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What Is Writing?

Writing is the other side of reading. Now, imagine yourself stepping into a book so that you're on the other side of the words. You're now in charge of creating those words. What happens next?

Well, that's the secret. "What happens next" is the origin of story! That's what leads you on to the next sentence. And the next. Until you come to a satisfactory answer/ending/emotional impact/riddle solved/emphatic conclusion.

So, now, the question is—do you have a story to tell? Of course you do, but are you ready to share it? And if so, how? Below are essays from some of the great storytellers, how they did it, and what worked for them. Each one of them found a specific technique or approach that worked for them. Enjoy.

Mark Twain, How to Tell a Story

I do not claim that I can tell a story as it ought to be told. I only claim to know how a story ought to be told, for I have been almost daily in the company of the most expert story-tellers for many years.

There are several kinds of stories, but only one difficult kind—the humorous. I will talk mainly about that one. The humorous story is American, the comic story is English, the witty story is French. The humorous story depends for its effect upon the manner of the telling; the comic story and the witty story upon the matter.

The humorous story may be spun out to great length, and may wander around as much as it pleases, and arrive nowhere in particular; but the comic and witty stories must be brief and end with a point. The humorous story bubbles gently along, the others burst.…

Robert Louis Stevenson, The Art of Writing

We may now briefly enumerate the elements of style. We have, peculiar to the prose writer, the task of keeping his phrases large, rhythmical, and pleasing to the ear, without ever allowing them to fall into the strictly metrical: peculiar to the versifier, the task of combining and contrasting his double, treble, and quadruple pattern, feet and groups, logic and metre—harmonious in diversity: common to both, the task of artfully combining the prime elements of language into phrases that shall be musical in the mouth; the task of weaving their argument into a texture of committed phrases and of rounded periods—but this particularly binding in the case of prose: and, again common to both, the task of choosing apt, explicit, and communicative words. We begin to see now what an intricate affair is any perfect passage; how many faculties, whether of taste or pure reason, must be held upon the stretch to make it; and why, when it is made, it should afford us so complete a pleasure. From the arrangement of according letters, which is altogether arabesque and sensual, up to the architecture of the elegant and pregnant sentence, which is a vigorous act of the pure intellect, there is scarce a faculty in man but has been exercised. We need not wonder, then, if perfect sentences are rare, and perfect pages rarer.…

Edgar Allan Poe, How to Write…

Charles Dickens, in a note now lying before me, alluding to an examination I once made of the mechanism of Barnaby Rudge, says—“By the way, are you aware that Godwin wrote his Caleb Williams backwards? He first involved his hero in a web of difficulties, forming the second volume, and then, for the first, cast about him for some mode of accounting for what had been done.”

I cannot think this the precise mode of procedure on the part of Godwin—and indeed what he himself acknowledges, is not altogether in accordance with Mr. Dickens’ idea—but the author of Caleb Williams was too good an artist not to perceive the advantage derivable from at least a somewhat similar process. Nothing is more clear than that every plot worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before anything be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.…

Ambrose Bierce, Write It Right

DOUBT, indulged and cherished, is in danger of becoming denial; but if honest, and bent on throrough investigation, it may soon lead to full establishment of the truth. —Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce, made famous by his satiric Devil's Dictionary, was a journalist, quite knowledgeable (and opinionated) about correct usage in the English language. Working in California, he found himself surrounded by "Americanisms," which he regarded as degrading the English language. I'm sure that he would be appalled to see that, for Americans at least, the ultimate authority in language has come to be "usage."

Here are a few of his "Blacklist" entries:

Aggravate for Irritate. “He aggravated me by his insolence.” To aggravate is to augment the disagreeableness of something already disagreeable, or the badness of something bad. But a person cannot be aggravated, even if disagreeable or bad. Women are singularly prone to misuse of this word.

All of. “He gave all of his property.” The words are contradictory: an entire thing cannot be of itself. Omit the preposition.

Alleged. “The alleged murderer.” One can allege a murder, but not a murderer; a crime, but not a criminal. A man that is merely suspected of crime would not, in any case, be an alleged criminal, for an allegation is a definite and positive statement. In their tiresome addiction to this use of alleged, the newspapers, though having mainly in mind the danger of libel suits, can urge in further justification the lack of any other single word that exactly expresses their meaning; but the fact that a mud-puddle supplies the shortest route is not a compelling reason for walking through it. One can go around.

Allow for Permit. “I allow you to go.” Precision is better attained by saying permit, for allow has other meanings.

Allude to for Mention. What is alluded to is not mentioned, but referred to indirectly. Originally, the word implied a playful, or sportive, reference. That meaning is gone out of it.

And so. And yet. “And so they were married.” “And yet a woman.” Omit the conjunction.

College Writing Texts

Don't Panic: The Procrastinator's Guide to Writing an Effective Term Paper, by Steven Posusta.
This book, written by a longtime tutor, with a thoughtful approach that worked for his tutees. This book (just 64pp.) is designed to help a student-without-a-clue, how to solve the challenging "compare and contrast" assignment within 48 hours. Basically, he tells you not "how to write," but how to develop an interesting approach.

First Person Intense.
This anthology is an homage to Bill Richardson, who taught his writing classes just one lesson (paraphrased): Don't make stuff up. Dig down for your own stories, the raw stuff that may even hurt when you start to write it out in words. But that is valuable, that is what only you can truly share with others. Here is a list of the writers in this anthology: Richard Grayson, Richard Peabody, Jr., George Myers, Jr., Riverat, Richard Currey, Holly Prado, Hugh Fox, P.D. Mackay, Ingeborg Middendorf, Fielding Dawson, Albert Drake, Merritt Clifton, Art Cuelho, Millie Mae Wicklund, Geoffrey Cook, Holly Anderson, David Ossman, Gary Livingston, Stanley Berne, Richard Kostelanetz, Sasha Newborn (ed.), Charles Bukowski, Morty Sklar, James Brown.

If you are just getting serious about writing— here are some additional tips in my own Book Doc section.

What? Already polishing up the manuscript for a book? Then your next step is look into your options: self-publishing, writing sites (such as She Writes), Goodreads or writers' groups online to see what others are doing. Hope to see you later—in print!

Did I mention reading? Excellent, now that you can learn from the techniques that good writers use, in constructing their pieces.

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