Wednesday, November 5, 2014

4 ‘How-to’ writing books that work

How-to books I recommend

Over the years I have read close to 200 How-to books for writers. They taught me much about the craft and business of writing. I keep several favorites on my shelf and, when stuck in my writing, I go to them for inspiration. Browsing through the various topics, I invariably find an idea that un-sticks my writing. Most times a snippet in a book will launch me back into the story on supercharged roller skates. Here are four that work for me.

This book by Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick takes the reader through the elements of a traditional mystery. Using well-known books as examples, they lay-out the scenes required to build the story, include clues and maximize touchstone elements. Along they way the plot a new mystery to show how it can be done. The premise is to write your book on the week-ends and to finish in a year. Of course, you can speed up your process by writing every day. Highly recommended for new mystery writers and as a refresher or “un-sticker” for more experience writers.

 a novel writer’s system for building a complete and cohesive manuscript

I’d recommend this for more experienced writers. Ms Wiesner’s instructions walk the reader through the process of creating a premise, characters, setting and plot, pulling it all together for a comprehensive (bad) first draft. Actually, I found that my first draft was much closer to anything else I’d done as a first. Brainstorming methods and worksheets are included. Additional material includes instructions on correcting a work in progress and on career planning for writers. Although you might not use everything she offers, this book provides an excellent map for navigating your story.

 Self-Editing For Fiction Writers – How to Edit Yourself into Print, Renni Browne and Dave King

This much recommended book explains common craft items from Show and Tell right through to Voice. Multiple examples help the reader understand and “see” what they mean. Highly recommended for writers of all levels of expertise. Each section contains checklists to apply to your manuscript. Exercises and answers are also included for those who want some hands-on practice with feedback.

 Mind Map Handbook– the ultimate thinking tool by Tony Buzan

No writing how-to list is complete without a tool to help us capture the chaotic but useful snippets floating around in our writer’s brain. Mind Maps are one of a writer’s useful tools. Page 43 of this handbook lists the components of a novel and proceeds to explain how to put a picture of your story on one page. Diagrams, exercises and explanations enhance the learning experience. Using mind maps can help you organize everything from daily schedules to an epic novel. Recommended for writers (and others) who think in a non-linear fashion. This process is particularly useful for those who do not plan or outline but have an overview of their story in mind.

What writing how-to books are on your shelf? Please share.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Create Useful Secondary Characters.

Secondary characters need an agenda too.


 —we all have them—those things that we want to achieve. Could be anything from getting the house ready for company to writing a novel. Whatever they are, they are important to us and they influence how we react to others around us. Motive plus goal gives us our agendas.

Writers all know that characters in novels need agendas. There are multitudinous articles on how to give your protagonists and antagonists motives plus goals. Attempts to fulfill the agendas and the resulting failures drive plots forward, shape characters and add tension.

But what about the walk-ons, those secondary characters needed to flesh out the world of the main characters? Don’t overlook the opportunities of giving these people their own agendas. That will not only allow your characters to play out their story against a complex background, but also will make your secondary characters memorable.

Elizabeth George brought this concept to a panel at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference about twelve years ago. In one of her Inspector Linley books, Barbara Havers has been punched in the face and has black eyes and bandaged nose. Barbara needed to mull over what has happened for the readers to know more. She’s sitting in a coffee shop thinking.

In order to prevent a boring thought session, Ms. George gave the waitress a supporting agenda. The waitress is considering getting a ‘nose-job’ and assumes that Barbara’s injuries are the result of a surgery. The resulting conversation and Barbara’s internal thoughts revealed information in a lively and colorful way thanks to the waitress’s agenda.

Everyone has something they want. Be aware of those obvious or hidden agendas and look for opportunities to make even your secondary characters contribute to the character’s journey and development. Doing so is one way to make your additional characters memorable.

What agendas do your secondary characters bring to your story?