Wednesday 2 July 2014

IWSG - Insecure Writer's Support Group July 2014

Anna Nordeman


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

This is my fifteenth post for IWSG. 
I'll try to make this a short post. My different writing projects are currently on the back burner while I sort out a paper for the university and look for a job. But I have had trouble resisting the temptation of reading a couple of how-to books, Save the Cat, The Last Book On Screenwriting That You'll Ever Need, by Blake Snyder, and Writers' and Artists' Guide to How to Write, The Essential Guide for Authors, by Harry Bingham.
As the subtitle informs, Save the Cat, is about writing for films in Hollywood, whereas How to Write, is about writing novels for the contemporary English-speaking market.  

Save the Cat shows two important things: one is the use of boarding in order to squeeze a story into the time allotted for a feature film, and the importance of having a scene that makes your main character likeable; let him save a cat or help an old lady cross the street. And the importance of a friend for the main character to talk to. 

Blake Snyder also points out that if you are going to write for film, you should have seen many, many films and know a lot about them. You have to know what has been done before dreaming up something new och fresh.

After reading Save the Cat, I realised that writing for film is not what I want to do. I want to write novels, even if there is something to be said about using index cards for different scenes when planning or plotting your novel. (I'm a planner. I like index cards. You should see my kitchen wall.) 

I told myself that I wasn't going to start reading this thick book about writing novels, written by the same author of The Writers' and Artists Guide to Getting Published (which is more about the process of finding an agent or publisher and how to prepare your finished manuscript before sending it off). But I couldn't resist the temptation to read two really enjoyable books.

I have only read a little more that half of How to Write. It's the kind of book that you can use as a reference, dipping into it here and there to get answers to specific questions. But I am actually reading it from cover to cover to see what's there.

After reading a book about screenplays, I can clearly see the difference between films and novels. Film is very external - thus the need for sidekicks. Novels can be very internal. You can get into the thoughts of different characters. You can have one or more point of view characters.

What is Harry Bingham's advice? 

You have to know your market (write for today's market). Get to know what your readers want to read, as well as the rules of the genre you choose to write in. The market is something most of us don't have time to investigate. But the people who are working as agents or publishers do. They read so many manuscripts. They know what works. Mr Bingham knows what he's talking about, he has his own firm that offers  help for authors to see their work compared with acclaimed recently published writers. 

How do you get your text up to snuff? By avoiding the most common mistakes that most beginning writers make.

Bingham's message is: 'Ensure that your prose style is strong enough to carry your story - Polish your work until it shines'. 

I like Bingham's guide book because it is open for variations. (And he has no boring questionnaires for your characters, which I hate.) This is a rule book for writing that even shows what breaking the rules can look like. He shows what can be gained and what is lost by choosing different points of view. He describes the easiest way of writing - in past tense and in straight chronological order - but he also shows examples of how some very skillful writers have succeeded in experiments using present tense and flash forwards. The choice is yours, but to succeed, you must write well. 

The writing style in How to Write is fun. It's a guidebook that is hard to put down. Bingham not only explains the different parts of a novel, he shows examples of snippets from many contemporary novels, with the exception of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, which he uses as an example of a classic story/plot.

How to Write seems to me to be a dependable source of information. Harry Bingham's advice is based on his long professional experience, not only as an accomplished novelist in his own right, but also in his work helping other authors. As mentioned earlier, he runs his own consultancy, The Writers' Workshop, where thousands of manuscripts are read and critiqued, and where new authors receive qualified assistance to get their writing in shape for publication. Just the sort of place I'd like to send my manuscript, if I ever get it finished.

Has anyone had experience with sending work to be critiqued by a firm similar to Mr Bingham's? I'd like to hear about it.

Yours faithfully,

For those who would like to see my list of how-to-write-books, please go here
[If you would like to read my other earlier posts for IWSG, go back to my first post in March 2013 here, in April 2013 here, in May 2013 here, in June here, in July 2013 here, in August 2013  here,  in September 2013  here,  in October 2013 here, in November 2013 here, in December 2013 here, in January 2014 here, in February 2014 here in March 2014 here, in April 2014 here, and in June 2014 here.]

First Commenter:

Laura Clipson


My Baffling Brain

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