Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Martone & Neville/RULES OF THUMB


This is not a book you sit down and read from beginning to end, but one you dip into from time to time, skipping around and sampling what appeals to you or intrigues you at a given moment. Michael Martone and Susan Neville have put together a graphically attractive, certainly entertaining and possibly helpful compendium of advice from a variety of authors. (The subtitle is “73 authors reveal their fiction writing fixations.”) In each of these articles, about two to four pages in length, an author holds forth on what he or she thinks is important for a writer to know. A sample from the Table of Contents will give you an idea of what’s going on here:

—You Must Eat Broccoli Before You Begin, by M.T. Anderson
—A Writing Habit, by Lydia Davis
—Never Write About Writing, by R.M. Berry
—The Busy Attributive: A Case for Said, by Steve Almond
—The Thirty-Nine Steps: A Story Writing Primer, by Frederick Barthelme

Barthelme’s pearls of wisdom range from incontrovertible (step 23, “Obscurity is not subtlety; intentional obscurity is pinheaded and unkind”), to worthy of contemplation (step 2, “Don’t let it make too much sense”), to frivolous (step 33, “No characters named Brooke or Amber”).

This is a great way to while away an idle half-hour or two, and you might actually learn something valuable.

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