My dad is fond of books and movies about the Illuminati. For the uninitiated: this boys club was a secret society that is said to have worked underground to influence governments, banks, and the media, they also might have dabbled in the mystical arts. Like all fictional secret societies, in order to become a member you had to already know the secrets of the club. Everyone has seen this in stories. “The first rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club”.
Perhaps this common theme in fiction has convinced people that this is a valid way to teach people. I’ve been reading a lot of how to books about writing and far too many of them seem to discuss writing in that same mystical style, whereby they allude to greater things and imply that if you are a ‘real’ writer you will understand what they are not quite saying, by unlocking the carefully hidden messages that they have left in their manuscripts. Perhaps with the ‘keys’ that they so unhelpfully never share with you. They go on at length about the greatness of writing and writers, the wonder of the craft and prose on about what they will teach you. But when it come to solid suggestions they give the same tired ‘hints’ that everyone else trots out. Which are often contradictory and or impractical.
–write everyday even when sick or injured
–Always write at the same time,
–never write at the same time
–let your creative juices flow, listen to your inner child
–never be at the whim of your creativity
I have to admit that I grew rather impatient with the these texts. I was not a humble supplicant seeking great knowledge from my betters. I didn’t have superhuman abilities to read subtext. I really wasn’t trying to be the chosen one, I just wanted to get better at writing.
Thankfully not all books fell into the mystical writing category. There were also a lot of authors that weren’t in a special club and they really did seem to want to help. Unfortunately its hard to write a book, and its even harder to write a book about writing in a way that imparts useful information. So they didn’t help me that much either.
So it was great when I finally stumbled upon a few books that were more practical. They gave real insights into what story is, was, and might become. They talked about the obstacles that the average writer can run into and explained some techniques for dealing with them.
Here is a list of the books about writing that I have found most helpful in my writing struggles.
Structuring your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story K.M Weiland
Why I liked it: Basically this book explained story structure to me. Beyond beginning middle and end, she made clear to me the essential parts of the three act structure and how the parts of the story work together to create a whole. She clarified some of the things that needed to be achieved with each of the three acts, and helped me understand that there is a difference between a scene and a sequel .
Note: K.M Weiland has written several other books. I own them, but I did not find them as helpful as Structuring Your Novel so I would not whole heartedly recommend them.
Writing Subtext: How to Craft Subtext that Develops Characters, Boosts Suspense, and Reinforces Theme By Elizabeth Lyon
Why I liked it: This is a very short booklet. She goes over what subtext is and where a writer can use it. I had been under some mistaken impressions about when something is implied vs. being overtly stated. She also unintentionally pointed out to me that often subtext is not necessarily something that a writer should worry about in the first draft. Often subtext is added later after the story has been crafted during the editing phase.
2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What you Love by Rachel Aaron
Why I liked it: She explains clearly and concisely how to outline a novel. It was the best advice I had ever read on this topic. She also explains that the tools she uses for outlining: story maps, and time lines, can be used for editing your story as well.
Tell, Don’t Show! by James Lofquist
Why I liked it: This is another short booklet. It only has one tip but it explained the one thing that I hadn’t figured out in 2K to 10K, in her chapter about outlining your first draft.
Yeah I know there aren’t that many books in this list. I’m sure I will find more and I can write another post to share them.