Tag Archives: writing books

Take Time To Learn

Writing fiction is problematic. Most people who decide to write a novel have already been writing most of their lives. Some have had success in school. Others have developed their writing skills through blogging or in some other Internet capacity. None of that is fiction, however.

Fiction is a different animal.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have the skills that non-fiction requires. But the grammar, the structure of an article, even of a non-fiction book, is not the same for fiction.

Many who decide to write a novel have been life-long readers. And that’s great. Steeping ourselves in good books is one way we can develop our own writing skills—much as we did our speaking ability. We heard others talk and we imitated them. But let’s face if. If we were still speaking as we did when we were children, we would only talk in simple sentences and our vocabulary would be quite limited. In other words, imitation can take you only so far.

If we are serious about writing a novel—a good novel that will draw readers—we need to do the hard work of learning fiction technique. We need to read writing instruction books. We need to attend writing conferences—and not just for the relationships we can build. We need to allow others to critique our work, and we need to revise, revise, revise.

Writing fiction isn’t for the faint of heart.

Too many people think they are ready to publish when they haven’t taken the time to learn as they should. They have an idea for a story but they haven’t taken time to study story structure. They pepper their manuscript with cardboard characters. They don’t hook the reader with their opening, and they wonder why their manuscript isn’t picked up by an agent or why their self-published book isn’t more successful.

I was just such a person when I first started writing fiction.

Now I know, all these years later, after reading and studying, writing books and teaching on the subject, after editing numerous manuscripts and participating in various critique groups, that nothing replaces taking time to learn fiction technique.

There are various was to go about studying fiction. One is to do the hard work of tearing novels apart yourself to see how they are structured, what makes the characters interesting, and so forth. That’s particularly hard because fiction, while different, is still a living, breathing animal. One novel of quality is quite different from another. In addition, writing fiction goes through fads and trends. So you might study your three favorite novels and discover that they are very different from the novels that sell well today.

Another way to study fiction is to subscribe to a magazine like Writers Digest to read articles about fiction and fiction techniques, written by industry professionals that are currently involved in the business.

A third way is to subscribe to writing blogs like this one and others written by agents or editors who willingly share their knowledge.

Still another way to learn fiction technique is through how-to books. Many I would suggest are listen on the Resources page here.

A fifth way to develop skill writing fiction is to attend writers’ conferences. A new one which is coming up in June is the SoCal Christian Writers Conference. An old one that will take place on the West Coast in the fall is the Writers’ Digest Novel Writing Conference.

Finally, if you can’t get away and if you want more interaction with your own particular work in progress, there are on-line courses. Some of the best I know are put out by agent Sally Apokedak. Her latest is “Writing Novels That Move: Write Page-turning Fiction

Whatever method or methods work for you, employ them often. Writing fiction is a different animal from writing non-fiction, and the best way to develop the techniques that will help you is to be willing to learn, learn, learn. Keep an open mind—the professionals might actually know something. Your critique partners or agent or the editor you hire might actually understand the way fiction works better than you do. But you’ll never know if you assume you’re already at the top of your game and nobody can teach you anything. That would be unfortunate.

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Recommended Writing Books

From time to time in writing communities some one asks what writing books are the best. The idea of “best” depends upon what a person is looking for and what level of writing experience he has. Some writers want motivation and inspiration. Others want how-to information centered on the mechanics of writing. Others want story structure or scene structure, and so on.

Here are some of the books I have learned from with a suggested target reader:
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass – for the more advance writer
Description by Monica Wood – for the more advance writer
Stein on Writing by Sol Stein – for the more advance writer
Getting into Character by Brandilyn Collins – for the writer with a particular need to focus on this topic
Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell – for the writer with a particular need to focus on this topic
Crafting Scenes by Raymond Obstfeld – for the writer with a particular need to focus on this topic
How to Write a Damn Good Novel II by James N. Frey – for the writer with some basic knowledge and experience
Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King– for the writer with some basic knowledge and experience
The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman– for the beginning writer

Even though I’ve indicated who I think might be the target reader, in reality, writers can learn from all sorts of books. I’ve read some on this list multiple times and learned new things on each occasion. Even an advanced writer can benefit from reading a book geared more toward beginners.

Ideally a writer will purchase his own copy of these books in order to underline and make notes in the margin. If cost is an issue, however, look for these in your public library. And prepared to take careful notes on paper.

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Writing Books

Writing instruction is important. It shouldn’t be divorced from reading, but it can help a writer make sense of what it is they’re seeing.

For example, when reading two books, a reader can point to the one he enjoyed, the one that evoked emotion, the one he thought about for days afterward. But a writer needs more. A writer needs to ask, How did the author make the story enjoyable? How did he evoke emotion? What did he do to make the story or characters memorable?

The three writing books that are at the top of my list are Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, Description by Monica Wood, and Stein on Writing by Sol Stein.

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