What I'm reading now

My local branch library has twice as many books on fly-fishing as it has on writing. Given my limited choices, I checked out How to Write and Sell Your First Novel by Collier and Leighton. Here’s # 5 from their “Seven Do’s” Checklist: “Do type with a new, black ribbon so your manuscript will be attractive and will photocopy well.”

heh heh.

The book isn’t even all that old (1986), but it felt outdated to me. And after I read their chapter on “Four Steps Are All It Takes” I decided it was not the book for me. Here are their four steps in planning:

1. You know what your novel is about.
2. You write an opening.
3. You plan and write the ending.
4. Then, you devise a plot and characters to take you from here to there. Ideally, you start an outline consisting of pages or folders for each of the flows of action, or chapters. You have actually started writing!

These are probably reasonable, rational steps, but I haven’t taken any of them (which may be why my NaNoWriMo novel is such a mess) and so the book didn’t resonate with me. Perhaps I should have read this book, or at least these steps, last October. To be fair, the authors admit that some writers, like Graham Greene (one of my favorites), allow their characters to lead the way, but their preference is the four-step program. Do these steps work for any of you? I think I was way more free form with NaNo than the rest of you.

boothdogsBy the time I got to Chapter Four, the library had located Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King so I moved on to that. I am finding it much more useful. Plus, I love, love, love George Booth and any book with his cartoons is okay by me. This one isn’t in the Browne and King book, but it’s perfect.

I’m finding myself racing from chapter to chapter, though, and I just need to sit down slowly and try to get some of the ideas to penetrate my brain. (Uh – is anyone actually doing the exercises at the end of the chapters? I’ve looked at a couple of them and I’m cool with the quick and dirty ones, but the more time-consuming and probably more beneficial ones I’m passing by for now…. How about you?)

I just finished K.M. Weiland’s e-book, Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Guide to Bringing Your Characters to Life. It’s available via her Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors blog, and it’s full of useful stuff. I got some hints on how to make a couple of my characters wake up, and I want to ‘interview’ my characters. Let’s hope that once they’re pumped up a little, they’ll help me figure out how to fill some of my plot holes.

Weiland has some good advice that we already know, but she says it well: “We also learn from reading the works of others—both the mind-blowing ones and the mind-numbing ones. As lovers of stories, writers should perforce be avid readers, sucking in all kinds of lessons through sheer osmosis.”

I am currently in the midst of a mind-blowing book: The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel. I’m having trouble coming up with a single excerpt to share without copying everything since it’s that good, but fortunately her website includes the first six pages of the book, and introduces one of the main characters, Amos.

Langston, the other main character, has just dropped out of graduate school. This conversation between Langston and her mother takes place shortly after she’s returned home from school:

“It’s ten o’clock now. Two hours, Langston. The funeral is at noon. You have two hours to grow up.” She turned around and stomped down the stairs, slamming the attic door behind her.

“Yes, well,” Langston said to her mother, quite a few minutes after she was gone. “I’d take you a lot more seriously if you ever wore shoes.”

She packs a lot into that quick exchange.

Kimmel seems to break a lot of the rules: she puts a prologue in her first novel, gives lots of character description before anything actually happens, and begins with an interior monologue. But it all works, and beautifully. Which means, in part, that we should only pay so much attention to following the rules, and some to breaking them.

The Solace of Leaving Early is amazingly, heartbreakingly, heartwarmingly, authentically, eccentrically, breathtakingly lovely and wonderful.

There. If Haven Kimmel can break the rules, so can I. Only she does it really well. And she writes about dogs, too.

12 comments to What I’m reading now

  • Thanks for the link to my blog! I’m so glad you enjoyed my character e-book. Thanks for reading!

  • Nancy

    Thanks for sharing it! Your blog is full of useful information. (In fact, I think I’ll head over there right now….)

  • I too have been reading KM Weiland’s ebook Crafting Unforgettable Characters and I have been working with the outline for two main characters in my gardner/museum story. It is really helpful to write out the answers to the “interview” with your character.
    The book I am reading now is “The Shadow Of The wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Someone along the way in these blogs recommended it. He paints wonderful pictures with his words.

  • Hehe…that’s funny about the first book, but then…that’s how Alcorn teaches his fiction class (at least that was my takeaway). Write an outline, then write the beginning, end and few middle sections and than “fill in the middle.” It’s just not my style.

    In the new book I’m reading by Bell, he suggests there are 2 types of novellers (is that a word?!)…OPs and NOPs (outline people and not outline people). I am definitely an NOP. To do too much work beforehand for me stifles the creativity process. And he adds that it’s OK to be that way, but there are ways NOPs can be more organized from the start to help write better drafts. So I suppose writing the way that book suggests might work for some, but not for all.

    • Nancy

      I took Alcorn’s mystery writing class (sort of — I lost interest along the way) and found he was extremely prescriptive there. Maybe that’s what works best with mysteries, but I did not relate.

      I am definitely an NOP as well. And I could definitely use some tips to help me be more organized from the start, so I think I’ll look for this book next.

  • I’m an OP. Then again, what’s new I’m usually the odd (wo)man out in a crowd. Maybe I find it necessary because I know my weakness is not in creativity, but in sentence structure and grammar. I’d rather know my plot is in place and fluent so I can spend time on the areas where I need to do the most work. Who knows – it takes all kinds to make the world go around. I’m kind – just overly organized. LOL

    • Nancy

      Ah, DS, whatever weaknesses you may have are definitely NOT in the area of creativity!

      Yes, it does take all kinds. As I used to sing to my kid all the time, ‘All God’s chillun got a place in the choir – some sing low and some sing higher.’

  • Way to go! I admire your determination to be the best writer you can be. With your desire, I’m sure you’re absorbing more writing wisdom than you realize.

    • Nancy

      Thanks, Shaddy! I do feel like I am learning a lot — from reading, from writing, and from sharing with my writing buddies. Good, satisfying mind expansion all around.

  • Sorry, I’m late to the party here. It’s been a week…ugh!
    Anyway, This is exactly what I did with Dangerous Embrace. I wrote the beginning then the ending. That’s all I had of the story. Then I filled in the middle. That wasn’t true with either of my other books. I’m definitely an NOP.
    I’m going to have to check out the Crafting Unforgettable Characters and The Solace of Leaving Early, sounds interesting. Of course–that’s if I ever get another moment to myself. If I’m lucky I may have time to write a flash 55, but don’t hold your breath.

    • Nancy

      Just because you have a full-time job, a two hour commute, three kids and a husband, Dayner, you’re having trouble finding time? Sheesh….

      Well, sometime it would be interesting to hear how your whole writing process ended up being different when you knew the beginning and end and then filled in the middle versus whatever else you did. I still don’t know how and when mine will be begin, though I’m a bit clearer now on the ending.

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