Saturday, February 21, 2009

Critically reviewing 3 How-To Write Books (Part 2)

Wall’s book is concise and focused, eschewing straight “how-to” lore in favour of accompanying the reader on a journey through established texts (From Flaubert and Swift to Atwood and Moorcock). It deals in concepts and is designed almost like an “Idiots Guide to…” Documentary-like discussions make up the brunt of the work, utilising information-bubbles to develop a specific point to a deeper level (like footnotes) or to suggest exercises.

Examples are literary based, but, extracts or quotations are rarely used. This is Wall’s greatest failing. Other books provide extracts to better express theory behind explanations but Wall labours on abstracts by discussing notions instead of showing concrete examples. It’s here where Wall is most contradictory: a short book designed with bite-sized info-dumps meant to be easily accessible, but with heavy concepts and extremely literary examples that lack appropriate quoted-detail.

Furthermore, short chapters on Irony, Humour, and Themes feel rushed and shoe-horned in, lacking in impact or development. Their importance is established by their range but, like any overview, I felt as if I were being made aware of concepts without being shown the appropriate techniques to apply them myself. A subsection rushes through character archetypes that Christopher Vogler spends an entire book discussing in The Writer’s Journey. This highlights Wall’s greatest failing, by attempting to cover too many subjects too abstractly. From a pedagogical viewpoint the reader is being rushed through too many disparate topics, without an opportunity to secure their understandings.

Wall hasn’t aimed his work at the new writer. He requires ability and self-motivation that even I lacked while reading. I was put off by most of the exercises:
“Make up ten modern-day insults you could use in a work of fiction”
“Describe your hand”
“Consider the following opening sentences and the way they convey information…”
Examples provided by better guides translate into reader understanding that Wall fails to convey. Good pedagogy investigates a specific topic, detailing points, examples and follows up with exercises. They don’t appear alongside theory in mid-chapter. Readers wish to complete a chapter before attempting exercises, but here they feel disinterested in revisiting.

Very much like the Reading into Writing module, Wall requires a certain ability and mental capacity from his reader. Reading into Writing benefited from the class’s ability to throw ideas around, highlighting what they learned from chosen set-texts. Wall’s refusal to do this means the reader must do the hard work themselves (if they come to the right conclusions).

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