so you think you can write…write…write…

June 13, 2009

Sorry about that title. I have Jonathan, Ade, Kupono, Vitolio, etc. on my mind and I know you don’t blame me.

At first glance, this post has nothing to do with lithe, athletic dancers and in fact is about something at the opposite end of the spectrum–dumpy, sedentary, supremely klutzy writers. Yet it’s shocking how much we have in common.

(Plus I just stuck that in to get more traffic on the blog. My bad.)

painting by Degas
painting by Degas

Here’s an excerpt from your next purchase. Oh, did I neglect to tell you this post is about making you buy a book that will set a torch to your sleeping little brain? (My bad, again.) I happened to be reading The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass the other night while watching “So You Think You Can Dance.” A really compelling dance tells a story, and it’s all about detail and tension. You can’t look away because you have to know what’s coming next. An excerpt:

Holding a reader’s attention every word of the way is a function not of the type of novel you’re writing, a good premise, tight writing, quick pace, showing not telling or any of the other conventionally understood and frequently taught principles of storytelling.

Keeping readers constantly in your grip comes from the steady application of something else altogether: Micro-tension. That is the tension that constantly keeps your reader wondering what will happen-not in the story, but in the next few seconds.

Yes, I think you should buy this book. I’m a writing-craft-book junkie but like most authors, I only have a few favorites. Donald Maass has written several of my favorites. He understands the way fiction works, and the way a writer thinks.

get fired up
get fired up

I don’t usually recommend books on writing craft to readers. That’s kind of like telling sausage eaters to watch sausage being made. But like Stephen King’s On Writing, this one is interesting to anyone who loves fiction. It’ll have you heading to the library to check out some of the many fine works cited as examples. I think you’ll like this one.

What are some of your favorite books on writing?

  • Writing to me is a very organic experience to where, I always await for my characters to arrive to me, verse force writing the stories to emerge out of me. I know each writer has their own way of creating, and although, I didn’t quite follow suit with reading about each person’s style or approach, there are a few writers’ out there that I have been able to draw inspiration from… one is “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg, as there was something resonating true for me the moment I first picked up the pocket copy. And, then… ever so recently, I stumbled across Deanna Raybourn’s blog which she discusses the craft of writing. Aside from these two, I have mostly taken up the task of discovering how to write by simply, ‘writing’. And, never losing my curiosity for devouring books, of all flavours and varieties. (nearly all are fiction, i am quite picky for non-fiction reads, as they mostly fall to scientists or philosophers that interest me)

  • As a non-fiction writer, I prefer Field’s End conferences and seminars.

    LOL ~ it IS ironic, but I find most of the books about how to write too boring for words. . .I’d rather read what y’all write! I highlight your books and make note of the passages that most resonate. The best of the best get put into my rolling anthology.

    Love the painting. Can’t wait for your next book to come out.

  • You found a copy of “my” book! How cool. I’ll be interested in learning which essays are your favorites, SUSAN. 😉

    I thought the other day that I’d like to write a blog about my mother’s cookbook which has a 1944 copyright. Sure enough, it’s on Amazon–but the photo shows a book that wasn’t used as much as the one I have, whose cover is taped together. Here I am getting all nostalgic…

  • I love Self Editing for Fiction Writers (Browne & King) because it’s more of a ‘fix’ than a scary “start with a clean sheet of paper” approach. Plus, I’m a lousy plotter.

    Tip from a workshop. Print out your ms. Throw it up in the air. Pick a page at random. Read. Is there tension? Even totally out of context, there should be some tension on every page. If you don’t want to use the dead-tree approach, you can use random number generators to pick a page and check it out on the computer (but editing is better done in hard copy, methinks.)

  • Ditto Sherrie’s first paragraph, except for the squirming. Maybe I did squirm, and don’t remember it. After all, that was a few years ago.

    My favorite book on writing is the 1973 publication, THE WRITER’S HANDBOOK, edited by A.S. Burack. (It was my mother’s book, which helps make it a favorite!) But I love the shortish essays written by so many authors on a wide variety of topics. Example: “Following One’s Instincts” by E.B. White.

    Thank you for the nudge, Suzanne. Just what I needed to pull this book off the shelf again.

  • I have difficulty with most self-help books. In theory, I love them, and I buy them, and I start to read them, and . . . then they bore me and I don’t finish them. I did finish Stephen King’s ON WRITING. It was so pithy, so full of home truths, and spiced with personal bits about King and his writing and his life. The book held my interest and made me squirm.

    One book I like is WRITE TIGHT by William Brohaugh (who also happens to be editor of Writers Digest). I started reading this book and quickly picked up a highlighter and started marking significant passages that resonated with me. I soon gave that up because I ended up having more highlighted text than not.

    Another book I loved for its simplicity, readability, and practical approach to writing, as well as the feisty voice of the ancient lady who wrote it, is IF YOU WANT TO WRITE by Brenda Ueland. I believe the book was written in the late 1930s, but it keeps being reprinted all the time.

    Donald Maas’s book sounds like a winner. Thank you for the recommendation. I do believe I will give it a try.

  • Wow! I have to admit this is the first time I’ve heard of, or given any thought to, micro-tension. It makes so much sense, though, just after reading those two little paragraphs. The concept sounds like something I’d definitely want to test on my own writing. I’m going to have to pick up a copy of that book.

    I have a shelf full of craft books, but very few that I consider favorites. The ones I go back to again and again are Holly Lisle’s Plot Clinic, Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King, and Beginning Middles and Ends, by Nancy Kress.

    I’m always on the lookout for a good conflict building/ how-to book, and The Fire in Fiction sounds like something that might help me along with that very thing.

    Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve added this one to my wish list!

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