Thursday, July 05, 2007

Excellent Book On Writing, But....

I've just read an excellent book on writing, yet I'm a bit hesitant to post about it. I'll explain in a bit. This book is by one of the premier authors of fiction in the US. His mysteries are best-sellers, and many have been made into movies. I purchased the book, not because I particularly like his writing--actually, much of it is too "dark" for my enjoyment--but because he has such an excellent reputation as a writer. A number of authors whom I respect have recommended him. Since I'm too cowardly to read his fiction, I thought I'd read his book about writing.

The first portion of the book is pretty much an autobiography, and it's fascinating. But you soon figure out that you're going to have to put up with some pretty colorful language as you work your way through it. He pulls no punches, including telling how he fell prey to alcohol and drugs at the pinnacle of his success. Still, it was an enlightening story.

The part of the book dealing with writing starts by comparing the tools needed with a carpenter's toolbox. In the top shelf are vocabulary, and here he is quick to suggest that, although you'll enhance yours by your reading, for the most part you should use the words you have. No need to use fancy words when plain ones will do. He illustrates this with some excellent work by well-known authors, much of which contains single-syllable words!

The top layer also contains grammar, and his reference of choice is the cherished standard, Elements of Style. I could only say "amen and amen" as, time and again, he refers to the lessons to be gleaned from this work. And although most of us have already heard that we should avoid adverbs, this writer puts it more plainly: "I believe that the road to hell is paved with adverbs." Pretty hard to miss that lesson.

He got another "amen" from me with his admonition that to be a writer you must read. He admits to being a "slow reader," only getting through 70 or 80 books a year. His contention is that you have to read a lot and write a lot. The benefit of writing is self-evident. The reading should not only give you an example of what is good, it can also tell you what is mediocre and downright rotten (and we all know that some of the stuff that's published fits this description), so you can avoid it.

He lists the three elements of a story--narration, description, and dialogue--and has lots to say about each of them. And, like Al Gansky, he is fond of asking "what if," then letting the story take off. He says that once he sets the situation and the characters, they generally kidnap him and take him to the end.

So, if you can put up with some language that isn't found in your Sunday School quarterly, and you want to read a book that I think is very helpful for anyone trying to write fiction, click on this link. Besides that, if you haven't figured out who the author of this book is, you'll probably click on it just to get the answer. See, that's one of the elements of writing suspense.


Anne Mateer said...

I had to laugh when I read this. Just a week or so ago I talked to a budding writer--a pastor--who when I asked what writing books he'd read hemmed and hawed and finally said this one. I laughed and said it was one of my favorites!

Susan Barnes said...

I read this book a couple of years ago and, like you, have never read any of his fiction.

I came to many of the same conclusions you did plus I thought it was interesting that there were some Christian influences in his background. I wrote about it here.