Saturday, August 17, 2013
EVERY HUMAN BEING IS A STORYTELLER: JORY SHERMAN'S MASTER COURSE IN WRITING by Jeremy L.C. Jones
A student stops me in the hallway. He wants to know what writing manuals I recommend. He's about to get on an airplane and return to Germany where he feels cut off from other writers.
Three titles come to mind, immediately: Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing, Stephen King's On Writing, and Jory Sherman's Master Course in Writing (High Hill Press, 2011).
The instructor standing next to me, a game designer and speculative fiction writer, nods at the Bradbury, nods at King, and then says, "Jory who?"
We’re at Shared Worlds, a speculative fiction writing and world-building program. The first two titles, the Bradbury and King, make a certain sense in that context. They are, essentially, predictable. But Master Course in Writing? By a Spur Award-winning writer of westerns?
Bradbury duct tapes a hand grenade to your creative bicycle, pulls the pin, and shoves you into the big, scary world of writing. King weaves his tough childhood and his relentless commitment to craft and storytelling with practical advice. And Sherman… he takes you inside the flow of the creative experience, holds your hand as you take your first tentative steps into the dark caves, stays by you as long as you need him to, and sets you free so you can see the dancing lights.
"In the cavern of my mind, there were stories that cast shadow on the wall," writes Sherman, midway through Master Course. "I could follow those shadows into the deeper recesses of my mind and discover stories lurking in the recesses and passages of that vast cave."
And in that vast cave "there was always a lamp" and that lamp "could be lit" and "its light could illuminate the stories that lurked and loomed in those dark recesses."
That’s what this book does—it takes you into the magical darkness and shows you the lights, your lights, your stories.
In Master Course, Sherman is both lamplighter and just another spelunker who's been there before and who is willing to show us how to light our own lamps.
Right now, I want to quote the book extensively. I want to write for hours and across many pages about this book. I want to hold it under your nose and point out wonderful passages.
I'll restrain myself.
But only a little.
The book is too good for too much restraint.
"Writing is writing," writes Sherman in his Introduction. "Except when it's magic."
These simple lines are emblematic of the writing throughout—simple, present tense, tip-of-the-iceberg sorta stuff.
Makes you think.
Writing is what it is. But it is also something more. Much, much more.
"I believe that every human being," says Sherman a few lines later, "is a natural born storyteller."
Sherman isn't saying, dismissively, "Meh, anyone can do that." He is saying everyone has it in him or her. There's a difference there, a big one, an open, egalitarian bent that fits with everything that follows in Master Course.
After the introduction, five lessons guide the reader from the naming of that shadowy idea in the back of her mind through to building one scene upon another scene. I’ve run through the lessons many times. The ebb and flow of Sherman’s prose, the intimate, right-there-with-you tone, has a way of opening the floodgates and sending me off on gloriously thick word floods!
Next, there are ten essays on craft with topics ranging from character to hypnotic writing to scene, two short stories, and an essay on the Ozarks. Any one of these I’d buy separately.
It’s hard to believe this book has only been out since 2011. Always fresh and new, it still feels as though it has always been there, on my shelf, on my desk, woven into my creative process. A lean 113 pages, this slim volume extends well beyond itself.
Lastly, Master Course in Writing brings us deeply into the world of one of the great literary figures of our time and into the timeless creative process of a great storyteller. Master Course is a privilege and a thrill.