Wednesday 1 May 2013

Insecure Writer's Support Group - May 2013

Anna Nordeman

Thanks to Alex J Cavanaugh for starting Insecure Writer's Support Group.

This is my third post for IWSG.

For IWSG for April shared my list of how-to-write books and received suggestions for more titles, which I have added to my list.

As I have said before, I have not read all of the books on this list. I have only read completely the books marked in green and partly, those marked in  yellow

This time I would like to talk about how these books may or may not be helpful. I have received different comments about how-to-books. Not everyone thinks that they are that important. The consensus seems to that if you really want to learn how to write, you should just write and write and write! 

But I think it all depends upon where you are in your 'journey' toward becoming a real writer. How-to-books are probably more important for beginners and not yet published authors. Those who are published have already learned their craft. 

But how do you get there? How do you learn the craft of writing?

Here is what James Scott Bell has to say about the myth of who can become an author, that he calls 'the Big Lie' in his introduction to Plot and Structure: Techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish (2004):

I wasted ten years of prime writing life because of the Big Lie.
     In my twenties, I gave up the the dream of becoming a writer because I had been told that writing could not be taught. Writers are born, people said. You either have what it takes or you don't. and if you don't you'll never get it.
     My first writing efforts didn't have it. I thought I was doomed. Outside of my high school English teacher, Mrs. Marjorie Bruce, I didn't get any encouragement at all.
      In college. I took a writing course taught by Raymond Carver. I looked at the stuff he wrote; I looked at my stuff.
     It wasn't the same.
     Because writing can't be taught.
     I started to believe it. I figured I didn't have it and never would.
     So I did other stuff. Like go to law school. Like join a law firm. Like give up my dream.
     But the itch to write would not go away.
     At age thirty-four, I read an interview with a lawyer who'd had a novel published. And what he said hit me in my lengthy briefs. He said he'd had an accident and was almost killed. In the hospital, given a second chance at life, he decided the one thing he wanted was to be a writer. And he would write and write, even if he never got published because that was what he wanted.
     Well, I wanted it, too.
     But the Big Lie was still there, hovering around my brain, mocking me.
     Especially when I began to study the craft of writing.
     I went out and bought my first book on fiction writing. It was Lawrence Block's Writing the Novel. I also bought Syd Field's book on screenwriting because anyone living in Los Angeles who had opposable thumbs is required to write a screenplay.
     And I discovered the most incredible thing. The Big Lie was a lie. A person could learn how to write because I was learning.

I believe James Scott Bell,  that if you really want to learn how to write you can do it. So why not get a little help along the way? 

On the other hand, why so many titles? All of these books represent slightly different opinions about what writing a novel is all about, even if you will find red threads going through them all.

I don't agree with everything that is said in these books. Sometimes it is easier to find out who you are by eliminating what you don't want. Stephan King's book on writing is well worth reading, but I don't want to write the kind of scary stories that he writes, nor do I like some of his gritty language or his gory and graphic descriptions. I try to learn from him what I can use because he does know his craft. His image of the 'closed door' when you are working on your first draft and then the 'open door' when you have written your second or third draft and are ready to listen to feedback from others, was an important break-through for me. I had not understood this simple idea before and kept making the mistake of showing my texts too soon (I still make this mistake, but I am trying to stop).

Stephan King, with his horror stories, belongs to one extreme. On the other end of this scale, there is the perfumed romance novel, where everything is sugar-coated and non-committal. I was reading Leigh Michaels' book about writing romance novels and found that I do not agree with the notion that you should not write about a specific religious denomination. (If that is a requirement, then I don't what to write that kind of a novel.) 

I can admire author Rita Mae Brown for writing about a minister in her cat cozies, the Mrs. Murphy Mystery Novels, and specifying that he is a Lutheran minister. (His cats are called 'the Lutheran cats'.) She even compares the different Christian denominations, the Catholics, the Episcopalians, the Baptists, the Presbyterians and the Methodists. In one hilarious passage she has the different species of animals talk about their idea of a Higher Being as, 'The Big Grey Cat in the Sky' or 'The All-Powerful Corgi in the Sky' or 'The Great House Mouse in the Sky' or 'The All-Seeing Opossum' or 'The Almighty Barn Owl'.

By reading many novels by different authors and/or many how-to-books about writing, I can start thinking about what kind of story I want to tell. In a round-about way, it forces me to make preliminary decisions about my novel, before I even start to write it. 

Here's my revised list of how-to-write-novels-books:

Ackerman, Angela and Puglisi, Becca, The Emotional Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression (2012)

Ballon, Rachel, Ph.D., Breathing Life into your Characters: How to give your characters emotional & psychological depth (2003)

Bell, James Scott, Conflict & Suspense (2011)

Bell, James Scott, Plot & Structure [Techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish] (2004)

Bell, James Scott, Revision & Self-Editing [Techniques for transforming your first draft into a finished novel] (2008)

Bernays, Anne and Painter, Pamela, What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers (1990)

Bickham, Jack M., The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them) (1992) 

Booker, Christopher, The Seven Basic Plots: Why we tell stories (2004, 2005)

Brown, Rita-Mae, Starting from Scratch, A Different Kind of Writers' Manual (1989)

Card, Orson Scott, Characters & Viewpoint (2010) 

Card, Orson Scott, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (1990) 
Complete Handbook of Novel-Writing, The, Everything you need to know about creating & selling your work, Includes interviews with articles by Margaret Atwood, Terry Brooks, Octavia E. Butler, Tom Clancy, Janet Fitch, Elizabeth George, Sue Grafton, J.A. Jance, Gish Jen, Terry McMillan, Joyce Carol Oates, James Patterson, Richard Russo, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut and more (2002)

Davis, J. Madison, Novelist's Essential Guide to Creating Plot (2000)

Dixon, Debra, Goal, Motivation & Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction (1996)

Edelstein, Linda N., Ph.D., Writer's Guide to Character Traits, includes profiles and personality types (2006)

Geraghty, Margret, The five-minute writer: Exercise and inspiration in creative writing in five minutes a day (2006, 2009)

Kempton, Gloria, Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue (2004)

King, Stephen, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000)

Kress, Nancy, Beginnings, Middles, & Ends (2011)

Kress, Nancy, Character, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and exercises for crafting dynamic characters and effective viewpoints (2005)

Kress, Nancy, Dynamic Characters: How to create personalities that keep readers captivated (1998)

Lauther, Howard, Creating Characters: A Writer's Reference to the Personality Traits That Bring Fictional People to Life (2004, 1998)

Kiteley, Brian, The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon writing exercises that transform your fiction (2005)
Michaels, Leigh, On Writing Romance: How to craft a novel that sells (2007)

Morris, Roz, Nail your novel: Why writers abandon books and how you can draft, fix and finish with confidence (2009)

Rozelle, Ron, Description & Setting: Techniques and exercises for crafting a believable world of people, places, and events (2005)

Schmidt, Victoria Lynn, 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters (2001)

Schmidt, Victoria Lynn, Ph.D., Story Structure Architect: A writer's guide to building dramatic situations & compelling characters (2005)

Schmidt, Victoria Lynn, A Writer's Guide to Characterization: Archetypes, Heroic Journeys, and other Elements of Dynamic Character Development (2012)

The Writer's Complete Fantasy Reference / from the editors of Writer's Digest Books (1998, 2001)

Tobias, Ronald B., 20 Master Plots, and How to Build Them (1993)

Wiesner, Karen S, From First Draft to Finished Novel, writer's to cohesive story building (2008)

Wiesner, Karen S, First Draft in 30 Days, a novel writer's system for building a complete and cohesive manuscript (2005)
Wood, Monica, The Pocket Muse: Ideas & Inspiration for Writing (2001)


[I've added the missing titles, that I did not have last time. Why are they not on the list? I have not been able to acquire them yet. But I will.]

Suggested additions to my list: 

Campbell, Joseph, The Heroes Journey

Engber, Martha, Growing Great Characters from the Ground up

Koontz, Dean, How to Write Best Selling Fiction (1981)

Maass, Donald, Writing the Breakout Novel

Snyder, Blake, Save the Cat

Whitney, Phyllis, Guide to Writing Fiction (1988)


And when you have finished writing your novel and are looking for an agent or publisher, take a look at these reference books:
The Writers' & Artists Yearbook' (Bloomsbury, for the current year).

Or if you are writing for children:
The Children's Writers' & Artists Yearbook' (Bloomsbury, for the current year).

Summer will soon be here and I hope to be able to start writing again, hopefully without so many interruptions.

Best wishes,

P.S. Read about a great mystery novel that I've just read, Johan Theorin's Skumtimmen [Echoes from the Dead] here.


First Commenter:

Yolanda Renee
Defending the Pen


Yolanda Renée said...

That's quite a list! I agree the best thing to do is write, and find those books specific to what you need, which can be hard, but word of mouth is great. I do think you learn more by reading good books especially in the genre you want to write in. But writing, re-writing, and then doing it all over again does work to help hone your craft.

Great post!

Unknown said...

Great post. Great list. I've read over half of them. Love James Scott Bell! The ones I haven't read I am going to because summer is coming. Thanks for sharing.

Mark Koopmans said...

Aloha Anna,

I'm stopping by as a co-host of IWSG and just wanted to say hi from Alex :)

I enjoyed your post and while I haven't read many of the books on your list, I knew I had to learn my craft, too - so I got a job working as a local news reporter...

It was a *great* experience for me - but you NEED a thick skin :)

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Anna, I think if how-to books on writing will inspire and motivate a published author, then read on! I love so many of the books on your list. I'm a huge advocate of Mr. Maass and Bell and Bickham and King. If any of these books ignite a small spark of creativity, that's a wonderful thing. Happy IWSG.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Whatever your talent is it takes work to develop it. An artist may have talent with color an vision but unless they've learned the basic of shading, perspective, etc, they don't have the platform to make that innate talent shine.

So, yeah, you have to learn the craft of writing, and then write. Writing books are good tools to develop your foundation. You have to get your writing from the writing pad to people's eyes. It calls for Rhino tough skin, tho. My chops were honed by writing articles for newspaper, radio, developing seminars and other 'how-to' projects. Nothing is quite so lowering as getting back your copy from an editor and see it bleeding to death, lol! But those eyes do help you develop your style and improves your writing abilities.


Roland D. Yeomans said...

I am a believer in Orson Scott Card's book on writing. King's ON WRITING is great. I have a smoke-stained copy of Dean Koontz book on genre fiction that is my favorite! :-0

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Anna, visiting from the IWSG. Long list you have here. I have just read a few of the writing craft books. My advice would be to just write, write and write some more.

Rachna Chhabria
Co-host IWSG
Rachna's Scriptorium

Unknown said...

I believe people can become better writers, but I do think writers are born. We either have the start of talent or we don't, but no matter where we are, even a New York Time's best has room to improve. I think the second we think we've arrived is the second our careers bite the dust. Thanks for listing all the books. I love reading self-editing books. :)

Denise Covey said...

Hi Anna. Terribly long list, isn't it? I have a pile of these, and don't ever read any from cover to cover. I just dig in when I want to know something specific. But for very practical assistance right away, go to the Writers Knowledge Base which is hosted by a terrific writer who gathers great articles around the web and blogs. It's helped me so much.

I have a link on my blog if you can't find it.

Hope you are thinking about LETTERS for our RFW challenge!!


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