When it comes down to it, and perhaps this is because we are spoiled as a family, 1400+ square feet is not enough room for 2 adults, 2 kids, 2 dogs, and a cat. Granted, part of our problem was due to the amount of stuff we had in our house. Entertainment center, two desktop computers (both with dual screen) and over 300+ books is only the tip of the iceberg. Actually, it’s probably more like 400 but I won’t be sure until I finish creating my catalog.
Anyway, because of our lack of space, only the entertainment books were on the bookshelf which was…if you can believe it… stashed in the master bedroom. The place was small to begin with but add four bookcases, two dressers, and a bed (no partridge though), we got cramped fast. As a writer though, not having access to my books even if they are for enjoyments (debated on using that word because writers don’t read so we can get lost in the story, but to learn), is akin to being asked not to drink something for a week. In short, I’d die.
But now that we’re able to stretch our limbs, we can finally put our books back where they belong whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, how-to, or text-books. As a result, it’s feels a little like finding sunken treasure filled with “Hey, so that’s where it went.”
I also know that I have, several times, bashed the books that promise budding writers instant novel in 90 days or less. Yeah, and I’m the blue fairy. I also have listed at least one book that has proved to be useful to me. In our quest to find all the books dead or alive, I dug out several books that I loved when I first started learning the craft of writing. Each of them, as proof of their lasting existence in our collection, has proved useful to me in one way or another. So I’d like to take a moment to list, review, and remember why I loved them enough to keep them. Ready? Here we go:
1. Dare to be a great writer by Leonard Bishop
This book is golden. It’s filled with guidelines, tips, and techniques. To list a few of the categories they are: Advice to Writers (no such thing as too much), Characters, Dialogue, Flashbacks, Foreshadowing, Genre, Introspection and Insight, Openings, Plot, Point of View … the list goes on. Going through this when I’m stuck or feelings frustrated helped me a lot when I first started and I can’t wait to go through it again.
The best part of this book is that Leonard explains what works, what doesn’t, and what to watch out for. It’s almost as good as having a mentor!
2. The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray
I almost didn’t pick this one up when I was in my mid-twenties because by then I knew it was BS to believe that we can have a great, finished novel, in such a short amount of time. Reading this book at face value caused me to believe that Robert is single, doesn’t have a family or he’s able to lock his office because he doesn’t have to leave for any reason be it to eat, drink, or go to the bathroom. Granted, this is my opinion, and if anyone is able to squeeze in plenty of time to write on the weekend for the full 16 hours I think he does if not more, good for you.
I don’t. I’m lucky if I get one or two hours a weekend and usually I’m not that lucky.
Yet, despite feeling the promise of the book fails to deliver, I found a lot of useful information in it about plot development, scene building, and technique. However, what I got the most out of his book was character development. His tips, techniques, and ideas worked for me. I still, when I go and sit in Starbucks or Panera, do a stranger character sketch. By this I mean I describe a person in the room with me from what they are wearing to how they are sitting to how they eat. Do they scarf it down or do they enjoy the food? That type of thing.
After that I explore and enjoy the process. One thing he does suggest is starting a scene with a characters wardrobe. Tried that once and it failed… miserably, but keep in mind that it was only one time when I tried that. The book is broken down into weekends of four blocks dedicated to a certain goal. It’s a great theory that I use myself, except I say within a month (which is like 4 days writing time when added together) I will work only on the characters. I don’t give myself the migraine his method would probably cause, but I am able to be more effective.
3. Write Great Fiction Series
The series comprises of 5 books, one for each aspect of writing: Dialogue, Plot and Structure, Characters Emotions and Viewpoints, Description & Setting, and Revision & Self-Editing. I gave three of them to a friend of mine to help him with his writing. The rest I kept for myself and I go back from time to time when I find myself agonizing over a particular point as I kept the two that I need help with the most. Dialogue and Description & Setting. Inevitably I find myself stuck with a scene where all the characters sound the same or when I’m teetering between too much or too little. I definitely suggest that if someone is looking to get started, read these first. Great tips, better advice, and the tips they give work.
4. Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Dr. Linda Edelstein
Basically, she’s a psychiatrist who helps writers with this trusty guide, build a character that makes sense. To borrow from an article I wrote about role-playing, having a full Vulcan display an emotion doesn’t work because they are supposed to be logical at all time. Emotions are deemed illogical so they won’t have it. If there is any doubt about writing Mr. Vulcan as he’s supposed to be, the work-around is to make him half Vulcan half something else (my favorite character of mine was half Vulcan and half Klingon). Same goes for our characters in stories. If they don’t respond, react, or act in a way that is understandable and realistic, the reader will love them. If, on the other hand, they don’t, well the reader will put down the book, which is the opposite of what we want.
So there you have it folks. My list of favorites and guides. Please, if you know of any books that have helped you, share! The more the merrier I say and I’m always looking for anything that will help me develop my writing.
- Learning Your Craft: 4 Recommended Books for Writers (amandabumgarner.com)
- My Writing Life (nancyschoellkopf.wordpress.com)
- A Writer’s Tools (storytellerlilly.wordpress.com)