Showing posts with label books on writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books on writing. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 8

I'm Writing A Book On Writing. Here's Why.

Writing and the Natural Born Storyteller

When I was young I had terrifying dreams, dreams in which witches chased me, hoping to stick their boney fingers into my back. I had nightmares every single night.

Being pursued by witches and ghouls may not seem terrifying to an adult, but as a child I was so scared I couldn't sleep. I would lie awake in bed for hours. Finally, my father would come into my bedroom at two or three in the morning to check on me. Finding me awake he'd sit on the edge of my bed and ask, "Would you like to hear a story?"

That was like asking a kid if they liked Christmas.

"Yes!" I'd say, and he would tell me a story. Since I was paying attention to the story rather than the parcel-load of monsters lying in wait for me in dreamland, I drifted off in minutes. Seconds.

That began a practice my father kept up until I became a teenager. Every night, after I brushed my teeth and climbed into bed, my father would tell me a story. Sometimes the story was about his life on his parents' farm, sometimes it was about the adventures he had when he travelled to the big city to find work. Sometimes he made up the story completely and we ventured into the lands of fairy. Whatever kind of story he told, I loved it and always asked for one thing: another story!

All of that, everything I've said, has been to mosey up to this point: my father was a natural-born storyteller. He never read a single book on how to tell a story but he was a master of the form.

When I was a kid, the love I had for my father bordered on hero worship. I loved Mom too but Dad had a certain charisma. He was a dreamer. Sometimes, before he told me a story, we would daydream together and try to devise a perpetual motion machine or talk about how, one day, each person would have their own jetpack. Because of this, I still get a special thrill whenever something crosses over from science fiction to science fact, though I don't suppose I'll ever have a jetpack. (But I do have something that looks very close to Captain Picard's tablet. I don't think the thrill of owning a tablet is ever going to wear off. At least, I hope not.)

Given all this, it should come as no surprise when I tell you that I wanted to be just like my father, and one of the ways in which I wanted to be like him the most was storytelling. I wanted to be able to tell stories too, but not just any old stories. I wanted to tell interesting stories, stories that amazed, stories that astounded. Stories that would take people's minds off their problems and make life--living--easier.

I soon learnt that storytelling isn't for the faint of heart. My first story was a complete disaster.

I'd been in kindergarten about a week. My father--tired from a long, hard, days work--had finished telling me my bedtime story and was looking forward to watching the news and, later, reading the newspaper. In the evening, after I'd been tucked into bed, he and my mother would sit at the kitchen table, sipping cups of sweet milky tea. Many a night I lay in bed and  wished I could contribute to the soft chatter of their conversation.

This night, as Dad got up from my bed, I reached out and grabbed his tanned hand and said, "Don't leave! Now I'm going to tell you a story!" In my mind, as I replay this scene, I'm in a flannel nightgown, buttoned up to the neck, grinning impishly.

Dad looked through my doorway, into the living room, at his comfy reading chair like a drowning man looks at a lifeboat just out of reach. Then he sighed and, slowly, sat back down on my bed and nodded for me to begin.

And I did. My story went something like this:
Mom walked me to school and then I saw Pam and Michelle and then we went inside and then our teacher ... that's Mrs. Drubs ... told us to draw our favorite animal and then we had recess and then I fell down and had to get a Band-Aid and then ...
You get the idea. 

At about that point in my 'story' my dad cut in with, "That's very nice dear," kissed me on top of the head, and made a beeline for his reading chair.

Even as a kid I knew my story sucked. Sure, it was my first story and I was four, but a desire was born in me that day. Sounds dramatic, doesn't it? But I'm being serious. From that day to this I've wanted to be able to tell an engaging tale.

If, one day, I'm able to write a bestseller ... well, that'd be great. But, being honest, that's not why I've read almost every book on writing I've been able to get my hands on. I read about what makes a great story because I want to be able to tell spellbinding stories, just like my Dad did.

That's my focus: storytelling. Evoking emotion. Producing narrative drive. Keeping people up past their bedtimes, not because they're scared of the monsters waiting for them on the other side, but because they have to read just one more page ...

Why I'm Writing A Book On Writing

I've told you all of this for a reason. I'm writing a book. A book on writing.

There are lots of books on writing, books written by people brighter than me, better writers than me. In fact, for the past few days, with my publishing deadlines looming ever closer, I've been asking myself: What does my book have to offer? There are so many wonderful books on how to write, why not just recommend those?

I've been thinking about something Neil Gaiman said:
“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that - but you are the only you.

"Tarantino - you can criticize everything that Quentin does - but nobody writes Tarantino stuff like Tarantino. He is the best Tarantino writer there is, and that was actually the thing that people responded to - they’re going ‘this is an individual writing with his own point of view’.

"There are better writers than me out there, there are smarter writers, there are people who can plot better - there are all those kinds of things, but there’s nobody who can write a Neil Gaiman story like I can.”
Here's what I took away from this: there's no one who can write a book on writing, one with my unique perspective on the subject, like I can. Why? Because each of us has our own voice. Our own story to tell. It's just that, in my case, that story is about stories.

From before I could read I loved stories and that grew into a desire to learn the craft of storytelling. And there IS a craft of storytelling; there are no hard-and-fast rules, but there are guidelines.

Finding these guidelines has been a journey, an adventure, and it's far from complete. That said, with this upcoming book, I'm going to share a little of what I've learnt in the hope it will help others who are on the same path I am, those who want to create stories that entertain.

Photo credit: "Crested Butte Biking" by Zach Dischner under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, November 23

For NaNoWriMo: 10 HarperCollins Books On Writing For $1.99 Each

For NaNoWriMo: 10 HarperCollins Books On Writing On Sale For $1.99

I read about this sale over on Kim Harrison's site but it's such a great deal I wanted to post about it too. There are few things Writers like more than reading books on Writing, especially during NaNoWriMo!

I tried some of the links on HarperCollins' site but the books don't seem to be discounted at every retailer. For instance, Amazon doesn't have all these books on for $1.99, at least not when I checked.

Here are links (all go to Barnes & Noble) to 10 books on writing on sale for $1.99 in honor of NaNoWriMo:

1. Write For Your Life, by Lawrence Block

I haven't read this book but if it's by Lawrence Block it's going to be good. I love, and still use, his book How To Tell Lies For Fun and Profit.

2. On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser

I've read this and re-read it many times. An excellent book to have in your reference library.

3. Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life, by Elizabeth George

I love reading books on writing that have been written by prolific bestselling authors such as Elizabeth George. Ms. George wrote the series that the BBC's Inspector Lynley Mysteries is based on.

4. Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose

I just started reading this book, and I think it's brilliant! Here's an excerpt:
Can creative writing be taught? ....

[I] answer by recalling my own most valuable experience, not as a teacher but as a student in one of the few fiction workshops I took. This was in the 1970s, during my brief career as a graduate student in medieval English literature, when I was allowed the indulgence of taking one fiction class. Its generous teacher showed me, among other things, how to line edit my work. For any writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what’s superfluous, what can be altered, revised, expanded, or especially cut is essential. It’s satisfying to see that sentence shrink, snap into place, and ultimately emerge in a more polished form: clear, economical, sharp.
Anyone who can write like that is worth reading!

5. Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing, by Elmore Leonard

This is a short book, but you don't need a lot of space to communicate the essentials. For instance, "Never use an adverb to modify the verb 'said'." Stephen King would agree with that. I think many writer's regard it as some kind of sin; mortal not venal.

6. Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True, Elizabeth Berg

I haven't read this one (yet!) but Elizabeth Berg has written enough books to know what she's talking about.

7. The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard

8. Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing, by Roger Rosenblatt

A different kind of book on writing since it's written more-or-less as an unfolding story about writing.

9. How to Write: Advice and Reflections, by Richard Rhodes

I think this is the only book on Writing I've ever read that was written by a Pulitzer Prize winner. Richard Rhodes has an impressive catalog of books to back up his musings.

10. How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them--A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide, by Howard Mittelmark, Sandra Newman

Well, that's it! I don't know exactly how long these books will be on sale for, on HarperCollins' site it just says "for a limited time" but since they're billed as NaNoWriMo books I'm guessing they'll be on sale through November.

It's not on sale, but the book that has pride of place on the self where I keep my reference books is Stephen King's On Writing. I can't recommend it highly enough.

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NaNoWriMo Update: Arrrrrrrrgh! Sometimes writing is easy and sometimes it's hard, for the last three days it's felt like I had to chisel words from stone! Bah! Still, I got my 2k done. My manuscript is now 43,018 words long. I hope to have 45k done by tomorrow. The end is in sight! :-)

Other articles you might like:

- Robert J. Sawyer: Showing Not Telling
- Creating Memorable Supporting Characters
- Using Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales: Part 2

Photo credit: "NaNoWriMo Calendar 2012 Fresh Ribbon A" by Monda@NoTelling under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.