Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Mulling over craft -- learning from stories that fail

I think that some of my first awareness of the craft of writing came from reading a Heinlein story about a failed labor union strike. Heinlein had no sympathy for unions; I, on the other hand, am the daughter of a man who ran the first non-crooked election in an Arizona hod-carriers union during his twenties.

At any rate, I read the story with some shock as Heinlein belittled his union-member character. As you might expect, I found the story unbelievable. But even more, I had suddenly seen the bones behind the skin of a story for perhaps the first time. Heinlein's opinions were clearly visible in his portrayal of his characters, and I was led to think about the author's purpose for selecting this particular set of incidents as the setting for the story.

So even when you read stories that fail -- or PARTICULARLY then -- look for the bones, and look for the structure of the story, the premises the author establishes, the way certain language has failed to carry the story that the author intended.

(Mind, this approach won't work if the story is completely muddled. But the failed attempts of masters such as Heinlein can teach a lot.)

-- Rachel Holmen

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