Ursula K. Le Guin's extraordinary writing primer is full of charm, wit, and opinion. Le Guin likens writing to "steering a craft," and as one reads through this volume, one has the sense of floating down a river, with the waves of Le Guin's words lapping at one's craft. Le Guin veers sharply from the mainstream of contemporary writing manuals by challenging their very definition of story. While it is common to "conflate story with conflict," Le Guin writes, she finds that limiting. "Story is change," she says. While that change may be the result of conflict, it is just as likely to evolve from "relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, [or] parting." Le Guin demonstrates this complexity with well-hewn excerpts from the works of such writers as Jane Austen, Mark Twain, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charlotte Brontë, and especially Virginia Woolf. The many aspects of fine fiction writing Le Guin addresses here include the role of the narrative sentence (its "chief duty [is] to lead to the next sentence--to keep the story going"); avoiding exposition doldrums ("break up the information, grind it fine, and make it into bricks to build the story with"); and the concept of "crowding and leaping." While prose should be "crowded with sensations, meanings, and implications," don't forget that "what you leave out is infinitely more than what you leave in."
Accompanying Le Guin's text is a handful of clever writing exercises, each as enticing as its name. Among them are "I am García Márquez," which requires writing with no punctuation; "Chastity," which challenges one to write without adjectives or adverbs; and "A Terrible Thing to Do," which proposes taking an earlier exercise and cutting it--by half. --Jane Steinberg