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I’m rereading Carol Bly’s The Passionate, Accurate Story: Making Your Heart’s Truth into Literature. While there are many books I enjoy, there are very few I want to reread. Bly’s book is one that I could reread more than once.

Part of my issue with rereading is that as soon as I start, I recognize everything as it’s being said in a bad deja-vu way. Not so with The Passionate, Accurate Story. There’s something about Bly’s writing style, a complexity, that makes it darn-near impossible for me to remember that I’ve read it before, which means the book seems fresh upon the reread.

When Bly discusses writing fiction, for her it’s not simply about spinning a good yarn. She wants writers to delve into deeper values and ethical issues within their stories. She includes an exercise for listing values on pages 39-40, which I completed. Here is her exercise with my answers:

“1. Two goals or values which make life good or bearable or wood if they were in operation.”

a. Teaching/encouraging children to be independent thinkers.

b. Empathy – basic human empathy for another’s suffering. (I use empathy rather than sympathy for a reason. It implies that everyone can take their own suffering & see how it relates to the suffering of others.)

“2. Two goals or values which cause injustice and suffering or lessening of joy.”

a. Helicopter parents who stifle their children’s lives out of misplaced fear.

b. Excessive & wasteful consumption (of resources, of consumer products).

“3. Two missing goals or behaviors.”

a. We don’t recycle all that we can.

b. There’s more work in the world begging to be done (proper recycling), yet we aren’t putting people to work on these things (too many unemployed people who’d rather be working).

“4. Two injustices which you see about you and should keep and eye on, even on your wedding day.”

a. Too many people in this world trying to control others (emotionally, physically, mentally) – not enough of letting people live their own lives.

b. Religious & political hypocrisy. “Do as I say, not as I do.” “You have to follow my rules, but I get to break them all I want.”

Bly illustrated completely different values from these and she says that day-to-day, your own values list will change. The point of the exercise is to show that there are all kinds of values bumping up against each other in our world and this is how it should be in our stories. While one of the values I’ve listed, say, our over-consumption, might be the main point of a story, the other values on my list could be used to create conflict with or add depth to the main value.

It’s this sort of atypical writing advice, along with her nugget, “That is the first thing I thought of: now what is the second?”  that makes Bly’s book worth successive readings. (pg. 110)

This book has been seminal for at least three writers I know (me being one of them). Even though Bly focuses on how to develop the short story, her book has been an encouragement to the three of us in tackling novel-length works.

For these reasons and more, I need to invest in a copy of The Passionate, Accurate Story for my personal collection, rather than checking it out of the public library. It’s worth the commitment.