I have, for over three years, harbored an idea for a novel or collection of short stories that would allow me to explore (and re-visit) the roots of my first two degrees and combine that with a life-long fascination I have had with Japan.
Having ignored both my B.A. in English (emphasis in creative writing) and my B.A. in Religious Studies (comparative religions) for almost twenty years, I found myself researching Zen Buddhism, learning about the history of Japan, and fascinated with the yamabushi mountain ascetics who practiced an essentially esoteric form of Shingon Buddhism. The Onin War was particularly interesting for me, and it played a large part in the historical background for the recent history created for Runes of Gallidon.
The first time I wrote any fiction since graduating twenty years ago was last summer, when I was preparing to launch Runes of Gallidon. We needed some content to seed the site, and I volunteered to write some flash fiction. The result wasn’t good, in my humble opinion, but that served as a motivator to learn more about this craft I never developed. Boy, I wish I had taken the time to do some research before tossing those offerings on the site!
Last fall, I began reading the more popular “how to” books on writing fictional novels, performed the obligatory online searches for guides, stepped up my fictional reading (not hard to do, since it was almost non-existent), and began to view whatever I read with a critical eye. Why had the author written the chapter this way? How were they writing dialogue? How much detail did they include, and how much did they leave out?
I was pleasantly surprised to find some good online resources, and the handful of print books I bought lived up to their Amazon ratings. They probably don’t work for every writer in every situation, but they provided a lot of helpful information in an easy-to-process manner.
Interestingly, the best sources (in my opinion, anyway) seemed to have a common theme: write in a way that works for you. The end result is the goal, not the path that takes you there, and you need to both trust and learn to listen to your instincts.
It’s easy for a writer/teacher/instructor to simply say, “Read this, do exactly as I say, and it’s all you need to know.” It’s a lot harder (read: less arrogant) to say, “Look, I don’t have all the answers. Here are some things that worked for me. Try them out, use what works for you, and ignore the rest.” Perhaps it was how much these writers echoed the Buddha’s words, perhaps I don’t like being preached to. Whatever the reason, I found the sources below really helpful.
Hooked, by Les Edgerton
A thorough approach to making page 1 of your story – indeed, your first sentence – one that compels the reader to go to page 2. This may not be the best place to start your research on writing, but it better be on your itinerary as you start your journey as a writer!
Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy, by Jeffrey A. Carver
A helpful, easy-to-understand online writing course that literally walks you through the process from start to finish. Much of it applies equally well to both genres.
Immediate Fiction, by Jerry Cleaver
For the worst procrastinator, the most confused beginner, the writer who just can’t seem to get things going, this book’s for you. This book is a standard in this niche, and there’s a reason why.
How to Write a Damn Good Novel, by James Frey
Another standard in this niche, I found this helpful, if not quite as practical as Immediate Fiction (Jerry doesn’t just recommend what to do, he walks you through the process). Still, this should be one to consider. I haven’t read How to Write Damn Good Fiction (let me know if you have and what you thought about it).
Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell
Yet another book that should probably be at least considered by anyone wondering how to get that novel written. Bell has his own formula for plot construction, LOCK (Lead, Objective, Confrontation, Knockout), which I found easy to understand and remember.
Articles on Writing, by Simon Haynes
Practical, straight-forward, and with a recommendation for a free software tool to help “keep it all together”: Freemind. I’ve downloaded and played around with it, and it’s grand for those of us who are comfortable with organizing things electronically. May not work if you prefer paper and pen filing.
How to Write a Novel in Two Months, by Jeff Vandermeer
Okay, I’ve never read Jeff’s works (I just found this article today after seeing Mur Lafferty mention it in a retweet from Colleen Lindsay), and it’s over a year old, but I think this article is worth reading. Jeff’s also got a book coming out soon (Booklife: Strategies & Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer), and I have to agree with Mur that it sounds like it will be good reading. Good enough for Mur is good enough for me.
More as I come across them…in the mean time, I’m getting back to some writing (what about you?).