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Reviews: Books about Writing
Book Reviews:
   Conventional Book Reviews   (standard commentary/review of book) 
  Knothole Book Reviews   (a "knothole review" is "not whole"-- 
       the concept is to give insights into an author's style, craft, and knowledge through selected excerpts.) 
Three Genres: The Writing of Poetry, Fiction, and Drama 
Stephen Minot
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.

This classic treatise about the art of writing offers insights for both beginning writers and more seasoned ones. 

Poetry - “Part I
is the poetry section, which includes many poems: there are examples of metered and free verse, “beat” and surrealistic verse. Special attention is given to racial and ethnic identity, viewed as a dynamic force in contemporary literature. Additional subjects discussed are the sound of words, poetic tension, and revising a poem.”

“There are occasions when a poem may shift from one mood or suggestion to another in the course of revisions. There is no harm in this, but it is important to make sure that each line and every image in the new version really belongs there.“

“Six critical questions—First, are the images reflective? In a difficult poem, isolated images may be all that reaches the reader the first time through. These may be vivid visual details used for their own sake, or they may be vehicles for metaphors; but the poet needs to know what has really made an impression on his readers. . . . he will eventually be able to judge for himself what is a fresh image and what is bland, flat, or even hackneyed. Second, is the diction fresh? [The poet’s] job is to identity not only cliches  but familiar phrasing, echoes from song lyrics, and conventional adjectives which provide no overtones. Third, are there sound devices? . . .  make use of such techniques as rhyme, assonance, alliteration, consonance, and onomatopoeia. Fourth, does the poem make use of rhythm? If the poem is metered, where does the meter become monotonous and where, on the other hand, do the substitutions become so numerous that the flow of reading is interrupted? If it is free verse, what rhythmical systems is the poet using? Fifth, does the poem contain some type of tension? It is rare that a poem achieves any kind of literary sophistication without developing tension in contrasting thematic concerns, tones, moods, and attitudes. Sixth, just what is the essential unity in the poem? Unity may be achieved by a narrative sequence, emotional responses, or a logical structure, and may be enhanced by a persona or by the setting.

Fiction  - “Part II
discusses the scope and sources of fiction. It contains three short stories (“The Use of Force” by William Carlos Williams, “Friends from Philadelphia” by John Updike, and “Sausage and Beer” by Stephen Minot) selected to illustrate the use of first and third person, scene construction, characterization, narrative tension, irony, premise fiction, dream fiction, and the like.”

“The Three Basic Options—consciously or unconsciously, every writer has to make three basic decisions before he writes the first paragraph of any story. First, through whose eyes am I going to present this (the means of perception)? Second, which person shall I use (first vs. third)? Finally, just whose story is this (focus)? If a new story starts easily and develops rapidly, the writer shouldn’t stop to consider how many decisions he has made without conscious effort. But when it  doesn’t seem quite right from the very start, or when the first draft seems vaguely dissatisfying, it is often helpful to review all the other ways the story could have been written.”

“Characterization is illusion based on three elements: consistency of behavior and attitudes, complexity, and individuality; techniques of developing these elements including direct analysis, the use of significant action, dialogue, thoughts, and physical details; blending these various techniques.”

Drama  - “Part III
includes two complete plays (The Sandlot by Edward Albee and Hello Out There by William Saroyan). These serve to illustrate expressionistic drama and traditional real realism.. Also analyzed are the theatre of the absurd, the use of shock and violence, and mixed media. The writing of dialogue, visual effects, the revision of a play all come under consideration.“ 

“Six basic characteristics of drama; like the other two genres, drama has it’s own distinguishing characteristics.Each of them is a natural development of the fact that the genre is a live performance. First, it is by definition a dramatic art.  That is, it generally has an emotional impact or force. In case of comedy, we call it vitality. Second, it is a visual art. . . . In most cases, the movement of characters on the stage is as important as the lines themselves. Third, it is an auditory art. Here, unlike in fiction, words are thought of primarily as speech.  . . .[some] use special effects like electronic music, humming, or recorded chanting. Not only are sounds important, but the space between lines can be important. Fourth, it is a physically produced art.. . . .  Sets have to be constructed  with wood and nails,  and the script cannot ignore totally the task of the set designer and the stage crew. Fifth, it is a continuous art. The audience, unlike readers of fiction or poetry,  must receive the play at whatever pace the playwright sets. They cannot linger on a sage observation or a moving episode. They cannot turn back a page or review an earlier scene. Sixth, and closely connected is the fact that drama is a spectator art.  Audience reaction is important.”

—excerpted by  Gloria T. Delamar

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