Hello again. Less than a week into the new blog, and I must admit I’m having fun.
I wonder when this will start to feel like work…
Whatever. Whilst I have another bite of fiction to post soon enough (after it’s been polished – maybe Monday?), I thought I might use this post to answer a question from a follower ‘Wild Naiada’.
Ok, firstly – eep! A follower! One of thirteen. God the pressure! I find myself hoping that some of them are spambots. Spambots have low expectations, and they’re always so friendly.
Anyway, Naiada’s question was simple – did I have any favourite books about writing? Given I was looking for an idea, I thought I would answer this fully in a post.
Stephen King, On Writing
Yeah, yeah, I know, everyone quotes this. It’s well known and an entertaining read. Well, at least the first three-quarters are. The last quarter was almost like he threw together some text-book notes on punctuation and dialogue. I almost stopped reading at this point – it was dull, a tough read, like reading an English text-book. Given his history as an English teacher, perhaps this is to be expected.
But – the first three-quarters was serious gold. The value in this part was not in any technical toolbox of grammar he might suggest, rather it was the refresher of King’s own manner of spinning a tale –his own, unique voice. You don’t need the cover of a book to know you are reading a Stephen King, his voice is unmistakeable. The memories of his writing in his youth, his mother, his alcoholism, the sale of his first novel, etc. could have been pages from any of his novels.
This was the main takeaway I had from On Writing. Find, then develop your voice. Then do what you can to get it heard.
Chuck Wendig, The Kickass Writer, The Penmonkey series, etc.
For an absolute fire-truck load of useful tips on just about every writing topic you can think of, I would have to direct you to http://terribleminds.com/ramble/blog/ by author Chuck Wendig.
A NSFW warning if you (or your employer if you check out his website at work) are offended by frequent, casual, and extremely imaginative use of foul language. Seriously. I grew up around farm swearing (I think I learnt the C-bomb from my Nanna) and I was amazed and impressed by the level of creativity in his curses.
I picked up his ‘Big Ass Bundle of seven writing books in PDF’. Written in an informal, almost playful manner there are some great tips. From a real ‘nuts and bolts’ perspective, I think these are exceptionally useful, and benefit from being in readily digestible ‘lists of 25 things to do/not do’. There is a bit of repetition between the books, but not much, and I actually found these repeats useful as reinforcement.
If you had the time/inclination, I suspect you could get almost all of this for free by just wading through the archive of his blog – from what I can tell it’s all there. I missed the special offer, so I think it cost $20 (?); money I consider well spent.
Here is a link to his self-published eBundle: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/05/27/big-ass-book-bundle-ending-soon-so-get-it-before-the-bone-man-what-never-mind-i-didnt-say-anything-about-a-bone-man/
He has also released a hardcopy book ‘The Kickass Writer’ through Writers Digest: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/11/11/now-available-the-kick-ass-writer/. I can’t speak to this one, I haven’t read it. Lets be honest – I haven’t read it yet. Even though I’m sure I already have ninety percent of the tips already, I fully expect I’ll get this as soon as my wife lets me have my credit card back.
From reading the writing advice and nothing else, I would be tempted to say the takeaway message I got is that writers write. If you want to write then get off your arse and stop not writing.
But I didn’t stop at his writing advice. I had bought the books and read the blogs, but wondered exactly how much notice I could pay to someone I hadn’t read before. So, I gave one of his books a try; I bought Blackbirds, the first in the Miriam Black series.
I finished it and immediately bought the next two books; Mocking Birds and the Cormorant. I love this series, and if another Miriam Black book comes out (I get the suspicion it will), I’ll be in line for it.
It was from these novels by Wendig that I took my real takeaway: Do what you can to make your story really race. The Miriam Black novels are great because the pages race away under your hands, there are no boring bits, no unnecessary exposition, no pauses for breath. Every character drives the story forward. The chapters are short and punchy (one chapter was one sentence long) – a brilliant move that means the old ‘just one more chapter’ never wears out.
Of course, his advice covers exactly what tricks he used to do this: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/07/14/25-ways-to-write-a-real-page-turner-of-a-book/
Finally I have two more books that I recommend you pick up from the library. They have value, but I can’t honestly say you will refer to them more than once or twice. I bought them years ago, and still have them hanging around the house – in fact-finding them was one of the things that got me to try writing again (so we’ll see if they were worth it)
The first is Evan Marshall, The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing. This is exactly what it sounds like – a step by step road map to a writing a novel. It’s brutally mechanical, with advice like:
- Genre and ideal manuscript length
- How many viewpoint characters you should have (based on this length)
- How much page space or sections the lead character should appear in
- Mapping out the action and reaction sections
- Splitting the story into beginning(1/4), middle (1/2), end (1/4).
It outlines a rigid formula for outlining your novel before the fingers hit the keyboard. It’s not an exciting read, and is guaranteed to annoy anyone who takes a looser, more unbound approach to writing. Based on this book, you might think that every novel is based on a template, and the ideas behind them are forced into this structure.
That criticism aside, I had a look at novels in my shelves, and many of them followed this structure pretty closely. Word count is a real issue for publishers, and will affect the commerciality of your ‘product’. Don’t fool yourself, if you are writing for eventual sale then your writing is your product. And the action, failure, reaction structure is a logical approach that most books follow.
My takeaway from this book was to use the provided structure as an outline, then abandon it when I felt necessary. I found the structure a great basis to outline the story, and so far I’m still writing to the structure (in my novel, not this blog).
The second is Laurie E Rozakis (PhD), The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creative Writing (second edition). I nearly left this off the list, as I have a degree of shame for having a dummy’s guide (hey, that’s a hidden level of intellectual snobbery I wasn’t aware of, how fun). But I flicked through it again the other night, and it has some excellent tips and tools in it. It provides an analysis of short stories, essays, non-fiction etc, and provides real literary examples.
I used a couple of these tips and tricks in the bite, or flash fiction, I’m finishing up now. I’ve tried my hand at parallelism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parallelism_(grammar)) and repetition (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repetition_(rhetorical_device)). I wont go into these now, but when I post the flash fiction (actually a Chuck Wendig Challenge) I hope you can see where I’ve used them.
There isn’t really a takeaway from this book; it covers too much, and doesn’t have the same readability as others. But its a fine reference, if your pride can stand having it on your shelf.
Well this took longer than I thought. For those who have stuck with me to the end of this post, I’d be interested in what you have to say. Do I have it right? Do you have any better writing books/advice? Is there any blog or twitterer that I should follow for more tips?