Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Critical Writing

My generous and talented writing partner, Anjie, made me borrow a nice thick textbook the other day. It's called The Fourth Genre, by Robert Root, Jr. and Michael Steinberg, and defines and presents creative nonfiction.

Because the book has a boring cover and 473 pages, it took me a while to crack it.

But when I did, I blew through almost the whole thing in one night.

This new market I've been trying out, adult memoir, is tricky; adult readers seem to demand better construction, unpredictable organization, deeper content.

"The Masked Marvel's Last Toe Hold," by Doctor Richard Selzer, is a stunning example of parallelism, of metaphor, of finding mature meaning from a childhood event. This essay reminds me of "The Wrestler," in which Mickey Rourke plays a veteran athlete who struggles with identity as he ages.

Then there's Pico Iyer's "Where Worlds Collide," an analysis of LAX.

Richard Rodriguez's "Late Victorians" is also about a place: San Francisco, where the social agenda is transformed, but where physicality stays the same.

If you don't have time to read these short short stories, here are the best tips I gleamed from reading the book.

1) Overall, it appears that pure essayists are a dying breed; most essayists now hail from other media (journalism, fiction).

2) Make a list of all the topics you'd never write about. Then write about one of those topics.

3) Time change can be accomplished through changes in landscape, biography, and commentary.

4) A memoir is a quilt of one's favorite memories. It is the writer's perspective on history, and when written, it changes the past and sets it in stone.

5) Writing critically communicates with the reader, challenges her to consider plural perspectives, while being courted.

5) "The true rewards [of writing] are internal--the satisfaction of asking your own questions and finding your own answers" (Root and Steinberg, 1985, p. 357).


Nisa said...

Nice tips! I could list pretty much every genre out there as something I wouldn't write, but I'm slowly learning too never say never.

I loved #4

Elana Johnson said...

First, I agree with you on the whole cover thing. I need a nice cover to keep me going. Sometimes I just stroke it. :)

Jennie Englund said...

Glad you liked #4, Nisa. I'm a fan of #5, myself.

And I guess you and I are just suckers for covers, Elana.