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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Seven Books on Writing and/or Plotting

Lately I’ve been rereading my notes and highlights from a lot of writing books, mostly on plotting, and I’ll share some thoughts from each. Even as a pantster (this is how I both pronounce and spell the term, with the “-ster” suffix at the end), these plotting books make valid points—although I may be easily swayed since I am a hybrid, preparing a long scenes list which encompasses 60 percent or more of my main plot points before writing.

Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

This is a comprehensive book and not a light read, so plan on spending a few days digesting it slowly. I like his six core concepts presentation. I particularly enjoyed his chapter on the three dimensions of characters. Of course if you stay within just one dimension (the external), you end up with flat characters. If we add in the character’s backstory, his reasons for his actions (the internal), he graduates to a two-dimensional character. But for a truly three-dimensional character, we need to show his choices, his growth as a person, someone who does what needs to be done. I also loved Brooks’s section regarding themes.

This book set forth new information for me along with a nice review of other items, such as to jot down about sixty scenes for your novel before you begin writing (which is good NaNoWriMo advice too) and to have a scene in mind for each of the major plot points (which he calls the eight milestones).

The last topic covered was voice, and Brooks gives an example that I had seen before and was just as blown away by no matter how often I read it. See the opening paragraph to Colin Harrison’s Manhattan Nocturne within Amazon’s Look Inside feature if you don’t already own the book. Just another reminder for me to watch my LY adverbs and adjectives but also to quit “holding back” too.

Here's a link: http://amzn.to/1qIbgPl.

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Create a Plot Clinic by Holly Lisle

I believe this is the longer version of the Professional Plot Outline Minicourse also offered by Holly Lisle. She too believes in compiling a scene list—only she advocates about seventy-five because some will not end up being used in your current book—and having five major plot point ideas in mind, incorporating plot twists and cliff-hangers as needed. Lisle covers theme, concept, voice and the characters’ needs. It was fun to see her brainstorm a new book throughout this one, using each principle as we read along.

Here's a link: http://amzn.to/1lSaFnK.

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Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K. M. Weiland

Weiland covers some of Story Engineering by Larry Books and also a bit from Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, but I was happy to find four particular points. First, conflict is delayed gratification. Second, at the midpoint of the book should be the scarlet thread of theme. Third, the three fundamental elements of story are humor, action and relationships (whether love, family, friendship, etc.). Fourth, how the length of our chapters carries tone and pacing. All very good points. Plus she gives an excellent debate in favor of plotting so that we can place foreshadowing in our first drafts.

Here's a link: http://amzn.to/1oz8mJm.

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Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell

I was glad to see that two of my own fiction books proved his premise, so this idea works intuitively as well as practically, meaning, if your gut didn’t tell you to do this, you can still add it after having read this particular nonfiction work by Bell. Great book, short read, with one major point about the “look in the mirror” found at the midpoint of novels or even movies. How, once you know your midpoint, you can write from either side of it, whether the first part or the last part. Bell covers brainstorming ideas, making a mind map, telling a story with emotions and themes and resonant endings, plus provides a listing of his fourteen sign-post scenes. He also recommends other writing books and gives his "mirror moment" examples from The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, The Fugitive, Gone with the Wind, Hunger Games and Lethal Weapon. Love the examples.

Here's a link: http://amzn.to/1oFuFPa.

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Drawing on the Power of Resonance by David Farland

Of course we can’t have good writing without certain elements like voice and tone and themes and emotions, and Farland reminds us of this. Plus he shows poetry’s effects on our prose as to cadence and rhetorical devices, which reminds me to study both. And how our writing will outlive us, leaving a legacy. That’s a wonderful thought and a driving motivation all at once.

Here's a link: http://amzn.to/1vYitKr.

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2K to 10K: How to Write Faster, Write Better, and Write More of What You Want by Rachel Aaron

FYI: At one time, most, if not all, of this info could be found on her website. But I bought her book anyway to have everything in one cohesive construction which I could easily find whenever needed on my Kindle. Again the plotting camp makes a good argument for planning ahead where here Aaron states it improves your writing speed if you already know what to write. She has her triangle formula for accomplishing all she talks about in her subtitle. She even has a section on how she wrote a novel in twelve days (really less) with three days spent plotting this new series opener and its two sequels. I had to laugh when she wrote that “boring scenes had no place in my novels” and “if writing feels like pulling teeth, you are doing it wrong.” I think we all need to be reminded of each of these thoughts at times.

Here's a link: http://amzn.to/1mGvubS.

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Story Bones: How to X-Ray Any Novel for Plot, Conflict and Character by Mary L. Mercer

Mercer covers a wealth of resources, and so this is another book to set aside a few days to absorb all of her topics. She speaks of eight sequences of scenes that lead up to seven events, which I particularly resonated with, as well as examples of each from The Hobbit and While You Were Sleeping. She also speaks of the four throughlines as found in DEEP Story by Carol Hughes. Mercer discusses themes, subplots, stakes, while giving us authors a good overview of the eight archetypes, the three character arcs and the nine enneagrams (like as taught by Laurie Schnebly Campbell). Mercer has this great five-point listing of how to make your characters empathetic. She also, like Aaron above, has her own triangle formula to guide her and us, which consists of five high points from the story and the mirror effect two of them share with two of the others.

Here's a link: http://amzn.to/TRf5V9.

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Each of these books enriched me in some way. Hope you enjoy them too.

"If your vocation isn’t a vacation, then quit, leap, change careers."

Denise Barker, Author, Blogger, Copy Editor
Books that Build Character(s)

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you give someone a book, you don’t give him just paper, ink, and glue.  You give him the possibility of a whole new life. Christopher Morley
The best inheritance you can leave your kids is an example of how to live a full and meaningful life. Dan Zadra

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