Startle and Illuminate

Startle and Illuminate

Carol Shields on Writing

Book - 2016
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In the course of her extraordinary career, which included the novels The Stone Diaries, Larry's Party, The Republic of Love and Unless , as well as poetry, short stories, biography and plays, Carol Shields was unfailingly encouraging of other writers. She read and commented on her friends' manuscripts. She taught writing classes and she spoke and wrote on the craft of writing. Her own discipline rarely faltered. Her daily practice was to write a new page, then edit the page written the day before, then repeat, until, after a year or so, her book was finished. Now in her own words, as clear and straightforward as a glass of water, comes Startle and Illuminate , the best possible guide to the writing process, from conception to publication. This essential work, drawn by her daughter and grandson from her voluminous correspondence with other writers, essays, notes, comments, criticism and lectures, is a last gift from one of our finest novelists meant for both aspiring and established writers. It helps answer some of the most fundamental questions about writing: such as, why we write at all, whether writing can be taught, what keeps a reader turning the pages, and how a writer knows when a work is done.
For Shields's devoted readers, Startle and Illuminate reveals her own thoughts on why we read--to be the other, to touch and taste the experience of the other; and why we write--for the joy of the making, to reimagine our world, to discover patterns and uncover forms that echo our realities as well as interrogate them, to imagine alternate worlds. It is a beautiful legacy.
Publisher: Toronto, ON : Random House Canada, 2016
ISBN: 9780345815941
Branch Call Number: 808.02 SHIE
Characteristics: 198 pages ; 22 cm
Additional Contributors: Giardini, Anne
Giardini, Nicholas


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Jul 02, 2016

Interesting tips and insights, but nothing to "startle and illuminate"

Carol Shields, , novelist, poet, short story writer, lecturer, playwright, teacher and winner of numerous prestigious literary awards died in 2003 at the age of sixty-eight.

Though born in Illinois she married a Canadian, became a citizen and went on to become an icon of Canadian literature.

Startle and Illuminate, Carol Shields on Writing, has been drawn from her letters, essays, notes and comments and edited by her daughter, Anne Giardini and grandson, Nicholas Giardini.

Shields is not a big fan of structure - goal, motivation and conflict, the story arc and such literary devices. She says write first and structure will follow.

Shields maintains there's a dichotomy between reality and fiction. In reality people are not always beset with problems and to present a story as such (conflict) is not a true reflection of reality. She wants to explore what happens to ordinary people, how they think and react, in everyday situations, particularly women.

Which might be one of the reasons I was never drawn to her fiction.

Much of the book is not about how to write but about the state of writing/literature in the world, specifically Canada. There's even a chapter on what Shields' read as a child. At the end of each chapter there's a brief summary of themes and ideas addressed which is helpful if you're not interested in say, why women are particularly suited to the short story form.

Even if the subject matter is not of interest to you it may be worthwhile to read them just to experience her wit and humility.

There's also a section of letters - to colleagues, students, and friends some actually taking the form of mini critiques.

By far the most informative chapter for me was the one entitled, Be Bold All the Way Through. This is made up of "quick notes", succinct sentences or short paragraphs that address a specific writing issue.

Shield provides some interesting tips and insights, but nothing to "startle and illuminate" this reader.

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