stories take me to a warm & cozy place. Thanks for your great generosity.

Emily Stemp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily Stemp said...

Hi Joanne. love your books.

dstoutholcomb said...

Jane Eyre is a book I've read over and over.

denise

Mary Preston said...

The book "Surfeit of Lampreys" by Ngaio Marsh was required reading at school - long ago. It has stuck me more than any other.

I re-read quite a few authors including Agatha Christie & Georgette Heyer.

Natalya Lakhno said...

Thank you for the post!
I would say "Redeeming Love" by Francine Rivers touched me deeply.

Shari said...

A very interesting concept! I enjoyed reading every ones comments

MelK said...

I remember reading Dickens in High School and enjoying it. I still re-read his books. For poetry I return to Baudelaire, Yeats, Frost, and Poe.

I can't remember my Google password and I'm having problems getting a new one. I'll have that fixed soon. :-)

xoxoxo to you Joanne!!

Anonymous said...

This might be silly but the first books I remember reading had to be Dick, Jane, and Spot! I have some books from when I was a teenager on my book shelf. I have The Monkees , "Whose got the Button". 3 of Lassie, and one was found in my father in laws garage. I never read it! It was mine since I had it just long enough to put in my name an address. I don't even remember having it let alone how he ended up with it for me to get it back!! I'm sure I gave it to Linda, his step daughter, who became my sister in law! I'll never know since she passed away.Some day I plan on reading it! Pam

riet_media said...

I had to read the genre in my education to become a librarian and I think I read Ursula Le Guin, but I can't remember, because the genre was not something I liked. I do reread books however, when they are exceptionally good or more often, they're soothing to the soul. I love to reread Harry P, plays of Shakespeare, Diana Wynne Jones and a Dutch writer (Roothaert, about being a vet). By rereading I also mean, listening to the audiobooks, which I don't do often but fairly regularly.

Joanne Rock said...

Congratulations to Kathleen Bylsma, winner of the prize!! Kathleen, I'm going to message you privately, but all you need to do is share a mailing address with me at jrock008@gmail.com!

Thank you and I'll be back on the 27th of February with a new blog and giveaway!