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9 Books on Reading and Writing

 

Taken from Brain Pickings (via kobo writing life) which is a really good website on what’s out there in relation to creativity, thinking, culture and art. These books are highly recommended. I have read most of them and would especially recommend Elements of Style and On Writing.

 01 elements of style 1The Elements of Style Illustrated –  marries Maira Kalman’s signature whimsy with Strunk and White’s indispensable style guide to create an instant classic.

 

 02 bird by bird 2Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott – the 1994 classic is as much a practical guide to the writer’s life as it is a profound wisdom-trove on the life of the heart and mind.

 

 03 on writing 3On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King – part master-blueprint, part memoir, part meditation on the writer’s life.

 

  04 zen in the art 4Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You, Ray Bradbury  –  Bradbury shares not only his wisdom and experience in writing, but also his contagious excitement for the craft.

 

 05 war of art 5The War of Art: Break Through the Block and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Steven Pressfield  — a personal defense system of sorts against our greatest forms of resistance. “Resistance” with a capital R, that is.

 

 06 advice to writers 6Advice to Writers, Jon Winokur – From how to find a good agent to what makes characters compelling, it spans the entire spectrum from the aspirational to the utilitarian.

 

 07 how to write a sentence 7How to Write a Sentence, And How to Read One, Stanley Fish – an insightful, rigorous manual on the art of language that may just be one of the best such tools sinceThe Elements of Style.

 

 08 hemingway on writing 8Ernest Hemingway on Writing, Larry W. Phillips – a collection of  the finest, wittiest, most profound of Hemingway’s reflections on writing, the nature of the writer, and the elements of the writer’s life.

 

 09 how to read a book 9How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler & Charles van Doren – from  basic reading to systematic skimming and inspectional reading to speed reading, the how-to’s apply as efficiently to practical textbooks and science books as they do to poetry and fiction.

 


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Hilary Mantel’s rules for writers

Hilary Mantel rounded off an astounding year by winning the Costa prize last night for her novel Bring Up the Bodies. Having also won the Man Booker Prize, she is the first person to win both. To celebrate, here are the golden rules for writing that she first shared with the Guardian on 25 February 2010.

Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

1. Are you serious about this? Then get an accountant.

2. Read Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande. Then do what it says, including the tasks you think are impossible. You will particularly hate the advice to write first thing in the morning, but if you can manage it, it might well be the best thing you ever do for yourself. This book is about becoming a writer from the inside out. Many later advice manuals derive from it. You don’t ­really need any others, though if you want to boost your confidence, “how to” books seldom do any harm. You can kick-start a whole book with some little writing exercise.

3. Write a book you’d like to read. If you wouldn’t read it, why would anybody else? Don’t write for a perceived audience or market. It may well have vanished by the time your book’s ready.

4. If you have a good story idea, don’t assume it must form a prose narrative. It may work better as a play, a screenplay or a poem. Be flexible.

5. Be aware that anything that appears before “Chapter One” may be skipped. Don’t put your vital clue there.

6. First paragraphs can often be struck out. Are you performing a haka, or just shuffling your feet?

7. Concentrate your narrative energy on the point of change. This is especially important for historical fiction. When your character is new to a place, or things alter around them, that’s the point to step back and fill in the details of their world. People don’t notice their everyday surroundings and daily routine, so when writers describe them it can sound as if they’re trying too hard to instruct the reader.

8. Description must work for its place. It can’t be simply ornamental. It ­usually works best if it has a human element; it is more effective if it comes from an implied viewpoint, rather than from the eye of God. If description is coloured by the viewpoint of the character who is doing the noticing, it becomes, in effect, part of character definition and part of the action.

9. If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.

10. Be ready for anything. Each new story has different demands and may throw up reasons to break these and all other rules. Except number one: you can’t give your soul to literature if you’re thinking about income tax.

 

 


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Why You Should Try Writing in Second Person

First person and third person—you’ve been there, done that. But what about writing in second person? It may seem strange, unconventional, or confining, but playing with point of view is one way to transform a story.

Point of view affects a story in that it allows readers to gain a very specific perspective. The second person is no different. Here are three reasons why you should try writing in second person:

Photo by Rick Seidel

Photo by Rick Seidel

You, Your, and Yours

1. Second person pulls the reader into the action.

Especially if you write in the present tense, second person allows the reader to experience the story as if it’s their own. To avoid a “choose your own adventure” feel or an aggressive tone, mix up sentence structure and add in description and dialogue. Using the pronoun “you” and describing action as it happens supplies a personal sense of urgency, propelling the story—and the reader—forward.

Example: You’re late. Heart pounding, you race up the stairs as the train enters the station. You weave around the slow-moving people milling on the platform and dash towards the train, throwing your body through the doorway with only a moment to spare.

2. Second person gets personal.

One way to experiment with second person is to write as if the story is a letter from the narrator to “you,” reflecting on past events and current feelings, asking questions. (It doesn’t have to be in an actual letter form; the idea of a letter is simply a way to describe the intimate tone.) This technique isn’t necessarily “pure” second person, as it pairs “you” with the narrator’s first-person point of view, but it allows you to dip a toe in the second-person perspective. At the same time, it gives readers a peek into a relationship, a memory, and a character’s emotions.

Example: You told me to meet you at the bar. Things hadn’t been going well, but I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was wrong. Did you plan on breaking my heart that night? We locked eyes as I walked through the entrance, and I knew things were coming to an end.

3. Second person stretches your skills and surprises readers.

Because it’s not often used, the second person point of view feels fresh to readers. And for writers, it means a new way of telling a story, a different way of revealing character. In this way, it offers a new perspective for writers and readers alike.

(Reblogged from The Write Practice)

 


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The People’s Book Awards Nomination

The People's Book Awards Image

This is just a quick post to let you know that Take Me to the Castle has been nominated for The People’s Book Awards. I am over the moon. Thank you to those of you who have read it, and if you enjoyed it I wanted to ask if you would be willing to vote. There is a winner picked for the kindle and print categories each month. At the moment I am in between J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K Rowling!!

Thank you also for following this blog and for your likes and interesting comments. I am really enjoying following your blogs, especially this weeks posts on the great Robert Burns and your wonderful photographs. I hope those of you in the colder regions of the world are keeping warm. Here, in Vienna, it is freezing.

And have a good weekend.

But pleasures are like poppies spread, 
You sieze the flower, its bloom is shed; 
Or like the snow falls in the river, 
A moment white–then melts for ever; 
Or like the borealis race, 
That flit ere you can point their place; 
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form 
Evanishing amid the storm.– 
Nae man can tether time or tide; 
The hour approaches Tam maun ride; 
That hour, o’ night’s black arch the key-stane, 
That dreary hour he mounts his beast in; 
And sic a night he taks the road in 
As ne’er poor sinner was abroad in.

Extract from ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ Robert Burns

 


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Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing Fiction

typewriter

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.


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Short Story Writing

writing

I am in the thick of writing short stories and I really enjoy the punch that you can use to mould a high-impact piece of writing. Last night I read the new issue of Paraxis, a wonderful online publisher of short stories, and I was impressed by the range of prose delivered and the tension created in each short story. This current issue 04 is a publication of the works of both developing and established writers and the combination gels in a surprisingly smooth run of stories:

Seclusion

by Alison Moore

Looking out of Broken Windows
by Dan Powell

Saving Face
by Emma Seaman

The Rat-catcher
by Lorrie Hartshorn

Defacement
by Stuart Snelson

The House in the Woods
by Emily Cleaver

Dan Powell’s metaphorical cracked window panes were still on my mind this morning. The other stories had a similarly disturbing effect. Good writing, writing which lasts, leaves you feeling changed, it forces you to see the world through a different lens and nowhere more so than through a short piece of fiction.

My personal preference is for literary fiction, as that is what I immerse myself in when I read and write, but I was given Ian Rankin’s collection of short stories, Beggars Banquet, for Christmas. In a disturbing and gripping set of stories he covers stories of Edinburgh’s underworld to startling effect. It is important to read outside your genre and read widely, so my repertoire of books is expanding. There was an interesting review of Rankin’s collection on Amazon from a reader who does not usually read short stories who said it was like reading a whole novel in a short story.

This is the essence of the the short story. It should be a complete story in somewhere under 5,000 words. Many are a good deal shorter, but never lacking in impact, never leaving the reader wondering about the rest of the story, apart from to search for meaning and to think about where the characters have been and how they will be impacted by an event or a ending.

Fish Publishing, who publish anthologies of the works of international emerging writers and poets, describes the writing of short stories as being, ‘a glance at the miraculous. Joyce used a religious word. He called his stories ‘epiphanies’. A good short story is almost always about a moment of profound realization. Or a hint of that. A quiet bomb. There is a record by the American singer Tori Amos called Little Earthquakes. That’s a good metaphor for a short story. Often, a good short story will be a little earthquake.’

In an Introduction to the 1997 Fish Anthology, Dog Days & Other Stories,
Joseph O’Connor says this about the writers of this genre:

What kind of strange creature is a short story writer? I must confess that I don’t know. A high priest or priest of art? A wounded soul who can’t understand the real world and thus feels a need to re-invent it? A moralist? A Spinner of yarns? An entertainer? A prophet? Probably all of these things. Possibly none.

The single fact I can be sure about is this: writers are watchers. The one and only thing they have in common is an ability to look at the everyday world and be knocked out by it. Stopped in their tracks. Startled. Gobsmacked.

In an Introduction to the 2003 Fish Anthology, Feathers and Cigarettes & Other Stories, Pat McCabe quotes Frank O’Connor in saying that the form is as close as you could get to the lyric poem:

Henry Thoreau said that it didn’t have to be long but it would take a long while if you wanted to make it short. What was he saying this about? About the form we know as the ‘short story’. Everyone over the years has had something to say on the subject. For V S Pritchett it was an athletic form. If you got a good start you could sprint to the end, unlike the nineteenth-century novel. For Frank O’Connor, it was the closest you could get to the lyric poem, in that the novel requires far more logic and far more knowledge of circumstances, whereas a short story can have the sort of detachment from circumstances that lyric poetry has.

Katherine Ann Porter wrote her stories in one sitting. Or so she said. But then writers say all sorts of things. Another thing that was said about the form – and I think it’s a good one – can be attributed to William Trevor. That it’s the ‘art of the glimpse’. Meaning that if the novel is like an intricate Renaissance painting, the short story tends more towards impressionism. It is an explosion of truth and its strength ought to lie in what it leaves out as much as what it puts in, if not more.

As an aside – Just after I finished writing this post I discovered Charles May’s post on The Secret Life of the Short Story. In it, he discusses the work of  Alice Munro and William Trevor, two of the greatest short story writers in the world today. Munro has been compared to Chekhov. You can read a post on Chekhov’s short stories if you are interested.


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Step Away From The Vehicle

Step away from the vehicle – and put your novel in a drawer

step away

This is the final piece of advice I wanted to share with you from Zadie Smith in this series on writing wisdom.

When you finish your novel put it in a drawer for as long as possible. A year or more is ideal, says Smith, but even three months will do. Step away from the vehicle. The secret to editing your work lies in the fact that you must become a reader instead of a writer. Smith says that there have been many times where she has sat backstage with a line of novelists at a literary festival, all with red pens in hand, frantically editing their published novels so that they might go onstage and read from them. Unfortunately the perfect state of mind to edit your own novel is apparently two years after it is published! And ten minutes before you go onstage at a literary festival. At that moment every redundant phrase, each pointless metaphor, all the pieces of deadwood are distressingly obvious to you as a writer.

Several years previously, when the proofs arrived, you looked at the same page and couldn’t see a comma out of place. And by the way, that’s true of the professional editors, too; after they have read a manuscript multiple times, they stop being able to see it. You need a certain head on your shoulders to edit a novel, and it’s not the head of a writer in the thick of it, nor the head of a professional editor who’s read it in 12 different versions. It’s the head of a smart stranger who picks it off a bookshelf and begins to read. You need to get into the head of that smart stranger and forget you ever wrote that book.

Personally, I left my novel for three months and began a Masters in Theology. Needless to say, the theology fell by the wayside once I picked up the book again, cut out a whole family, added two chapters, released it into the hands of my editors and completed the edits once they had finished their job. You don’t need to change course or take up something new, but at least begin some other writing and let it rest.

Here are some of my previous articles which you mind find helpful for editing your work:

https://fcmalby.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/3-things-to-remember-when-editing-your-book/

https://fcmalby.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/editing-and-ove-ruse-of-words-make-each-word-count/

https://fcmalby.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/one-of-the-most-effective-ways-of-editing-your-work/

 

Some interesting articles on leaving a gap between finishing your book and editing your work:

http://www.wiseinkblog.com/planning/at-first-draft-the-6-minimal-steps-to-revising-your-manuscript-before-submission/

http://www.writersdigest.com/qp7-migration-books/wgf-revision_excerpt

http://www.write4kids.com/feature4.html

http://theliteraryhub.blogspot.co.at/2011/10/top-10-tips-for-revising-your.html

http://www.scriptmag.com/features/rewriting-is-writing (this advice is for screenwriting but it applies equally to novels.)