Monday, January 11, 2010

Theodore Sturgeon

Saturday night I was with a bunch of SF writers, including Ted Kosmatka, Jack Skillingstead, and Patrick Swenson. The talk turned to a classic story by Theodore Sturgeon, "The Man Who Lost the Sea." Jack and Ted both said they were blown away by that story; Patrick read it on the spot and agreed. I had never read this story, so this morning I did.

It's very good (this is, of course, Sturgeon we're talking about!) What struck me were three aspects of its construction. First, the story takes place after its major events are actually over. Second, although it runs about twenty pages, the time span covered is only a few seconds. Third, the story boldly plays with point of view. There are two "characters" (sort of), but who they are and what they're really doing is only made clear in the last few paragraphs.

Each of these is a risky strategy for story-telling, hard to successfully pull off. Sturgeon did, but apparently not easily. He wrote that he worked on this story through many drafts, that some readers (including his wife) could not understand the story, and that he wasn't sure it ever did succeed. To me, this is as interesting as the story itself. Writers can be so close to their work that they are unable to evaluate it accurately. We may underestimate good work or over-inflate mediocre work.

This is one reason that a writing group or good class can be useful. I have thirteen students in my current fiction class at Richard Hugo House; together, we can provide better feedback than any of us could singly. I'm very much looking forward to seeing what this group of aspiring authors produces.


Nancy Jane Moore said...

I love that story, too; it's one of those pieces that made me cry the first time I read it, and still makes me cry.

Given your discussion of the effort Sturgeon put into it, I shall have to go back and look at it as a writer and see what I can learn from it.

Anonymous said...


bluesman miike Lindner said...

I'm sure Sturgeon wrote a weaker story or two.

But for the life of me, I can't think of one.

Jan Vaněk jr. said...

Uh, so you say that the interval between "His eyes drop to the face of his chronometer: 0400, near as makes no never mind." and "Check: 0459. Fifty-nine minutes?" does not actually take place within the story time proper, or what?

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Anonymous said...

I second the notion of reading Godin's Linchpin. Thanks for recommending Pink's book - read his others will read this now, too.

Loved your book, btw.

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