WIR #2: Steering the Craft

Steering the CraftLe Guin, Ursula K. Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew. Portland, Oregon: The Eighth Mountain Press. Copyright © 1998, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Ursula K. Le Guin's web site:
http://www.ursulakleguin.com/


I've spent part of this evening working on Exercise Seven, which is found in Le Guin's chapter, "Point of View and Voice." This exercise has four parts, so I will be posting them separately. Here's the first part:

POV
Think up a situation for a narrative sketch of 200-350 words. It can be anything you like, but should involve several people doing something. (Several means more than two. More than three will be useful.) It doesn’t have to be a big, important event, though it can be; but something should happen, even if only a cart-tangle at the supermarket, a wrangle around the table concerning tha family division of labor, or a minor street-accident....

Please use little or no dialogue. While the characters talk, their voices cover the POV, and so you’re not exploring that voice, which is the point of the exercise.

PART ONE: Two Voices
First: Tell your little story from a single POV — that of a participant in the event — an old man, a child, a cat, whatever you like. Use limited third person.

This exercise involves two points of view of the same scene using limited third person POV. Here is what I wrote for the first:

“I can’t see your star.” Those were the words the soothsayer had just spoken to Micajah to close the opening ceremony for this evening’s soirée. Of all the times to have given such a reading, did it have to be this night? Did it have to be done in front of a crowd of more than one hundred, all of them Littoral Peers? Couldn’t the soothsayer have saved those words for later, in private? Micajah stumbled, leaned against the marble balustrade, feeling the weight of the world coming down upon him. He looked at the faces of those who stood around him. Their looks varied from mild shock to outright horror to grimaces of hatred. Not a single person seemed to bear him any sympathy.

He looked for Preshea, his concubine, among those who stared at him. Beyond the crowd that surrounded him, entering the grand room that opened out onto the balcony where he stood, Micajah saw Pershea. Her back was turned to him and she was walking away, headed back toward her apartment. He pushed away from the balustrade and started off after her. The crowd stepped back, opening a pathway for him, but he knew it was more out of revulsion than respect.

“I can’t see your star.” Was Preshea abandoning him?

Some in the crowd sneered at him as he passed by; others bared their teeth. Zedock stepped out from the crowd to block Micajah’s path.

Zedock smiled, but it was an expression of greed. “Your lands are mine,” he said.

A woman to Micajah’s right gasped. He looked to see who it was. Sophronia stood with her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide at Zedock’s hubris.

Micajah closed his hand into a fist, then, turning quickly back to Zedoc, he brought his fist up, and struck Zedock firmly on the jaw, sending the Timbran lord sprawling on his ass on the marble balcony floor.

(321 words)

Here are Le Guin's instructions for the second exercise of the First Part:

Second: Retell the same story from the POV of one of the other people involved in it. Again, use limited third person.

And here is what I wrote:

“I can’t see your star.” Those were the words the soothsayer had just spoken to Micajah to close the opening ceremony for this evening’s soirée. Sophronia barely contained her scream. Of all the times to have given such a reading, did the soothsayer have to say those words in front of a crowd of more than one hundred Littoral Peers? It was unseemly! She saw Micajah stumble, then lean against the marble balustrade, looking as if the weight of the world had just crashed down upon him. He looked around at those who stood around him, his face etched with fear. Sophronia looked about at those around her. They all bore looks that varied from mild shock to outright horror to grimaces of hatred. Save for herself, not a single person seemed to bear him any sympathy. Were they all so shallow?

Micajah now seemed to be searching for someone within the crowd. Pershea, Sophronia realized. Micajah’s concubine. She turned, as well, stretching to see if she could spot Pershea. She caught the concubine’s profile just as the woman was turning, going back into the grand room that opened out onto the balcony where they all stood. Sophronia was shoved as the crowd shifted, and she turned her attention back to Micajah. He seemed to be going after Pershea.

Sophronia was repulsed by the sneers she saw on some of the faces in the crowd as he passed by; some even bared their teeth. Zedock, the Timbran lord, stepped out from the crowd to block Micajah’s path.

Zedock smiled, his greed plain upon his face. “Your lands are mine,” he said.

Sophronia gasped at Zedock’s arrogance. At the sound of her voice, Micajah turned, looked her in the eye. The despair she saw on his face then hardened into anger, then he turned, quickly, and punched Zedock full on the jaw.

Sophronia winced when Timbran lord’s face snapped to one side. Zedock fell, sprawled on the balcony floor.

(328 words)

The retelling of this from Sophronia's viewpoint brought out, for me, very different observations than the previous viewpoint. I've noticed, also, that when I do these exercises, my writing seems not only more focused, but also more tightly written. Perhaps I should take that attitude when writing the first drafts of my stories. Hmm.

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