Friday, May 04, 2012

Books For Writers

In my recent survey, it appears that my readers like occasional information about writing. A discussion on a writers' loop recently brought this one to mind. Although some athletes may be "naturals," a la Robert Redford in the movie of that name, most writers aren't born with the talent necessary to get them to the top of the best-seller list. They must learn, then practice, the craft. And along the way, they depend on information passed on to them by other writers via books on the subject.

In my study, I have a bunch of books on writing. Each is well-read, often yellow-highlighted and dog-eared, and I have gleaned information from each of them. I've often mentioned the craft books of James Scott Bell, for instance, but I thought it might be fun to tell you about a few of the lesser-known volumes on that shelf.

I was told by an editor that I should read Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey. I did, and was struck by the point Vogler makes: almost all fiction, from the time of Beowulf, involves standard elements. This is often referred to as The Hero's Journey. To simplify Vogler's material, the story begins in the hero's normal world, something happens to challenge him, he sometimes turns down that challenge but later accepts it. In the middle, there's a problem or trial which Vogler calls "the ordeal," Eventually the hero starts on "the road back," and returns with whatever prize was sought in the first place. Apply that to any movie you've seen or book you've read, and see how closely it fits.


Randy Ingermanson recommended Dwight V. Swain's book, Techniques of the Selling Writer, in which Swain espouses the concept of motivation-reaction units (MRU's). In every scene, something is said or done that motivates a character to react. This reaction in turn is motivation for another character, and so forth. Swain's background in film writing shows in this book, and it provides excellent instruction for the writer who wants to make his fiction move.

That's just two of a couple of dozen books on the shelf, two unfamiliar to most readers and many writers. Was this interesting to you? Would you like to know more about other books of this sort? Let me know.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Books that tell you where to publish your own would help a bunch

Richard Mabry said...

Anonymous--This had been addressed in a lot of places, including my interviews (check the archives link on the right margin) with Mark Young and James Scott Bell, both of whom have self-pubbed. I haven't done that, nor is it on my radar screen. But thanks for your comment.

TexasTami said...

My problem with writing books? I have every intention of reading them when I buy them, and then I get overwhelmed with too much information. Part of it might be that I'm a pantser and have trouble with organized thought...:) I have over 25 writing books, the best out there, and I've only read one: Stein on Writing, which is excellent! At any rate, thanks for the two suggestions; I have both of these books and haven't read them! Sheesh....

Richard Mabry said...

Tami, I feel your pain--if I hadn't acquired these books along the road, hoping each one might contain that magic key to getting published or winning a Christy or making a best-seller list, they would probably be on my shelf, unread still. But I read each one, seeking the magic tip to put me over the top, until one day I realized that what I'd gleaned from the totality of the books had made me a much better writer.
I hope that you'll at least look at these two books among those in your collection--it's a start.
Thanks for your comment. Come back often.

BK said...

Thanks for these two book recommendations. I've heard both of them pop up multiple times. I just recently finished Dwight Swain's book Creating Characters: How To Build Story People and found that one very useful, so I think I'll give these two a whirl.

Though my writer's reference shelf is starting to bulge. 8-)

Richard Mabry said...

BK, Haven't read the Swain book you mention, but what I've read of his work has been helpful.
If you're going to keep writing, you may need another shelf. I've discovered that it's a lifelong learning experience.
Thanks for your comment.