Home » Writing Advice » Ursula Le Guin Gives Insightful Writing Advice in Her Free Online Workshop

Ursula Le Guin Gives Insightful Writing Advice in Her Free Online Workshop

25 January 2016

From Open Culture:

Though it’s sometimes regarded as a pretentious-sounding term for genre writers who don’t want to associate with genre, I’ve always liked the phrase “speculative fiction.” J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Shirley Jackson, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman… A touch of surrealist humor, a highly philosophical bent, and a somewhat tragic sensibility can be found among them all, and also in the work of Ursula K. Le Guin, who does not shy away from the genre labels of science fiction and fantasy, but who approaches these categories in the way of, say, Virginia Woolf in her Orlando: as feminist thought experiments and fables about human ecological failings and inter-cultural potential.

That’s not to say that Le Guin’s writing is driven by political agendas, but that she has a very clear, uncompromising vision, which she has realized over the course of over five decades in novels, short stories, and children’s fiction.

. . . .

Le Guin stated last year that she no longer has the “vigor and stamina” for writing novels, and having given up teaching as well, said she missed “being in touch with serious prentice writers.” Thus, she decided to start an online writing workshop at the site Book View Café, describing it as “a kind of open consultation or informal ongoing workshop in Fictional Navigation.” In keeping with the metaphor of sea voyaging, she called her workshop “Navigating the Ocean of Story” and declared that she would not take reader questions about publishing or finding an agent: “We won’t be talking about how to sell a ship, but how to sail one.” Reader questions poured in, and Le Guin did her best to answer as many as she could, posting advice every other Monday for all of the summer and much of the fall of 2015.

. . . .

In answers to two readers’ questions about providing sufficient backstory, Le Guin refers to an old New Yorker feature called “The Department of Fuller Explanation, where they put truly and grand examples of unnecessary explaining.” Most of us, Le Guin writes, “tend to live in the Department of Fuller Explanation” when writing; “We are telling ourselves backstory and other information, which the reader won’t actually need to know when reading it.”

To avoid the “Expository Lump or the Infodump,” as she calls it, Le Guin advises the writer to “decide—or find our when revising—whether the information is actually necessary. If not, don’t bother. If so, figure out how to work it in as a functional, forward-moving element of the story… giving information indirectly, by hint and suggestion.”

Link to the rest at Open Culture and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Writing Advice

One Comments to “Ursula Le Guin Gives Insightful Writing Advice in Her Free Online Workshop”

  1. Ursula Le Guin will never know it, but she was one of the greats who taught me to write by reading. Some things are better absorbed through the heart than the head.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.