Some people know A.B. "Bud" Guthrie as the author of "The Big Sky" and "The Way West," two epic Western novels. Some know him as Montana's Man of Letters, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Some know him as a sometimes cranky and cantankerous friend and neighbor.
Now readers can see another side of Guthrie: Guthrie the teacher."A Field Guide to Writing Fiction" is - at heart - really a field guide to storytelling. In 40 brief, choppy chapters the author - who claims to hate outlines - gives us an outline for writing traditional fiction that sells. Chapters range from "The Big Three: Scene, Description and Summary" and "Viewpoint" to "Plots," "Dialogue" and "Flashbacks."
Most chapters take up a single page.
At a time when so many writing instructors are leading novices down the primrose path of minimalism, post-modernism and other "isms," Guthrie's bald and bold advice is like a path through the wilderness of modern theory and trendy schools. There, much of the writing is indeed significant; it's just not very interesting.
Not long ago, I heard a university professor say - quite straight-faced - "Once I get my students to stop thinking about a sense of place, character development and storyline, it's amazing how well they can write."
Guthrie would be alarmed by such thinking. It throws out both the bath and the baby - not to mention the baby's home, parents and ancestry.
Guthrie's approach is more reader friendly. He believes in giving readers what they really want. This, for example, on developing a "sense of place:"The reader wants to know where he is. That's to say, where your character or characters are. Outdoors or indoors? In a field where a cow may be grazing or on a busy city street? Is it night or day, dawn or dusk? Whereabouts on the map, unless that's already plain? . . .
As a writer you may tire of such details, but the reader won't. The more he knows about where he is, the more he'll be with you.