Creative Writing Handbook | Reviews
Derek Neale, ed.
'this broad approach to writing is reflected in the way they bring together fiction, poetry and drama, along with life writing, in order to show how a writer can best integrate the art and craft of writing.'
'much of the first section of this handbook is dedicated to an extensive series of exercises designed to help the writer understand how elements of a text, through close reading and analysis, and through experimentation with changing aspects of the text.'
'Again, minute analysis of the techniques show clearly how they work, and how they can be made to work in fiction.'
'It is true the handbook asks for a lot from the reader in terms of participation and active thought, but for those writers who are extremely serious about improving their work, it provides a valuable course in how to think about the art and craft of writing.'
As Derek Neale makes clear in his introduction to this handbook, it is not intended for absolute beginners, making those first tentative steps as writers; instead, it is aimed at those who are already writing but who want to develop their writing style, and their general approach to writing.
The key to this for Neale and his fellow contributors, Linda Anderson and Bill Greenwell (all three experienced teachers of creative writing) lies in understanding the connections between dramatic writing and other forms of writing, and this broad approach to writing is reflected in the way they bring together fiction, poetry and drama, along with life writing, in order to show how a writer can best integrate the art and craft of writing. And make no mistake about it, writing is both art and craft. One can have the best ideas in the world, but without a solid technique, what Neale calls 'the scaffolding', those ideas will never be fully realised on the page.
Neale refers to a comment by Joyce Carol Oates, that rewriting, revising and re-imagining one's work are the lifeblood of the creative process. Perhaps most telling of all, Neale also notes that 'all writing benefits from the writer's decision to pause at vital moments, to follow the hunch that something could be improved, however slightly', and much of the handbook is concerned less with generating new ideas than with fostering a dedicated attentiveness to what is needed to improve and develop one's writing style.
The handbook comprises four sections, three of which explore ways of writing, writing drama, and developing style, while the last contains a set of readings to be used in conjunction with the exercises in the other three sections. Some readers are perhaps already bridling slightly at that section on writing drama, as they write fiction, but understanding how to write drama, be it plays or film scripts, is often surprisingly helpful to the writer contemplating a novel. Many of the techniques needed are similar, although they are often applied in slightly different ways, underlining the point the writers are making, that it is not as easy to divorce one sort of writing from another as one might suppose.
As I have said, the key to improvement, according to Neale and his colleagues, is attentiveness, and much of the first section of this handbook is dedicated to an extensive series of exercises designed to help the writer understand how elements of a text, through close reading and analysis, and through experimentation with changing aspects of the text. For the solitary reader, a notebook will most likely be useful to record their responses. It is not a method that will work for everyone, but I think that any writer who is serious about their work will, sooner or later, have to recognise that creating the first draft is the easy part; it is what one does next that makes the difference.
The second part of the handbook is a fascinating and exhaustive exploration of what goes into writing drama and presenting it on the page in such a way that a director and actors can transform it into pictures and movement. In writing a script, one is effectively writing a set of instructions; if they work, the play or film will become a coherent whole, but if they don't, then the enterprise falls apart. A novelist's job is slightly different, in that they not only write the instructions but, to a certain extent, create the pictures as well. Thus, many filmic techniques can, as the authors show, be successfully utilised on the page, to create atmosphere and drama. Again, minute analysis of the techniques show clearly how they work, and how they can be made to work in fiction.
The third part of the handbook looks at various techniques for establishing voice and use of language. Strong dialogue is often essential in establishing a character and in providing information, but many people mistakenly assume that it is simply about writing down what people will say in various situations. Speech can tell us so much about a character, quite apart from in what they actually say, and here the authors show how this can be achieved.
This handbook can be used in a number of different ways; the exercises work as well for the writer at home as in a more formal classroom environment. It is true the handbook asks for a lot from the reader in terms of participation and active thought, but for those writers who are extremely serious about improving their work, it provides a valuable course in how to think about the art and craft of writing.
|Publisher's website||Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller a reviewer, writer, editor and former librarian, is our book reviewer and also works for WritersServices as a freelance editor.|
© Maureen Kincaid Speller 2009
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