Book Reports

Book report: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors

Story Structure Basics: How to write better books by learning from the movies by Alexandra Sokoloff.

Auuggghh! This was amazing! It has changed the way I view movies, forever. I have been obsessively watching everything in my Amazon Prime video library with a notebook and pen. I’ve only got a few minutes, so this will be short. (I am waiting for a doctor appointment and typing this on my phone… have you tried blogging on your phone? It’s awful. I’m not a very good texter so this is miserable. If there are any misspellings this is why.)

It’s classic three act, eight sequence stuff, but I always love it when I can put some writing tools to practical use. Wait, that’s wrong, but this typing screen on my phone is tiny. I mean, you know how lots of books on craft use examples from movies or books you’ve never read? Well, Sokoloff does that too, but in this case it’s very easy to take what she teaches and watch something you enjoy instead. It’s really fun, though I’m driving my husband mad. Something happens generally every 15 minutes in an adult movie. And you can almost set your watch to the structure.

I also picked up STEALING HOLLYWOOD: Story Structure Secrets for Writing Your BEST Book, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

Typing a blog post on a phone is now something I will add to my resume, and hopefully never do again. Now, for my yearly checkup. Even more fun. Today is shaping up to require chocolate.

Book Report: Fantasy reference books

Summer is one of my busiest seasons at work, second only to the holiday season in late November – December. My writing time is scattered and precious, but I did pick these reference books up and thought they were worth a mention.

The Mythical Creatures Bible: The Definitive Guide to Legendary Beings is a relatively new publication (2009, my teenage son thinks that sounds ANCIENT) by Brenda Rosen, and it’s such fun to flip through for inspiration and resources.

Beyond simply dragons and wyverns, zombies and banshees, it showcases the weird and wonderful from the world over like the Tsuchigumo. Full color illustrations and categorized by type. It’s a small, square book, but thick and heavy.

Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia by Carol Rose is older (1996, so prehistoric, my son says), but just as marvelous. Fewer illustrations, and they are in black and white, but soooo many more creatures are packed into this book. It’s marvelous for world building. Each character is cross referenced with similar or like creatures in an index. There’s a lovely appendix that sorts creatures by area in the world. For example, you can look up India and find a list of creatures steeped in folk lore, religion, and culture there.

Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth is another amazing resource by Carol Rose. Organized in the same way as Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins above, it feels almost like a phone book. Black and white images are scattered throughout, and a helpful index again organizes beings from literature, beings that are associated with an apocolypse, and all kinds of helpful categories. You can still search by region and country as well.

All of these are so inspiring and give me so many ideas! I thought you might enjoy them too.

Book report: Write Faster, Write Smarter Series

I recently listened to this entire series by Chris Fox on Audible. The books are short, and I found myself wishing they were all one volume with different sections, but they are easily digestible as is. I like Chris’s voice, and I think he gives some valuable advice.

Start with 5,000 Words Per Hour. I can already write that easy, but not on the regular. Chris details how you can start practicing writing more per day with writing sprints. A good friend put his exercises to use and is now writing 14,000 words in three days.

I’m already a very fast writer, but I don’t have a regular writing habit in place. I’d like to have one, so I took quite a few notes during Write Faster Every Day. Chris recommends practicing writing sprints, which I have yet to try. What I’m trying now, is his advice to set up your writing space (for me, that’s my office), to be 100% ready to go in the morning. For me, that means closing all other apps and programs and opening Scrivener to the project / chapter / scene I want to work on. Then, the next morning, I sit right down and get to work.

In actuality it’s a bit harder being a parent and a wife and having a day job, but I really like the concept.

I REALLY liked Write to Market. I think it’s a concept that rubs a lot of authors the wrong way, but this book has some very, very good advice. Chris details how to study the market to not only find a niche to write in that is popular and doing well, but ALSO how to find one that you will enjoy writing in. It’s not about selling out — I can’t write erotica without laughing my head off, and don’t enjoy reading it for the same reasons, so even though that’s a hot market, I’m not about to try to break into it.

Launch to Market is putting the cart before the horse for me, as I’m not anywhere near launching anything, but it was still a fascinating listen. I’ll listen to it again when I’m closer to the publishing end goal.

Book Report: Storyworld First

Jill Williamson is a fantasy writer, and I just loved her Storyworld First book.

I’ve been looking for something like it for some time, and was delighted to stumble across this. It’s exactly what I was looking for. Something focused on world building for fantasy. She uses examples from Oz, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Fablehaven, and Star Wars.

She goes into great detail about all the different things you can consider when building a fantasy world: races, species, religions, government, and more. She does bring up a lot of questions to make you think, and not all of those questions are given a definitive answer, but that’s kind of the point. There isn’t really a recipe to follow to create an engaging world of your own, but you do need to think about different aspects, get creative and flesh out your worlds. Readers hoping for more of a step-by-step guide might be disappointed if they aren’t willing to put in the creative effort.

She does use her own books as examples a lot, which might irk some readers, but it also makes sense as her own work is the work she is most familiar with.

I really enjoyed Storyworld First and I’m sure I will reference it a lot in the future. I wish there was an audiobook available, but I know those are expensive to produce.

Book report: The Writer’s Guide to Fantasy Literature

The Writer’s Guide to Fantasy Literature: From Dragon’s Lair to Hero’s Quest, How to Write Fantasy Stories of Lasting Value – Edited by Philip Martin

I picked up this book at a library book sale a few years ago. It was published in 2002, and on first flip-through, I thought perhaps it was a bit too out-dated and shelved it.

I also allowed myself to become detracted by a few critical reviews of the book that complained the delivery was dry, or that there was nothing new or helpful. But I was searching for a different book last week and came across it sitting on my bookshelf. I pulled it out and ended up reading it cover to cover, highlighting bits all along the way.

The essay format could probably read a little dry for some, but to me it felt like I’d won the lottery and somehow managed to get personal advice from a host of amazing writers. The title does make it sound like it’s going to be a step-by-step guide, and it isn’t really, but there are lots of instructive bits, and I enjoyed it immensely.

In fantasy, magic is the analogy; it is the spark that lights our imaginations, that fires up our dreams. Fantasy allows us to return for a few precious moments to that luminous realm of childhood, to a time when our unlimited powers of imagination and our hopes to discover our place in the real world were all one.

We long to go through the looking glass, to reach fairy land… [But] Does anyone suppose that [a child] really and prosaically longs for all the dangers and discomforts of a fairy tale — really wants dragons…? It is not so.

It would be much truer to say that fairy land arouses a longing for he knows not what. It stirs and troubles him (to his lifelong enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, give it a new dimension of depth.

— C.S. Lewis, from “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” Emphasis my own.

…[E]ven for stories that do not swirl with such gale-force power, in the first scene we should meet the main character. We should sense soon that this character has some desire, urge, or drive. And we should get at least a whiff of an impending action, problem, or event.

[C.S.] Lewis made the bold statement that “myths are lies, even though lies breathed through silver.”

Tolkien disagreed. Through fantasy’s liquid patterns, Tolkien knew, we can share old truths, wondrous beyond the point of fact.

Emphasis added.

“The problem is you are now doing a reading and you cannot for the life of you remember which bits were the gifts of the Gods and dripped from your fingers like magical words and which bits were the nightmare things you just barely created and got down on paper somehow!! Which I consider most unfair. As a writer, you feel like one or the other should be better.

[…] When it’s a few years later, and you’re reading the scene out loud and you don’t know, and you cannot tell. It’s obviously written by the same person and it all gets the same kind of reaction from an audience. No one leaps up to say, “Oh look, that paragraph was clearly written on an ‘off’ day.”

– Neil Gaiman, interview with Claire E. White, in the Internet Writing Journal, March 1999.

Book report: The Forest for the Trees

The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner

When I’m not reading middle grade or young adult novels, I’m reading books on writing. Studying the craft of writing is almost as much fun as a nap… no, I’m not being facetious, I love naps, and I love studying the nuts and bolts of novel writing.

Betsy Lerner’s book, The Forest for the Trees isn’t a technical how-to-write book, it’s simply a book full of advice for writers from a seasoned editor, and I really enjoyed it. The first six chapters have to do with the personality and emotions of the writer, and it was fun to find myself in the pages (I’m an ambivalent writer). The second half of the book delves into more of the nuts and bolts of the publishing process: how to find an agent, your relationship with your editor, and what to expect when your book is published.

It’s those first six chapters where I feel this book really shines, though the whole book reads like a very good friend with a lot of publishing experience is giving you intimate advice. It’s a keeper.

But I also believe there is enormous value in the piece of writing that goes no further than the one person for whom it was intended, that no combination of written words is more eloquent than those exchanged in letters between lovers or friends, or along the pale blue lines of private diaries, where people take communion with themselves.

Chances are you have a deep connection to books because at some point you discovered that they were the one truly safe place to discover and explore feelings that are banished from the dinner table, the cocktail party, the golf foursome, the bridge game. Because the writers who mattered to you have dared to say I am a sick man. And because within the world of books there is no censure.

There is a necessary gestation period during which a writer should protect his work, because the minute he sends it out, or joins a writing group, or enrolls in an MFA program, he engages the part of himself that is focused on the result more than the work.