I think this is a wonderful counterpoint to Maass's books, too. Maass's perspective is commercial, whereas Butler's is literary. At least in that last book, Maass came off much like a writing coach (to me), whereas Butler is a teacher. This book is a collection of transcripts of his lectures on writing, as well as some stories being workshopped in his class. Overall, Butler's approach is less about reader reaction and more about reader experience...
And those two things are obviously quite similar, but the spin is different. One of my favorite concepts from Maass is microtension, where you make sure every element of every scene has some underlying conflict to keep a quick pace that the reader will respond to by turning pages. With Butler, that same pull is achieved through the emphasis, as you write, on the character's yearning in each scene. If there is no desire of any kind, there is no scene. For the most authentic effect, Butler demands that you get out of your intellectual head and write from the emotional center of every description, action, and piece of dialogue.
I have to admit: I was surprised by how fresh his approach seemed. I don't know that it will work for me, but its intuitive, fluid nature might suit my pantsing tendencies better than all the structure/outlining books I've been studying. I'm going to try it. He even suggests an index-carding technique for plotting that still emphasizes discovery (or at least sounds like it does -- we'll see).
One of the cornerstones of the technique is much like sense memory in method acting. He encourages method writing, basically, which should result in something rich with description and emotion. Some people are turned off by his reference to accessing the right mental place for this as a trance. It does seem a bit new-agey, I know, but he is referring to that state of flow, when the writing is skipping your rational brain and effortlessly appearing on the page. With practice and regular exercising of the ability, he feels you should be able to enter that state nearly upon command and produce writing that has all the appropriate emotion, yearning, etc.
But the chapter that resonated with me most was the one titled "Cinema of the Mind." He likens the building blocks of novels to the building blocks of films. I've certainly come across this concept before, and have read some screenwriting books about plot structure, but here he emphasizes the final product: the visual experience of the movie-goer. As writers, we are the directors choosing the shots.
Thinking about this in terms of reader experience really crystallized a few things for me in considering what to put on the page and what to leave out as the first draft is happening. It's very easy to add something to a scene, a description or stage direction of some sort, just because we know that it happens. But is it important? Is it what the audience needs to see? Is it something they already know or can infer? It seems obvious when you hear it, and there's a lot of advice for pantsers that says, "Just put it down and fix it later," but when you end up with 125,000 words and need to pare it down to 80,000, that "later" part is really daunting. If you're the intuitive, pantser type, this perspective can help you be more efficient and save yourself some work later without feeling like you're being forced into making an outline.
Anyway, I'm not sure I'd put this one on the favorites shelf quite yet, but with all the writing books I read, it's nice to find something new. I'm looking forward to trying some of the techniques to see how they mesh with my process. (less)
Maass, as always, has some great advice here for livening up your fiction if your draft is feeling stale. Much of it sounded similar to what he offere...moreMaass, as always, has some great advice here for livening up your fiction if your draft is feeling stale. Much of it sounded similar to what he offered in The Fire in Fiction and Writing the Breakout Novel, though the spin here is that the modern audience (and agent) doesn't have the time for your boring-assed fiction. Do EVERYTHING YOU CAN to make sure your characters are memorable, your plots well-paced, and your endings so astounding their heads will explode. It's a tall order.
I came away feeling rather overloaded with suggestions, too. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I was somewhat reminded of my skating coach back in the day helping me learn a jump or a spin. My coach could show me examples of the maneuver being done well and he could offer a lot of suggestions for different ways to hold my shoulders, position my feet, or stretch my body. Not all of them were actually useful though, because it was impossible for him to predict the ripple effects of a single change. Without even considering that, he'd just throw a bunch of advice at me to see what worked. Some of it resulted in some rather exaggerated (and incorrect) results, which were made even worse when he made five suggestions at once.
Same for Maass's advice, particularly in the battery of lists at the end of each chapter. "Think of something your character would never say. Make them say it." "What's the most improbable thing your character would do at the climactic moment of the book? Make them do it." "What's an ironclad rule of your genre? Break it." You can't do ALL of these things, or else you're going to end up with a manuscript as spastic as my first attempts at double axels. That's my sense anyway.
If you're in the mood to wade through it all, however, there are some good ideas here for experimenting with your fiction. The lists are themed, I know, but they end up making the book as a whole feel less cohesive than the others I mentioned. I don't think Writing 21st Century Fiction is bad, but I would recommend The Fire in Fiction instead.(less)
This was one of the first books I bought for myself when I decided to pursue fiction writing. It's also the only book from those early days that survi...moreThis was one of the first books I bought for myself when I decided to pursue fiction writing. It's also the only book from those early days that survived the recent culling of my writing book collection, because the exercises are well-suited to aspiring and seasoned writers alike. (The rest of those first books I picked up were very self-helpy. I liked some of them back then, but freewriting about your past only gets you so far, you know?)
Le Guin's focus with these exercises is wordsmithing. I've read so many books lately on plot, character, and Big Picture elements that it was refreshing to consider working with my writing at this level again. If those others are about planning a work of art, making decisions about layout and color, this book is about mixing the paints and choosing the brushes.
Since there's only a very brief description from Goodreads, here's a peek at what she covers:
Chapter 1. The Sound of Your Writing Exercise one: Being Gorgeous
Chapter 2. Punctuation Exercise two: I am Garcia Marquez
Chapter 3. Sentence Length and Complex Syntax Exercise three: Short and Long
Chapter 4. Repetition Exercise four: Again and Again and Again
Chapter 5. Adjective and Adverb Exercise five: Chastity
Chapter 6. Subject Pronoun and Verb Exercise six: The Old Woman
Chapter 7. Point of View and Voice Exercise seven: POV
Chapter 8. Changing Point of View Exercise eight: Changing Voices
Chapter 9. Indirect Narration, or What Tells Exercise nine: Telling it Slant
Chapter 10. Crowding and Leaping Exercise ten: A Terrible Thing to Do
From the start, I knew I was getting something special from these exercises. Not only did I love the writing it helped me produce, but the exercises sharpened my sense of how language can affect a reader. I found that very inspiring as an aspiring writer.
These days, I also appreciate the emphasis on quality of language, word economy, and crafting a sentence you're damn proud of. As much as I like NaNoWriMo and understand that dwelling on each sentence is a realllllllly slow-going way to get a book written, I love that this book encourages you to slow down. Listen to the words you're choosing. Are they they best words? Do you need all of them? Is there a better way? Try another way to be sure. All of this experimentation with language can get you even closer to conveying your vision to the reader. That's the goal, right?
Anyway, I'm getting ready to work through all these again with a friend. I'm hoping the actual process of working through these exercises is as enjoyable as I remember. I'll amend the review either way. (less)
If I could re-title this book, I'd call it Manuscript Makeover: Revision Checklists for Fiction Writers. Truly, the checklists at the ends of the chap...moreIf I could re-title this book, I'd call it Manuscript Makeover: Revision Checklists for Fiction Writers. Truly, the checklists at the ends of the chapters are the superstars here.
The rest of it feels very textbooky, which does not make for an engaging cover-to-cover read. Each chapter offers descriptions of various elements of storytelling, reflects upon different approaches you may have taken, and notes possible advantages and disadvantages of each. Then follows a checklist summarizing all those things.
So, I think the word "techniques" in the title here is a bit deceiving. Considerations maybe, but techniques no. It doesn't offer exercises or anything other than the checklists as a way of looking at your draft. The beginning of each chapter also tells me I can go ahead and skip it if I'm confident I did okay with whatever it's covering. I thought I couldn't afford to ignore these?
The checklists get high marks for being very thorough, so may be useful for devising a plan of attack. I suspect many folks will end up going to other writing books, however, to learn how to work through their draft's specific problems. As always with these things, your mileage may vary.(less)
For me, this offering from James Scott Bell ranks up there with 2k to 10k on my list of short writing books that give you the most bang for your buck....moreFor me, this offering from James Scott Bell ranks up there with 2k to 10k on my list of short writing books that give you the most bang for your buck. It's very short, but the idea here is fresh. I think it will indeed work for both outliners and discovery writers, which is unusual for a plotting strategy. Highly recommended!(less)
If you're writing your first novel, I wouldn't recommend this as a resource for learning fundamentals like character development, story structure, etc...moreIf you're writing your first novel, I wouldn't recommend this as a resource for learning fundamentals like character development, story structure, etc. I would also suggest skipping almost all the advice on publishing. This was written in 2008 and quite a lot has changed since then, particularly with regard to self-publishing and self-promotion. (She talks about listservs! Old school.)
There is a lot of great food for thought, however, on how to approach your research for a historical novel. For example, she explores the balance between authenticity and believability. It doesn't matter if a particular word or phrase was really in use -- if it doesn't sound like it might have been common in the time period you're writing about, it will pull your reader out of the story. There's a delicate balance between authenticity and accessibility, too. You owe it to your readers to do more than simple window-dressing, but info dumps are going to kill your pacing. As with fantasy, you'll need to slip the world-building in unobtrusively. Along those lines, she talks about some crafty ways to bring real historical figures into your fiction in a believable way.
She also includes specific sources for researching various eras/settings and discusses how to choose details from them that are relevant to your story. Relevance is determined by the context of your character, not just possible interest of the reader. Take horse shit on the street, for example -- she points out that it used to be everywhere! This is gross! For a modern reader transplanted to the historical setting, it might be the very first thing they noticed. If this has always been on the streets where your protagonist is walking around, is it really notable? In a first person narrative, your protagonist may not even notice unless they step directly in it.
Historical context is obviously critical for everything else, as well. Your character's personal details, the circumstances of the mystery/murder itself, how the investigation proceeds... She doesn't include a checklist, but you could easily generate one from her chapters to help steer your research as you plot. She mentions some anachronisms specific to the historical sleuth's work, too. You must be careful not to include the modern POV on criminal psychology, police procedures, and forensics, for example.
So, overall, a good resource for getting started with historical mysteries. I'll definitely pick this one up again for a second read if I write one.(less)
I really enjoyed Heather Sellers's Chapter After Chapter -- that one hit me at the perfect time and, although a lot of the get-up-off-your-ass-and-fin...moreI really enjoyed Heather Sellers's Chapter After Chapter -- that one hit me at the perfect time and, although a lot of the get-up-off-your-ass-and-finish-your-book books tell you the same thing, there was something in the way she put those things that really resonated with me.
With this one... well, not quite. It's not bad advice and I don't mind the way she gives it, but the timing was wrong. This was the one I should have read eons ago when I was having those nascent thoughts about becoming a writer. So, I'm trying to look at it from that perspective. I wasn't a huge fan of some of the Mr Miyagi-like tactics she suggests for tricking yourself into enjoying your writing time, but they may actually work. As with all these things, your mileage may vary.
There were two sections I liked quite a lot though. One was on the idea of the mental compost pile, the source of your richest ideas. If you're a young writer, the pile is small, but you don't have to dig deep to get to the really hearty stuff. The pile, as a whole, gets richer and deeper as you have more experiences, though you can't neglect the pile. You have to get in there and turn it from time to time through reading and working, etc. Everything you learn and experience adds to the pile.
The other was the anecdote about the Russian lady at the writers' conference who stood up and asked the panel something to the effect of, "I am very old and have had an interesting life. All my friends tell me I should write a book. Should I?" And although Sellers's inclination was to jump up and say "YES, everyone has a story they should tell!" she was beaten to the punch by the guy next to her on the panel who asked the better question: Did the Russian lady want to write a book? Your friends can tell you all day long how funny or interesting you are and that it would be great to share this with the world, but at the end of the day, writing a book is a hell of a lot of work. If it's not something you want to do, don't do it.
So, there is some excellent food for thought for the beginning writer, but even to a brand new writer, I'd recommend the other book over this one. For me now, this is a three-star writing book, but the me of ten years ago probably would have loved every word. I'll average the two.(less)
This is a compilation of James Scott Bell's blog posts over at the The Kill Zone, plus a section of interviews and some other odds and ends. Overall,...moreThis is a compilation of James Scott Bell's blog posts over at the The Kill Zone, plus a section of interviews and some other odds and ends. Overall, I enjoyed it, though it feels disjointed compared to his previous writing books. He didn't merge blog entries on similar subjects, etc. It feels very much like you're reading a blog. He even addresses blog comments in some of them. Makes for an odd read. (I skipped most of the interviews.)
The topics run the gamut from beginnings to avoid, scene/chapter construction, dissecting a novel to understand pacing, and remaining disciplined in the face of whatever hurdles that life (or your novel) throws your way. He includes some info regarding self-publishing that is current, as well. (He discusses the exclusivity of Amazon KDP, the balance of writing time vs. self-promotion, how to tastefully self-promote, etc.)
If Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem! is for budding "pantsers," I'd say this book is decent for budding outliners looking to speed through a first dra...moreIf Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem! is for budding "pantsers," I'd say this book is decent for budding outliners looking to speed through a first draft. Schmidt offers a crash course in three-act structure as part of her plan, and the print version of the book is actually a spiral workbook for you to fill out as you develop your story. (She encourages you to buy a new copy of the book for every book you write. Heh heh... of course.)
I think I might have found this book very appealing during my early days of NaNoWriMo, but since then, I've discovered that 1) I'm not an outliner, and 2) I really don't like my output when I write that fast. She also sells this as a system in which you can skip nothing and that's not very appealing either, especially on the heels of Bell's more modular Plot & Structure (which is overkill for someone doing their first NaNo, I suspect, but it depends on what you're looking for).
I think she oversells the final product from her program, too. One piece of advice, for example, is "Watch the length of your sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Use the white space on the page to your advantage." Maybe during revisions, but this sounds like a waste of time during the first draft. Even if you're working from an outline, you're going to end up making text adjustments in the final version once all your plot points are where you need them to be. Plus, I wouldn't just start adjusting the lengths of the sentences, etc. It's better to scrutinize why blocks of text look the way they do if they appear daunting or are ruining pacing. Was there an excessively long descriptive passage? A backstory info dump? Simply adding more paragraph breaks to things like that are not going to fix the real problem. This advice felt very superficial to me.
She also suggests a check during the third week to make sure you've hit on all the critical elements of whatever genre you're writing. "After all, you do not want to be in the romance section if your book doesn't have much romance in it. You will lose all your readers." Talk about jumping the gun. There are a LOT of revisions to be done before the book will see the shelf (unless you self-publish without revising, god forbid). And who's to say that the romance you set out to write might not turn into a great mystery instead? Would you be packing in the love scenes just to get your book shelved in a different place? I doubt it. Cross-genre books are very popular, plus shelving is not something you can personally control anyway.
So, although I think this book isn't bad for a beginning outliner, I'd think critically about what she's asking you to do. Some of it doesn't make sense and isn't necessarily going to help you move forward. Some of it feels like busy work. Maybe the biggest reason to buy this book is if the workbook/daily homework aspect appeals to you, because you can get outlining methods and info on the three-act structure in lots of other books.
If you're just looking to enhance your productivity, I highly recommend Rachel Aaron's 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love instead. It's my favorite of any of the write-like-the-wind books out there and it's adaptable to whatever your writing style might be, whether you work from an outline or fly by the seat of your pants. You could certainly use it to try to complete a first draft in a month, too.(less)
I tend to lump writing books into two categories, the inspirational anyone-can-write stuff and the technical understand-your-craft stuff. Instead, thi...moreI tend to lump writing books into two categories, the inspirational anyone-can-write stuff and the technical understand-your-craft stuff. Instead, this is inspirational understand-your-craft stuff. It's kind of brilliant.
The first section, Reconnaissance, offers ways to mentally prepare for a writing career. Stay hungry, but never appear desperate. Develop improvement programs for aspects of your writing so that you're always learning, even after you're agented and published. Don't compare your career to another writer's (therein lies madness). Stop googling yourself. (LOL.)
The middle section on Tactics covers the must-haves of great fiction and although there are good reminders, the suggestions are not surprising. (They'll be very familiar, in fact, if you've read Bell's other books.) There's still a gem or two in there, like the mini-plan he offers to writers too excited about a project to do any lengthy planning.
The last section, Strategy, is about the publishing business. He offers advice on when, whether, and why to pursue representation by an agent. There are brief sections on time management, professionalism, networking, and handling rejection with grace. I'm always interested in what these books have to say about social media and development of your author platform, and I liked the way Bell summed up his opinion in that section title: "Promote as you will, but never let it affect your ability to write your best book."
I have been devouring technique-oriented books here while spinning my wheels on revisions of my "best book." The author friend that loaned me Bell's Plot & Structure also loaned me this book. I was hungry for the other, but when she handed me this one, too, I was like, "Ugh, that looks inspirational." And, indeed it was, but exactly in the way that I needed. I accidentally spilled coffee on her copy of Plot & Structure. (If you're reading this, don't worry! I bought you a new one!). I liked this so much, I'm tempted to spill coffee on it, too. :)(less)
I've binged on writing books in recent weeks and this is by far my favorite. It's not the first one to cover plotting and structure, but something abo...moreI've binged on writing books in recent weeks and this is by far my favorite. It's not the first one to cover plotting and structure, but something about this one resonated with me more than the others.
It's partly Bell's voice that was so effective for me -- he's delightfully unassuming. He offers plotting systems for both outliners and non-outliners and leaves the whole process feeling very modular. It's easy to pick and choose and experiment with the systems he suggests. That sort of experimentation is key in discovering the best plotting strategy for you.
With many sections, I found a little something extra that none of the other books considered, too. Lots of plotting books put the end of Act I at the 25% mark, for example, but Bell suggests that while this is great for plays and screenplays, it often feels a little too late in novels. So, he suggests the 20% mark, and in my WIP, this feels perfect. (That's part of why this gets five stars. Might be serendipitous, but I solved a few specific issues with my WIP while reading it.)
- Great tips on sharpening your one-sentence pitch, which will in turn focus your storytelling.
- A "beat sheet" laying out exactly what...moreWhat I liked...
- Great tips on sharpening your one-sentence pitch, which will in turn focus your storytelling.
- A "beat sheet" laying out exactly what should happen in a screenplay right down to the page. I'm working on a novel rather than a screenplay, but many of the beats are still in the same relative location and work toward the same goals. (Thinking in terms of film offers different spin, too, since the focus for some beats might be an image.)
- An index card organization strategy to flesh out the beat sheet and make sure all scenes are dynamic and have the necessary conflict to propel the story forward.
- A list of common problems that result in dull storytelling. (The one about too much "laying pipe" made me laugh though. He must not be aware of the slang definition.)
What I didn't like...
- The slick snark gets old after a while. So do the exclamation points!!!!!
- He seemed overly hung up on box office numbers. I understand that he's a professional screenwriter and those numbers are critical to him, but sometimes movies with great stories simply do not make big money. He lost me when he said what a terrible movie Memento was. Seriously, he invites readers to e-mail him to argue about it because he hates it so much. It's structure is dramatically different than what his beat sheet lays out, but that's also something audiences loved about it AND it also got a best original screenplay nomination. The movie he lauds as being one of the best screenplays ever? Miss Congeniality. (I am not kidding.) I recognize that it is a matter of taste, but ... really. Seriously. Dude. Just because Miss Congeniality follows the structure he likes and made more money at the box office than Memento does not mean it's a better film.
- And on that same note (and I'm going to sound like an elitist jerk here), when he talked about the plots of some of the screenplays that he'd sold, they sounded awful to me, even the one he sold to Spielberg. It turns out that he writes VERY commercial PG-rated films. He's sold a lot of screenplays apparently, too, though only TWO were actually made. I recognized the title of only one of these: Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. *facepalm*
This is probably mandatory reading if you want to write screenplays for commercial films. They have formulas and Snyder provides that formula for you. I don't think any writer enjoys the notion that they might be producing something formulaic, but stories do have structure! And I found it helpful to have the classic three-act structure broken down in a different context.
He's still wrong about Memento though. Oh, and Spider-Man! He hated that, too. Crazy.(less)
There's so much great stuff here that I might bump this up to five stars once I've worked through it.
I particularly liked that Bell emphasizes practi...moreThere's so much great stuff here that I might bump this up to five stars once I've worked through it.
I particularly liked that Bell emphasizes practice and experimentation in sharpening the elements of your novel. A lot of this work can (should?) be done before you even start writing the draft, and many of the exercises in the first 75% of the book can easily be applied to projects you're still developing. In fact, there were several I wish I'd already done, because then I'd have even better revision tools on hand for my WIP.
He wraps up the book with key questions about and common fixes for various elements, including exposition, setting, theme, and dialogue. These are revision checklists -- very useful.
His epilogue about the magician is a gem, too. In essence, he says that the perfect illusion isn't just about the illusion itself. It's about the context, and the magician using all his experience and knowledge to adapt the performance to the situation. It's the same with crafting a novel. Each novel will present different challenges, and so the best thing you can do is to keep learning, keep practicing, keep improving, and add as many adaptive tricks as you can to your arsenal, so when it's time to perform (write, revise, and polish), you will know how to tweak everything and make it as perfect as you can. (less)
Although the formatting was a little wonky at times (on my Kindle -- might be fine elsewhere) and there is a lot of crossover with the two related books (not to mention rogue links to blog posts), there's a lot of excellent, recent information about the dealing with agents and publishers, opinions on serializing your work online, advice for awkward situations with agents, etc. Good stuff. (less)
In this one, Lukeman covers the basic format of the query letter, explaining very specifically what agents are ideally expecting. Much of the text is devoted to things you should avoid doing, and there's even a checklist at the end of things you should make sure you don't do. He gives examples of many of these and I found myself wishing he'd provided a few examples of successful, complete query letters, but those are certainly available elsewhere (like querytracker).
I'm muddling through revisions now, hoping to query agents in the next six to eight months. There's a lot of great info in here about how to prepare f...moreI'm muddling through revisions now, hoping to query agents in the next six to eight months. There's a lot of great info in here about how to prepare for querying, what to expect when you sign with an agency, and the likely time frame for seeing your books on the shelves if your agent sells your work. My book is fiction, but there's also great info in here on querying nonfiction and memoirs, too, since those tend to be handled differently. (I had no idea!)
There were a few things that seemed dated to me (though this book is not even five years old). He suggests that a snail mail query (don't forget the SASE!) could be better than e-mail, since e-mail tends to be in 10pt Arial font, as opposed to a nice 12pt font that you print. Wha? You can change the font in most e-mail interfaces. Some agencies do not accept electronic queries, however, so all the advice surrounding the preparation of a paper query letter is still certainly relevant.
There was a section, too, encouraging blogging, podcasting, and basically building an audience before you query. I'm wondering if this was more relevant to the nonfic crowd, though I suppose it can't hurt for fiction writers, too, if you happen to build a substantial following. I see more and more advice saying that it's not essential for writers to blog and have a strong social media presence, however, because prospective agents are going to care a lot more about your work than your 10,000 twitter followers. Views on this sort of thing are bound to change or even just vary from agent to agent, I'm sure. Lukeman acknowledges this, and of course that there is no magic formula for success.
Still, there's loads of great advice here. It's well worth a look if you're planning to pursue representation and traditional publishing. It's so generous that he's made it free for download, too!(less)
The stars in this review are for the section on story structure. That's the only part I liked.
The rest of this book was repetitive and the endless ana...moreThe stars in this review are for the section on story structure. That's the only part I liked.
The rest of this book was repetitive and the endless analogies made me want to tear my hair out. He also seems obsessed with the film Top Gun. If you're looking for examples of authors tackling these "core competencies" well, read Donald Maass's books instead.
I also found it ironic that Brooks repeatedly bashed "your high school creative writing teacher" (we get it: you're superior!) on all except one point, and that was the rule about showing rather than telling. Brooks broke that rule for the first fifty pages of the book by repeatedly telling me how awesome his "Six Core Competencies" are. I agree with the reviewers that said it felt like an infomercial. Just show me the goods, Brooks! Stop telling me! Your book is already in my hands!
His little dig at Joyce Carol Oates in the discussion of scene writing nearly made me give it one star, but I'll be reasonable. The descriptions of the four part story model and spacing of the critical milestones within those are helpful.(less)
I admit I'm not much of an outliner and never have been. In classes, when an assignment required that we provide an outline with our paper, I always w...moreI admit I'm not much of an outliner and never have been. In classes, when an assignment required that we provide an outline with our paper, I always wrote the paper first and made the outline from that.
Novels are different beasts, however. There is a ton of shit to keep track of and I've wasted a lot of time with my current novel (still in first draft phase) meandering through tens of thousands of extra words because my next plot point was unclear. I've found that I benefit significantly from at least a little bit of outlining. So, when this book was recommended to me, I thought I'd see if I could apply a few more outlining techniques to the next novel (or the current one in revisions).
I think the strategies Weiland offers are sound and I appreciate the effort she puts into demonstrating that outlines aren't necessarily those rigid, Roman numeral-laden terrors that my English teacher insisted upon. Still, I couldn't help but feel somewhat like I was being told I should take my medicine. I also thought it was odd how many examples of story elements from movies that she used, given this is about the craft of writing. So, for those reasons it's just a 3-star resource for me now, but if the techniques she describes end up being great for me in practice, I'll bump it up to a 4.(less)
I'm such a huge fan of Chris Baty's, I'm surprised I'd never picked this up before.
I did NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2002 and had my first (and o...moreI'm such a huge fan of Chris Baty's, I'm surprised I'd never picked this up before.
I did NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2002 and had my first (and only) win in 2003 during the days when Baty was still at the helm. Nowadays, the pep talks are done by successful authors, some of whom first drafted their bestsellers during NaNo. But, back then, all the pep talks were done by Baty himself. They were encouraging, funny, clever, and caring, and for me they were one of the highlights of the NaNo experience.
Baty brings that same voice to this book, where he equips you with the basic tools you'll need to rearrange your life and survive the ordeal of writing 50,000 words in a month. He officially fires your Inner Editor for you, encourages "exuberant imperfection" as you work toward the daily word counts, and offers strategies to get yourself back on track if you find yourself in the weeds.
If the book falls short anywhere, it's that it almost feels too specific to NaNoWriMo, reminding you that life is going to go back to normal, you'll see your friends again, etc, after you cross the finish line. It's perfect for the NaNo-only writing crowd, but not necessarily for those also hoping to commit to writing long term.
I was also amazed by how outdated his suggestions about technology were (about how libraries conveniently had ethernet ports -- heh heh). This was published before the e-reader boom, the rise of the iPad/tablet, the prevalence of cloud computing for backups, etc. That's not necessarily a flaw of the book, I just thought it was interesting to consider how much the way we read, write, and work has changed since 2004.(less)
Heather Sellers is like that friend who tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear, but in the friendliest, gentlest way possible. Wri...moreHeather Sellers is like that friend who tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear, but in the friendliest, gentlest way possible. Writing a book is hard and not something likely to fit around the edges of your life. You'll need to sacrifice a bit and make some decisions about how you spend your time and energy.
She also likens writing a book to having a relationship. If you neglect it, it will suffer. You need to pay attention to your book, even if just a little bit, every single day. The connection, once lost, can take a long time to rebuild. Taking time away (to game, watch tv, whatever) can do more damage than good, though I may convince myself I need a break to recharge. Adhering to a strict writing schedule is not just about discipline, it's about maintaining that relationship.
I'm still working through the exercises and they are mostly helpful and inspiring. There are a few things she suggests that I won't do (stop reading new things and only limit myself to six Wise Guide books I may reread during my novel? Nooo...) but there is a lot here to like. This was loaned to me by my local author friend who could see how I've been spinning my wheels on my manuscript in recent months. She gave it to me at just the right time. (less)
I've read a lot of writing books over the last fifteen years, from the inspirational anyone-can-write fare to the daunting slush-pile-avoidance and pl...moreI've read a lot of writing books over the last fifteen years, from the inspirational anyone-can-write fare to the daunting slush-pile-avoidance and plot-doctoring books that operate on the assumption that I already have a complete manuscript. I don't, because I basically have not figured out how to get my shit together.
Finally, I think this might be the book that helps me get my shit together. Writing processes are highly individual (and Rachel Aaron acknowledges that!), but there's so much here that makes sense for refining mine. She covers much of it in her 2K to 10K blog post and the Kindle version features additional sections on plotting early in the writing process, keeping editing as painless as possible, and getting through those times when you dread even looking at your novel (hint: it's not you, it's the novel).
I'm looking forward to implementing her techniques. For me, this was 99 cents well spent.(less)
I'm about halfway through the first draft of my novel, spinning my wheels in that notorious middle-plot wasteland where not enough is happening. I can...moreI'm about halfway through the first draft of my novel, spinning my wheels in that notorious middle-plot wasteland where not enough is happening. I can see where the story needs to go (I do know the ending!), but I've lost my momentum. One of my characters is pointless, I'm overrun with backstory, and there are way too many scenes without tension.
I realize it's a first draft and some crappiness is permitted at this point, but in trying to get myself out of the rut, I thought I'd finally give this book a shot. It's been on my shelf for ages and folks have told me it's great. Knowing that a lot of the exercises were revision-oriented, I planned to wait until the draft was complete, but I finally thought what the heck. I'm glad I didn't wait.
I've already worked through Maass's exercises on character (very helpful!) and his chapter on micro-tension alone is worth the cover price. As with Writing the Breakout Novel, he shares numerous examples of writers doing it "right" (as usual, spoilers abound -- had to skip a few of these!). You get brief glimpses behind the curtain at his lit agency, too, as he mentions particular approaches to storytelling that cause everyone in the office to groan. ("Weather beginning!") I wouldn't say this book is a catch-all for problems with your novel, but there's some great food for thought here on how to keep a reader's (and literary agent's) attention. (less)
I saw this book recommended for writers looking to get get more done (aren't we all?). It wasn't until I picked it up at the library that I noticed th...moreI saw this book recommended for writers looking to get get more done (aren't we all?). It wasn't until I picked it up at the library that I noticed the subtitle (and the author's other titles) and realized it was a self-help-business-seminar-oh-no-I-really-don't-want-to-read-this sort of book, but it was only 130 pages, so I thought what the hell.
What the hell indeed.
I have to admit that the basic approach the book suggests is good: make extensive lists, prioritize them, and always complete the most important task first, even if it is the most difficult and least fun. It might seem like a good idea to warm up at the beginning of the day by crossing easy things off your list, but there is never going to be enough time to complete everything, so doing the critical things first is a better use of time. The better we use our time, the faster we'll reach our goals.
The ABCDE method of task prioritizing is also reasonable, though some of the stats he bandies about surrounding his techniques remind me of the "science" on the backs of shampoo bottles. Like, your hair will be 20% silkier if you use the product. Will spending 15-20 minutes preparing and making a to-do list help me be more efficient? Yes, I think so. Will it necessarily save me 150-200 minutes? I don't think something like that can be measured so precisely or consistently.
Some of the advice, while nice, is also just not practical for people with family responsibilities. He suggests, for example, that being well-rested is another key to success, so we should all go to bed early five nights a week, sleep late on weekends, and take 1-2 vacations per year. I wish!
And then he started making up terms. I think he must have been hungry when he wrote the section on breaking down complicated tasks: "You Swiss cheese a task when you resolve to work for a specific time period on it." You can also "salami slice" a task. Yes, he actually uses the terms as verbs this way.
The section where I turned to my husband and announced that this was a one-star read, however, was this:
Your level of self-esteem, how much you like and respect yourself, is central to your levels of motivation and persistence. You should talk to yourself positively all the time to boost your self-esteem. Say things like, "I like myself! I like myself!" over and over until you begin to believe what you say and behave like a person with a high-performance personality. ... When people ask how you are, always tell them, "I feel terrific!" No matter how you really feel at the moment or what is happening in your life, resolve to remain cheerful and upbeat.
He adds that 80% of people don't care about your problems and the other 20% are glad you have them. Maybe they'd care more if my hair were just a little silkier...
He prefaced the book with the admission that he wasn't going to delve into the psychology of procrastination, but I think the book suffered for that and the flimsy psychology that he did offer. It ended up feeling shallow and antiquated, and gave the book the air that I feared it might have when I noticed the subtitle: this is a distillation of the author's business workshops. I learned a lot more about the how, when, and why of (and solutions to) my procrastination from Susan Cain's brilliant Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.(less)
Sometime between hearing about this book and finally getting a copy from my library, I decided I wasn't going to like it. I'd begun to see Kleon's dia...moreSometime between hearing about this book and finally getting a copy from my library, I decided I wasn't going to like it. I'd begun to see Kleon's diagrams more around the web and I started feeling like he was just a bit too slick, possibly even a bit too pleased with himself.
But I loved it. Yes, it does have an artsy vibe to it and it falls into the inspirational (vs. honing the craft) category. Still, I think the advice is great and in addition to the encouragement he offers, he suggests some very concrete things to try if you're still refining your creative process. He even includes a checklist at the end of the book.
Among my favorites: maintain a "swipe file" of things that inspire you, whether those things apply to your current project or a later one. Next time you need inspiration, "steal" from it. I also love the idea of the simple daily log book. (I'll be starting one today.) I think that having an analog workspace in addition to a digital one is very smart. We need to detach ourselves from the screen from time to time. I already have a notebook where I untangle my ideas longhand, but a whole separate workspace? Very interesting.(less)
As these sorts of books go, I thought this was excellent. The contributors are some of the most successful writers in the horror genre. The essays are...moreAs these sorts of books go, I thought this was excellent. The contributors are some of the most successful writers in the horror genre. The essays are brief, but numerous, and cover everything from elements of effective horror (how to write dialogue, action, description, etc) to the impact of Stephen King's success and the current state of horror publishing. One author offers a list of 21 "must read" horror novels. (Yay for lists!)
I also like that some of the advice goes against the common wisdom ("write what you know") and encourages new writers to be adventurous in stretching the genre and combining it with others for broader appeal. They mention that none of the big publishers have dedicated horror imprints (that's still up to date as far as I know), but that it's still possible to get published that way if they are persistent. There's also a list of respectable small presses for writers looking to go that route.
The place this (only five-year-old) edition shows its age is in discussions of self-publishing and social networking. The e-reader boom had not happened yet, so it sort of vaguely mentions putting your work up on a website. I believe it does mention blogs, but I don't recall seeing anything about Facebook, Twitter, and the like.
Still, an enjoyable read with good food for thought for would-be horror writers. (less)
Although this book is aimed at screenwriters, most of the advice also applies to novelists. I read this while working on a first draft and can see tha...moreAlthough this book is aimed at screenwriters, most of the advice also applies to novelists. I read this while working on a first draft and can see that it will be very useful later during editing. At only 110 pages, screenplays have to be tight. Every scene has to count, each line of dialogue must be informative, and reader suspense/curiosity should be maximized. All this is definitely applicable to producing an engaging and well-paced novel.
In explaining how these things are accomplished in successful scripts, some chapters have a bit of a laundry list feeling to them. Again, probably more useful in editing if you're brainstorming ways to make your characters more sympathetic, for example. I enjoyed the wrap-up sections, however. He dissects sections of scripts and shows how the screenwriter has manipulated us at every turn. (Obviously this means there are a lot of movie spoilers in here, though if you're a movie buff at all, you've probably seen them anyway.)
Where it fell flat for me, ironically, is in the author's tone. I felt no emotional connection. Although I have moved away from the inspirational self-help "anybody can write!" sorts of writing books that I used to love, I still like for the author to be encouraging and make me feel as though I'm being mentored. With this book, it's more like, "Try not to suck." So, don't go looking for that kind of inspiration here. I suppose Hollywood isn't meant for the thin-skinned that need coddling anyway.(less)