Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Review of Writing Books I

I recently purchased Tom Chiarella’s Writing Dialogue. Despite the ungainly subtitle of ‘How to create memorable voices and fictional conversations that crackle with wit, tension and nuance’, this is a plenty handy little tome. Eight chapters and 168 pages give examples, explanations and exercises- the three Es. Though it started a bit slowly for my tastes, (I prefer to res in medias, thanks), I was hooked after page fifteen and counted twenty-one flags at the finish. I say finish, but I was finished before the book was. From page 152 to page 166 is an illustrative story, which I skipped entirely. I think the publisher told the author that the book was too short to be taken seriously, and so he fluffed it out with this nonsense. Well, all right. Some of you may like it. However, the most serious book on writing that I have ever read comes in at a mere 85 pages.

The Elements Of Style, by William Strunk and E. B. White (yes, of Charlotte’s Web fame) is often referred to simply as ‘Strunk and White,’ which anyone who knows will know. This is simply a beautiful little book. If you are serious about writing and do not have this in your library, I urge you to rush to your nearest bookseller, currency in hand, and devour it immediately. It is a deceptively simple rule-book which will save you from looking like an idiot any more than you absolutely must. Careful study of The Elements’ precepts will also reveal how to eliminate “clunkiness”, that dreaded indefinable, from your writing. I recommend this book highly. Have you noticed?

Do not waste ten dollars on David Mamet’s insubstantial book, Three Uses of the Knife, subtitled ‘On the nature and purpose of drama’. The fact that the author’s name is in a typset three times as big as that of the title tells you all you need to know about this 87-page abomination. Mamet writes well, and is very lucid about communicating his ideas, but this book is less about craft than philosophy. If you’d like to know what Mamet thinks, as told in a high handed and pompous voice, by all means, this is a wonderful way to kill a couple of hours. But do, I beg you, get it from the library. No sense in puffing this man's pocketbook to match his ego.