Story Craft

Story Craft

by John R. Erickson
Publisher: Maverick Books
Trade Paperback, 168 pages
Current Retail Price: $12.99
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Even if you've never read about Hank the Cowdog, you can enjoy this one. John Erickson has written about Hank for 27 years, and in this uniquely personal volume he shares reflections and observations from a lifetime of writing. Erickson has operated his own ranch, attended Harvard University's graduate divinity school, been considered by Disney to write a script for a Hank the Cowdog movie, and self-published the first ten books of a now-famous series before a publisher picked him up.

Erickson explores these and other experiences in part one of Story Craft. In the second part, he discusses his views on art (primarily writing) and the Christian artist's relationship to popular culture. He uses the Hank stories as an example of a Christian response to the secular humanism rampant in books and film, describing the differences between a talking animal who still acts like an animal, and a talking animal who acts like a human—and the dangerous worldview inherent in the latter.

The final section addresses aspiring writers with advice and encouragement. Some of his statements are at odds with what many artists (and art critics, including Francis Schaeffer, whom he quotes) believe, such as his opinion that content outweighs style in importance (a ridiculous judgment, really). Others are quite useful, not just for creative writers but students in general—good writing is clear, writers must be disciplined, good writers edit their work. He also makes interesting statements to the effect that writers learn to write by writing, and that good writers produce more than they consume.

While these methods may have worked for him, they run counter to what most great writers say—to be a good writer one must be a good and voracious reader, practice is essential but so is a knowledge of great literature, style and content must work together. His claims to have not read fiction since he began writing the Hank the Cowdog series nearly thirty years ago is a personal choice, not a requisite to good writing, and certainly not a necessary step for beginning writers.

Yet Erickson is a good writer, and has a clear (if eccentric) approach to his craft. But he's self-admittedly eccentric, and forthright about his estimation of his own skill—he's not a great novelist, just a writer who found his niche writing about a ranch dog in Texas. It's interesting to note that initially the readership of the Hank books was exclusively adult, a fact that would seem to validate Gene Edward Veith's inclusion of Erickson's series among the best children's books available.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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Exodus Rating:
FLAWS: Eccentric advice
Summary Interesting but uneven advice on the writing life, as well as reflections on the author's own experience.

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  Reflections With Humor and Honor
Mystie Winckler of WA, 3/19/2011
Story Craft is full of interesting autobiographical & cultural reflections from someone who has kept himself from fiction and television since he started writing. He writes both about his theory on why art labeled “Christian” is bad and why “Capitalized Artist” art is also bad. He explains how his books evidence his Christian worldview, even though Christian publishers won’t have them; his section on complaints he’s gotten from some Christian readers is quite amusing.

He tells how he began writing and selling his books with adults as his target audience and the fact that he is now considered a children’s author is completely unintentional. Children began reading his books, teachers started inviting him into schools, and his books with humor “too subtle for children” are now shelved in the library in the children’s section.

He recommends that writers diagram sentences, so he’s all right in my book.