Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Writer's Wednesday - The Writing Craft Bookshelf

Today Historicals author Michelle Styles reveals a few of her favourite books on the craft of writing... and asks "what's on your bookshelf?"

I will put my hand up and say that I love and adore craft books. My books shelves are littered with them. The PHS has had previous discussions about writing books, but I wanted to add a few more possibilities.

Self Editing for Fiction Writers – by Renni Browne and Dave King – This book has been around for a long time, but it is one of those books that bears re-reading. I try to remember to read its chapters on Show and Tell and Once is Usually Enough before I go into editing mode. It is where the phrases –resist the Urge to Explain and 1+1 = ½ come from. Both phrases probably remind me of some of my own perennial problems – telling and repetition. It also reminds me that the time for fixing such things is not in the first draft, but when I am in editing mode.

Techniques of the Selling Writer
by Dwight V Swain – the book dates from the 1960s but it is geared towards commercial fiction. He used to write pulp fiction for men and some of his prejudice shows (in other words there was times my eyebrows were raised), but it is jammed packed with ideas and hints. If you want the whys and wherefores of commercial fiction explained, he does it. Before Donald Maass, before McKee, he wrote the book on story techniques. The examples are simple and straight forward because he wants the reader to understand how it is done and how the various techniques can be applied.

Creating Characters – How to Build Story People by Dwight V Swain. In this book, Swain goes into the detail of how authors of commercial fiction create characters and why. I fell in love with this book because Swain makes the point that he does not started with a detailed dossier on characters. I also love his pithy sayings – for example: a character notices what is important to the character at that moment…you as the author must decide what is significant.

And I will end with my new find of the summer - Save the Cat! –the Last Book on Screen writing that you will ever need by Blake Snyder and its companion Save the Cat goes to the Movies. Snyder spoke at the RWA Nationals but I first learnt about the books from Anne McAllister. The books are aimed at the aspiring screenwriter but are primarily concerned with the structure of the story. Again, he is very good with pithy explanations and phrases. I find it easier to keep the phrases in my mind when I am writing or editing, rather than thinking about the theory. Save the Cat! Is basically the term for make your hero empathetic, make him appeal to the audience. He also explains the basic plot points for a variety genres. What does the audience expect to see? The book made me think and this is always good.

As every writer is an individual, not every craft book will hold the same resonance with every writer. But they have helped me. Does anyone else have offerings for the PHS craft writing bookshelf?

Michelle's newest release is An Impulsive Debutante. Realms on our Bookshelves says this about Michelle's writing: Michelle Styles writing is easy and compelling to read, her characters are fleshed out well and as always she has an eye for accurate, historical details.
An Impulsive Debutante is on the shelves in September.


  1. The Save the Cat guy must LOVE romance writers just about now...

  2. Oh I believe he does.
    Because I enjoyed the book so much, I wrote him a thank you note and he responded. This was before the RWA and he was already in awe of the energy of romance writers and the ways they supported each other.
    His blog
    is also good.

  3. I've got Creating Characters in my tbr, and I'm reading Save the Cat right now.

  4. Ah but Donna. I think you read them in self defense as you get the crits when I busy spouting different things.
    I do like the creating characters one though. It makes me think.

  5. I own or have read all of those, Michelle. I'm a total sucker for craft books; I always hope that this will be the one that takes the pain out of writing. (In other words the hard work).

    I loved Save the Cat and Save the Cat Goes to the Movies. I think the books are worth it simply for the Save the Cat title explanation -- that small thing that makes you like a character no matter what he does because you know his heart is in the right place.

  6. Yes, Liz, it is good to know there are fellow suffers.
    And I thought STC! was worth it for explantion, plus how he higlighted the turning points for various genres and those bits that people expect in certain types of plots. Although the romance is the spine, with my books there tends to be a B story running through them...

  7. 2 books that really helped me were, Writing Proposals and Synopses that Sell, by Andre Jute, and The First 5 Pages, by Noah Lukeman (because if you haven't intrigued an editor by the time she's read 5 pages, they are not going to read any more!) Not so much about the craft of writing per se, but about how to make it through the slush pile.

    Annie B

  8. LOL they are not ALWAYS reactionary! I'm never sorry I've read them. I will confess that I wanted Save The Cat after hearing the buzz but I pulled it out of the tbr out of sheer desperation.

    You know I love your crits. The crits are never the problem. It's the self loathing afterwards! LMAO.

  9. Hmm self loathing should not come into it. I always feel that with knowledge of craft comes the knowledge to make things better. Everything can be fixed!
    Nothing is stuck in concrete.