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 #2290 - Tuesday, October 18, 2005 - Editor: Jerry Katz



This issue features a review of the book The Way of Story: The Craft and Soul of Writing, by Cathrine Ann Jones.






The Way of Story: The Craft and Soul of Writing, by Cathrine Ann Jones.


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Cathrine Ann Jones gets to the heart of writing a story. The book's emphasis is on knowing who you are. Jones tells about her personal experiences in the world of writing and writers and this contributes a texture of behind-the-scenes humanness. She has included "everything" she knows, appreciates, and understands about writing stories. She gives it up. She reaches way back for the stuff of this book. In writing her book that way, Jones demonstrates what is required of the writer: giving it up, putting it all out there, reaching way back. Here is an excerpt from her book that shows the kind of commitment and the work ethic a writer requires:


"I learned that the University of Texas at Austin had a fine collection of original manuscripts of such renowned authors as Samuel Beckett, Dylan Thomas, George Bernard Shaw, and Tennessee Williams, among many others. I also learned that you could obtain a pass to sit and read them in an authorized room. Epiphany! I observed that Dylan Thomas would cross out one word twenty times until finding the one right word. In other words, a great published poem like Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas, does not arise perfect from the writer's mind, like Botticelli's Venus from the Sea, but has undergone several drafts first."


There are varied and in-depth story analyses, scores of quotations, and the practical core of the book is made up of over twenty useful and challenging exercises. The exercises bring this book into the category of a college textbook. The exercises begin with basic ones intended to inspire the process of writing. They progress to consider story outline, then theme, plot, character, dialogue, conflict. Techniques for imagery, channelling, and personal myth writing encourage the reader to reach way back and then to put it all out there, to put it into the story. 


At the same time one also has to go with the flow and just be. Jones writes:


"I had not been working in Hollywood long when I was invited to a friend's house for lunch. Sitting on my right was a Finnish film director, though I did not know it at the time. We spoke of philosophy, which is my passion and turned out to be his, also. I shared with him the years I had spent in India studying the Advaita Vedanta philosophy with a great Sage. Though I rarely speak of this as it is deeply personal, it seemed natural to do so in this instance. Only at the end of the luncheon did he reveal that he was a film director. Tavi went to explain that he had come to Hollywood for one purpose: to find a screenwriter who was also spiritual.


"A few weeks later, during my annual spiritual retreat in South India, a young Indian boy on a bicycle rode out to my small, remote village and delivered a telegram from this same Finnish film director/producer, wanting to hire me to adapt the Finnish classic novel, Wolfbride, into a screenplay. While meditating thousands of miles away, I got a job. It was the story of a spiritual woman who was burned as a witch in the seventeenth century.


"In case you haven't guessed by now, I believe in destiny. One can either work with it or fight it. Having done both, i would recommend tuning in, listening, then following the path of least resistance, already there."


The Way of Story is intimate, inspirational, useful, and educational.


~ ~ ~


That's the review. I do want to make an additional comment in this separate section. To have included it in the above brief review would have made for a disproportionality in terms of what is normally covered in a book review.


This book, like almost all others that are published by very small publishing concerns, lacks an index. How much more valuable this book would be with an index. I'd be able to see all the mentions of Star Wars in one place. I'd be able to glance at all the hundred or so names of people mentioned in this book. I'd become aware of all discussions of character, creativity, and theme, and every other concept. Under the main heading of "Exercises" I'd be able to see sub-headings stating in a few words the subject of each exercise and the pages on which each occurs.


I'd see all the movie titles and where they are noted within the book. In other words, I'd have a sense of the aboutness of the book that is more like a rich oil painting compared the water color table of contents that any book offers. How else would I know at a glance that Dylan Thomas is mentioned on pages 56 and 166? Or the exact pages where Jung is mentioned or quoted, and they are several. Where did I see that reference to Jodie Foster's Clarice and that quotation from Hannibal Lechter? Darn. If there were a good index I'd know immediately that Clarice appears on page 77, and I'd gain that information whether I looked up "Foster, Jodie", "Clarice", "Silence of the Lambs", or "Hannibal Lechter" (not "Lechter, Hannibal" because who the heck would look under "Lechter"?).  How about something like the following as part of an index:


personal experiences of author

      Cool Hand Luke, opening written as stage directions, 73-74

      E.M. Forster, why he stopped writing, 22

      Julie Harris, as lead in author's screenplay, 15

      Lee Strasburg, taking his class, 145

      New Orleans, childhood in, 4

      Peter Brook, discussion of India with, 7



Would that kind of thing be useful? Would it add to the already rich texture of the book? Does it create interest? Could a good index be a selling point to individuals, college teachers, and libraries?


My comments about the index, though specific, really apply to all the books that people are publishing. I don't mean to pick on Cathrine Ann's book. As I write book reviews from now on, I'm going to be reviewing their indexes. If there is none I'm going to show how an index would be valuable, if in fact one would.


Two of my pet peeves are poor or lacking indexes, and fictional works written by spiritual teachers. Index or no index, if every spiritual teacher -- or anyone with literary ambitions -- reads and practices The Way of Story, they would likely be more successful.


~ ~ ~


The Way of Story: The Craft and Soul of Writing, by Cathrine Ann Jones.


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