Thursday, January 15, 2009
Every professional studies their craft. Doctors, lawyers, athletes, scientists, teachers, filmmakers, actors, dog trainers, plumbers, engineers—they all educate themselves on their jobs. The good ones continue to brush up every so often through training, courses or conferences because they love what they do and they want to keep doing it the best they can.
No matter what stage of your writing career or what genre, there are books out there that will help you improve your craft. Why do you need to read about writing? Well, first off, most of us don’t recognize our own flaws unless they are pointed out to us. You can get that from a critique partner, granted, but that critique will rarely tell you how to improve on those flaws. And perhaps you do recognize there is something wrong with the first draft of your manuscript, but you may not see what that something is.
That’s where the experts come in.
My shelf of writing books expands every year. Some are simple essays on the craft, some are informational manuals on the publishing business, others are odds and ends for certain niches. All have helped me improve and helped me get published.
There are also loads of organizations, newsletters and blogs that teach fledging writers how to fly. Murderati is an excellent example.
But, you may say, I want to learn on my own. And doesn’t a good writer learn by doing?
Yes, that’s true. But if you want anyone besides your cat and your mother to read your work, you may want to polish it as best you can.
Every beginner has their own quirks that make readers cringe. Maybe the dialogue is stiff. Now, you probably cannot learn how to write snappy dialogue from a book, but you may learn techniques that others have tried to improve the conversation of their characters and apply them to your pages. Like, eavesdrop at a restaurant, take an improve class, volunteer to teach a hobby, etc…
Or perhaps the description is loaded with clichés. You might not even realize you’re using them until you read a really good book on how to make your prose sing.
Could be that the plot is stalled. You think the characters are flowing through the story beautifully until you learn how to build tension through beats and scenes.
Maybe the pacing is off. Too much action. Not enough reaction and vice-versa.
Or you’ve made one of the top ten mistakes right off the bat that prompts every editor to toss the script into the slush pile. But you don’t know it because you haven’t learned what they are.
Well, stay tuned because here are some great resources. There are many others. But this is the list that has helped me:
PLOT AND STRUCTURE, James Scott Bell
DON’T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY, Chris Roerden
CREATING UNFORGETTABLE CHARACTERS, Linda Seger
BIRD BY BIRD, Anne Lamott
THE FOREST FOR THE TREES, Betsy Lerner
MURDER AND MAYHEM, D.P. Lyle
WRITING DOWN THE BONES: FREEING THE WRITER WITHIN, Natalie Goldberg
HOW I GOT PUBLISHED: FAMOUS AUTHORS TELL YOU IN THEIR OWN WORDS
And, BABY NAMES