Friday, July 4, 2008

Fabulous Writing Books to Help You Write a Book

Vivian Gornick talks about “the situation and the story”—the two elements of good prose. What happens and why it happens. Because of her simplicity in describing this complex idea, The Situation and the Story became one of the truly influential writing books in my life.

Carol Bly’s The Passionate, Accurate Writer taught me about writing of consequence and how to stay unembittered while working with difficult material. Kenneth Atchity’s innovative book-gathering ideas in A Writer’s Time transformed the last five manuscripts I completed and published.

For years, I whole-heartedly recommended these three books to my writing buddies, coaching clients, and students. I know there are many very good writing books available—and shelves of them line my office—but only a few, such as these, have really taught me how to grow as a writer.

A friend’s discovery recently added another transformative writing book to my small collection. From Where You Dream, by Robert Owen Butler (Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 2005) is a series of lectures to his graduate fiction students, transcribed and edited by Janet Burroway (of Writing Fiction fame).

Although geared toward fiction writers, From Where You Dream answered my question on how to bring out the deeper meaning of any piece of writing, especially when writing a book.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Exercise of the Week for Book Writers

Here are some questions to think about, as you work on your writing and your book this week:

What kind of reader do you see in your mind's eye or heart, as you write: Women over fifty? Boys under fifteen? Guys who love fishing?

Is your language, tone, and style going to engage this particular reader?

Is the pace of your narrative (how fast it moves) going to make them want to read more? Or will it make them stop reading?

Most book writers think all they have to do it is write. Why consider these questions at all? These days, if you’re thinking of being published (or if you want your book to be read by more than four or five of your close friends or family), you have to make people want to turn the page.

You have to consider the reader.
The agent will.
The publisher will.

This week, spend a little time making notes about your reader. Really think about how best to serve them, while keeping your own vision about your book.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Tuning Your Ears--First Step in Developing the Right Pacing for Your Book

My first visit to the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, I saw Puccini’s Turandot. There wasn’t a moment during Puccini’s music or story when my attention wandered.

That’s exactly what good pacing does. It doesn’t let the reader wander.

Start tuning your writer’s ears by re-reading books you love. Pick three in the genre of your book.

● To study how the writers deliver information—where the pacing is fast, where it is slow—hold two pages up, squint at them, and see the balance of white space to text. Conversation sections have more white space, description has less. So conversation (dialogue) usually equals faster pace, and description (summary) equals slower pace.

● Study the pacing at the end of a suspenseful or exciting chapter in one of these favorite books. How short are the sentences? Are the verbs particularly vivid?

● How does the writer transition to the next chapter’s opening paragraph? Is there a change in pace (usually, there is—so the reader can take a breath)?

● Read two pages aloud. What rhythm do you perceive? Is it fast or slow? Where does it vary?

● Look at the internal parts of the writing—what is being revealed by the author when the pacing is slow? Is it an emotional moment where the author might want us to linger? When the pacing is fast, is an event happening that’s very tense? Is there a slower-paced section later in the chapter, where the meaning of the event is presented?

● Practice writing fast-paced scenes to fast-paced music, slow scenes to dreamy music. How does your understanding of pace change as your writing changes?