Books on writing I read in 2015

Every year I try and read a couple of books on the writing craft. I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but,  honestly, I love reading stuff on how to write fiction. Here is what I read in 2015:

2940151898539_p0_v3_s192x300Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir
by Hank Quense
Quense offers practical tips on how he writes his novels. What I want is something I haven’t heard before, and that’s what I got with this book. At the beginning, he suggests the reader to just take what he or she needs. Good advice. Not everyone thinks the same way, and, also, who wants to read the same thing over and over?

9780985780401_p0_v1_s192x300Structuring Your Novel
by K.M. Weiland
Weiland shows how to make the most of using the three-act structure as you write your novel. She has become sort of an online tutor/mentor to me because books like this one answer my questions about writing fiction.

51QhpMsap6L._UY250_Your Guide to Scrivener by Nicole Dionisio
Scrivener is a program to help writers organize their projects, both fiction and non-fiction. I can’t praise the software enough. There are dozens of books out there to show the writer how to use Scrivener, and I picked this by Nicole Dionisio. I admit I selected because it was the cheapest ebook on the subject I could find. But it’s all okay, because she did a great job and the book is short, so you can learn Scrivener quickly.

What I’m learning as I write my novel

unpeeled onionWhen I say I’ve written six novels, this is what I really mean: I’ve written the rough draft of six novels. Sure I like to say “I’ve written six novels” to try to impress people, but if anyone would read these “novels”, he would read for five minutes, stick out his tongue, squinch up his face, hold the manuscript with his index finger and thumb as if holding a dirty diaper and dispose of it in the trash as if it smelled like said dirty diaper.

Here’s the truth: I’ve written six rough drafts National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Five of the rough drafts are part of a science fiction series I’ve been writing. The first NaNoWriMo novel I wrote is a stand-alone story.

Even after NaNoWriMo is over I’ll continue rewriting and polishing the manuscript, but then I get busy. And suddenly it’s November again—NaNoWriMo month—and I have a new idea and write a whole new story for the series.

This year I finished NaNoWriMo by writing the minimum 50,000 words, but I still have several chapters to write to finish the story. That’s what I’m doing now. The good news is that I more motivated than I’ve ever been to finish and rewrite the story. This year I planned out the novel differently than before and I feel it’s been a boon.

As I continue writing the rough draft of my sixth novel, here is what I’m learning:

  • A rough draft is really a “discovery draft.” Discovering the story is like peeling and onion. Sure, before I started writing, I made a list of scenes and sketched out some of the main characters, but I discover so much more about my characters and story as I write. I just keep finishing the discover draft, however, knowing that I will change and add later.
  • This year, I planned my novel a little differently: first of all, I made a list of scenes (one sentence each) and plugged the list into the three-act-structure. The three-act-structure is lauded by many and disliked by many, but it helped me think about suspense, conflict and rhythm for my story. Next, I took this list and labelled the scenes according to the hero’s journey. I was pleased that my outline seemed to fall right into the sequence of the hero’s journey. For example, toward the beginning of the story, part of the hero’s journey is “meeting a mentor.” And right there, in proper order, I had my protagonist run into a character who matched the description of being the “mentor.” (By the way, it’s perfectly legitimate to do all this planning before NaNoWriMo starts; the writing of the “discovery draft” begins on November 1st.) Here is a diagram that helped me see how to combine the three-act-structure with the hero’s journey.characters: they have goals; they will change by end of novel; need more inner emotions and thoughts for the protagonist.
  • I am writing this discovery draft using only the point-of-view of my protagonist. This means I am writing only scenes in which he is present and interacting with other characters or progressing the story himself. I include description, inner feelings and inner monologue related only to him. As a result, some of the other main characters don’t feel as well-developed as I’d like. The reader only sees them from the viewpoint of my protagonist. This may not be a bad thing, but as I rewrite, I may add scenes from the viewpoint of two of the other main characters. This would add some subplots that are not getting fully developed in this discovery draft. This may or may not be a good idea, but I will try it and see.
  • thumbMaking a fake cover for my novel has helped keep me motivated. I did this for all my rough drafts in this series I’m creating using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator and I had a lot of fun.
  • I have more lessons I’m learning as I write my current novel and I will talk about those in a later post. For now, I wanted to write about the realizations that come up. Just doing that is helpful and keeps me motivated.

Writing Exercise: Describe One Thing Ten Ways

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis writing exercise challenges the writer to describe something ten different ways. I chose Andre, a french bulldog whom I watch when his “mommy” and “daddy” are out-of-town. I have grown quite fond of him and he offers wondrous opportunities for description. Now, for my list, I decided to tackle description using the five senses and figurative language, but you can approach your ten ways differently.

  • sight: Andre’s face bore no expression; his jowls dangled, his teeth jutted up due to his under bite.
  • sound: When Andre snoozed in his chair, he gurgled and snorted in his sleeping state.
  • taste: When I lay down on the couch for a nap, Andre would situate himself by my head and lick the salty residual from my shaved skull.
  • touch: I stroked his legs, his back, his stomach and felt the solid muscle beneath his short fur.
  • smell: After a brisk walk, Andre entered the room and the odor of musk from his exertions would fill the air.
  • simile/metaphor: Throughout most of the day, Andre would curl up on the lounge chair and snore like my grandfather used to do when he rested his weary bones in the recliner.
  • hyperbole: The front part of him bulked up so much more broadly than the back part of him that when he walked down the sidewalk, his back paws didn’t reach the ground.
  • personification: Dressed in his tiny parka, complete with a fur-lined hood and cuffs, Andre marched like a tiny man through the snow.
  • onomatopoeia: Andre always slept in bed with me at night and filled the bedroom with snorts, grunts, sniffs and wheezes.
  • chronologically: Andre’s routine varied little: he jumped on top of me in bed if I slept past his morning walk time; he gulped a few morsels of food after the morning constitution; he napped until noon; a short lunch time walk; an afternoon nap; a walk after my supper; gulped a little food of his own for his evening meal; and finally, snuggled up to me as we sat on the couch either reading or watching television.

Here are some examples of it done better than I have:

Writing Blog Roundup: brain function, life tips, first page, three stages, writing sequence

1254880_72709589Some blog articles on writing I’ve read recently:

Hero’s Journey

955071_80397867I found this helpful for writing fiction: The Hero’s Journey.

The Hero’s Journey is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell that appears in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development.  It describes the typical adventure of the archetype known as The Hero, the person who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of the group, tribe, or civilization.

Go here to read more about the whole concept.

Writing blog roundup: great writing, create characters, writing exercises, write description, show don’t tell

1091650_78779836What I read this week in writing blogs:

Writing Blog Roundup: dialogue tags, avoid procrastination, two pages, idiot characters, hero’s journey

working with dialogue tags
working with dialogue tags

What I read this week in writing blogs:

  • Help with dialogue tags. What about “he said”/”she said”—do you need them?
  • Ten tips to help you avoid procrastination.  A couple of weeks ago I talked about this distracting world we live in and how procrastinating has been refined into an art form of sorts.
  • Two pages a day. Back in the late 1990s, before I had published my first novel, I had pocketful of literary aspirations and a heart full of dreams.
  • Don’t let your characters act like idiots. The other day I watched a thriller, and was enjoying it. Until the last act.
  • Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell that appears in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development.