Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday Linkage and Other Things

First off, let me start by apologizing if nothing makes sense this morning. The dog, who happens to think he's a cat, decided it would be a very good thing to get me up at 0430, then at 0500, at which point I gave up and got up. As Sarah will tell you, this is not a good thing. I am NOT a morning person, especially if no one is up before me to have the coffee waiting as I stumble into the kitchen. So, here I am, fumbling to pull this post together and wondering why no one has invented a way to deliver coffee intravenously.

In my travels across -- over? through? -- the internet this week, I came across a blog I hadn't read before Rachelle Gardner's Rants and Ramblings On Life as a Literary Agent. Her June 12th entry, "Books, Books, Books" reminded me of an online discussion I followed some months ago on whether or not a writer should read in the genre he or she wants to write in. One of those commenting said they refused to read the genre they wanted to write in because they didn't want to be contaminated by what others had written. According to this person, they were afraid their ideas might lose their unique qualities if they happened to read what others wrote. Ms. Gardner simply says:

I believe that you, as a writer, should read lots of books in the genre or category in which you are writing. If you write literary fiction, you should read literary fiction. If you write suspense, you should read suspense. It's a great way to learn. I also believe in reading informational, inspirational, and how-to books about writing and publishing.

Another agent, Nathan Bransford, posted his Writing Advice Database this week. Like with any list of rules, it isn't complete nor is it to be followed without variation. It is, however, a good starting point. I do recommend you look at his Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer. Yes, they are common sense. Yes, they are things we should all remember but, hey, we're writers. Common sense is a fickle friend a lot of times. And, if you're like me, when you're in the midst of a writing jag, you tend to forget things like eating and sleeping, much less family and friends.

Finally, a simple reminder. If you have a blog, if you take part in online discussions, if you are part of online fora, think before hitting that enter button. Remember the old saying, "if you can't say anything nice, just say nothing at all." You might ask why. Well, the answer is simple and it is one that has come back to bite many a writer. You get that rejection letter in the mail or in your email and you know the agent or editor didn't take time to read your query or submission materials. How could they? You only sent that email 17 minutes earlier. It is so easy to shoot an email back to them, telling them off. It is even easier to go to your blog and write all about it, venting that frustration eating at you. That temptation to blast the editor who has completely altered your book is even more pervasive. Don't do it. Lucienne Diver has a great post on Blogging Do's and Dont's -- Advice for Writers on her blog.

I've blathered on long enough this morning. Besides, my coffee mug is strangely empty. Judging from the way the cat is bouncing off the wall, I suspect she drank it while my back was turned. So, I leave you with a question. What informational, inspirational, and how-to books about writing and publishing do you like and recommend and why?


Amanda Green said...

I'll start the list off with a book Sarah recommended to me and one I've since recommended to others -- Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. If you want to write fiction that sells, and I'm not talking "literary", this is the book for you, imo.

Kate said...

Absolutely, Amanda. That book is excellent.

Another must-have for me is the itty-bitty book The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White. For writers who want their prose to help the story rather than get in the way of it, it's an excellent guide.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynn Truss is a more humorous guide to the same general topic, and another favorite of mine.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Great links, Amanda. I had fun surfing around looking up things.

Amanda Green said...

Thanks, Rowena.

So, are there any books on writing that you would recommend? How about writing related links you follow?

KylieQ said...

Steven King's On Writing. Particularly when I am down about how long the path to being a published author is...

Amanda Green said...

KylieQ, I agree with you about King's On Writing, with the caveat that I prefer the first half to the second. But that is just personal taste.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

I enjoyed Ursula Le Guin's 'Steering the Craft of Writing'. It's written in an accessible way so that you feel like you've sat down and had an in depth chat with her. Plus her chapter on Point of View is excellent. She uses the example of one the scene told from all these levels of POV that make it really easy to understand.

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, I haven't looked at the Le Guin in years. I'll have to find a copy and look at it again. Thanks for the recommendation.

Any one else have any books/articles or links you keep going back to?

Chris McMahon said...

Ditto on: On Writing - SK (also preferred the first half Amanda)

I went to Robert McKee's Story seminar in Brisbane a few years ago and I was really impressed. I also brought the book, which follows pretty much the same lines.

I found the Story seminar pretty inspriational, although the guy is a little hard case (and dogmatic).
I arrived late and crept carefully into the back, only because it was polite. The next guy blundered into the doors down dear the stage - Wow! Didn't McKee go completely off his head! He threatened to walk out of the semiar if the guy did not give him a fine of $10, which the poor guy (faced with ruining the whole seminar for everyone) coughed up. He said to McKee - 'Donate it to Charity.'
McKee smacked his lips and said (smoothing the note on his podium top) - 'Think I'm gonna get me one of those nice Australian beers.'

Moral of the story is go, but don't go late!

McKee is really into structure, though. So if that's a turnoff then maybe its not for you.

I had just read the Stephen King book when I went & stood up to ask a question. In 'On Writing' SK emphasises Narrative over Plot.
I stood up and asked McKee what he though was most important.

MK -'Who wrote this book?'
Me - 'Stephen King.'
MK - 'Who?'
Me - 'Stephen King.'
MK - 'Never heard of him. What's the question.'

He never actually answered the question. Merely saying that a Plot is a series of events and that he did not understand what I (or SK) meant by Narrative.

As I sat down I realised he was right. A plot IS a series of events in a story, nothing more. No matter what way a writer approaches a story -- whether they start with a tight plot or follow the character like SK, they will (over a series of multiple revisions and reinventions) end up with a story that has a series of events. Sounds like a no-brainer, I know. It just made me realise no matter what your starting point, we are all aiming for the same thing.
I have been dying for a good space to read the Michael J Stracynski book on screenwriting. It looks excellent.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, McKee sounds like some of the professors I had, especially in law school. I don't like his attitude, but then the guy who came bumbling in needed to catch a clue, too.

As for the emphasis on structure, I think we need to understand and be able to follow the rules of structure -- and be able to break them when needed -- to be successful as writers. This sort of follows what you and some of the others blogged about earlier. We need to know the rules of writing, understand them and then be able to use, or not, the rules in order to make the most of our stories.

As for plot, it is just a series of events. However, that series of events have to make sense in the world you create. It has to be logical according to the rules of the world. And, imo, you can't cheat your reader by waving your had at the end of the book and canceling out most of what you've done to that point -- in other words, the surprise ending that makes no sense or the bad guy turning out to be someone who was introduced in the last 10 pages of the book. Nor can you, as happened in the book I read last night, spend 300 or more pages building to a crescendo only to realize you've reached your word count. So you wrap up the book in 3 pages instead of the 20-50 pages it should have taken had you followed the structure you'd set for the rest of the book.

Sorry, it is soooo easy to climb onto that soapbox early in the morning. Especially after reading a book that is a disappointment on so many levels.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Story was recommended to me by a friend in my original writers' group and I bought it... and it did NOTHING for me. Possibly less than nothing, as I read it and it's completely gone from my mind.

So... other than Techniques of the Selling Writer, what has helped... Mostly Zucherman's "Writing the Blockbuster Novel" (I think.) Just so I KNEW what editors were looking for. The markers of the lbockbuster, as it were. Also I tend to find my advice where you wouldn't expect it. Poetry. Books on how to write erotica, etc.