books on writing, Renni Brown, Sol Stein, Writing

Sol Stein and Renni Brown- Books on writing

Did I mention that I’m going to another boot camp for writers? I guess I like being a grunt and going back for more.The Basic Boot Camp, or BBC, took place in October 2010 and the one I’m taking in late March is an advanced BC ( cue the horn for a rousing blast of celebration). A couple of weeks before BBC we submitted ten pages of a manuscript in progress or from a completed manuscript.

During the three day critique and write fest we used two books, “Stein on Writing” and “Self Editing for Fiction Writers,” by Renni Browne and Dave King. I swear I read most of both books before we started BBC, but after the first critique I knew I was in the running for Poster Child of Brown’s Chapter 11: Sophistication. Now this sounds like a good thing-it is NOT.

In writing, a few stylistic tricks lend sophistication to your writing. Two of the big no-no’s if you want to appear ‘sophisticated,’ is the avoidance of the ‘as’ construction and ‘-ing’ additions:
    As she… and
    Pulling off her dress…
Chapter 11 also cautions the writer to avoid -ly adverbs and exclamation points. It might be permissible to have one adverb per page but only one exclamation point per novel.

Now I’ve seen these no-no’s used many times and that’s the point, they are overused, abused, and now no good for novice writers to use. Our BBC instructor cried out “Hack, hack, hack,” when she heard the grunts using these devices.
“But best selling author’s use them…” someone’s voice whimpered.
“Are you a best selling author?” was the response.
Good point.

That night, after BBC, I spent an hour on my ten pages, cleaning up my non-sophisticated ways and went to day 2. After the second critique, our instructor smiled and said I had a ‘point of view’ problem, didn’t I read Chapter 2 of Brown and Chapter 13 of Stein? I’m not easily frightened but I did laugh out of nervousness. She showed me where I moved out of one characters head and spoke out of another one’s body. Once it was pointed out I could see it (at that precise time, because I’ve submitted more work since then, and it has pov scribbled on several pages). Before the day was up each person wore the non-sophistication crown or was the POV queen. It was not all good.

One the third day we spent time on Chapter 2 of Brown’s book. A new phrase entered our writer’s language: RUE- Resist the Urge to Explain. This means when the writer describes a character’s emotion when he/she has already shown it by dialogue and action. The writer comes off as explaining too much to the reader as if he/she doesn’t get the point. If the emotion is shown, the explanation isn’t needed. Made sense.

My personal choice for best of the two is Stein on Writing, as my dogeared text can attest. It’s a large book but useful to have in your arsenal. The glossary of editor and writer terms in the back are handy and there is a chapter on “Triage-A Better way of Revising Fiction.”

It has been two hours since I sent in my 10 pages for the Advanced BC. I await the red line edits and brace myself for more critiques and comments. It’ll be fine, unless the instructors spring more books on writing on us. I can only wear so many crowns.

Anne Lamott, Authors, Books, books on writing, fiction, Inspiration, Renni Brown, self editing, Sol Stein, Stephen King, Writing

Some Books on the Craft of Writing

Stephen King quote on writing
Stephen King, “On Writing.”
     On one of my early writer’s groups retreats, our group leader brought in the book “On Writing,” by Stephen King. I’m a horror wuss so I don’t read or watch horror material, the lasting effect of seeing “The Exorcist,”  when I was a teenager. My horror prejudice worked against me, I had never read King’s book, “On Writing,” published in 2000.
     During our free time at the retreat I picked up the book and skimmed through the first part which talked about his early attempts at writing, the rejection letters, and his problems with drugs and alcohol. I don’t believe the latter was the result of the former. 
     Section Two contains the practical advice on the craft of writing. He gives tips on idea development, characters, editing, and the use of adverbs (stay far away from them). Now this was helpful, he gives his original version of “The Hotel Story,” and then he shows his revisions. It’s a good book that gives an interesting story about a very interesting writer.
     King recommends “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. It’s been around so long that there is a 50th Edition; it’s sometimes called the bible for good writing and all things grammar. It’s written in a direct no holds barred style. If you were lucky enough to have a good English teacher then you probably used this book in high school or college. It’s a keeper. 
     Now, between the styles of King and S&W you’ll find Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” She starts giving you good advice right in the beginning. She quotes her father telling her 10 year old brother, who is lamenting about a project he procrastinated on, to take it “bird by bird.” Start small and take it one piece at a time. 
     Ms. Lamott has a sense of style and wit that makes for easy reading even though she does give you assignments in the book. A valuable contribution, that I often thought of when I worked on my first novel, is “Shitty First Drafts.” I read that chapter and thought ‘hot damn,’ she (a famous author) has given me permission to have a crummy first draft. I can write several pages (really only two-it’s the Virgo in me) before I felt the pull to self edit. Her perspective on character and plot are interesting and well worth reading.
     The last two books are what I should have purchased before I began writing. I could have saved time, stress,and premature, and embarrassing, submission to a writer’s class. The first book is “Sol Stein on Writing,”by who else but SS and “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” by Renni Brown and Dave King. There is just too much information to tell you about Stein’s book, it’s over 300 pages but oh so worth reading. Mine is dogeared, highlighted and sprouting pink and green Post-It Page Markers. “Self-Editing,” is valuable reading and re-reading. The chapter on Point of View, which I struggle with, is smudged with my fingerprints, and tears. 
     I’ve read a couple of more books on writing: James Frey’s (not the one that was on the big O) “How to Write a Damn Good Novel,” and one of my favorites (from the 99 cents store) “Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.” It has great illustrations and was a fantastic buy. 
     Whatever you find on the craft of writing, the point is to read, read, and then read some more until you find a book that is understandable, memorable, and hopefully bargain priced. Or you can go to your next writing group and swap or trade books. Someone might have the 2000 Stephen King “Book on Writing,” and is willing to swap, after all the 10th Anniversary Edition just came out in July 2010. Or you can treat yourself and buy your own.