Friday, May 23, 2008

Writing Guides In Review

The three writing guides I've had in my hands most recently have been Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True Elizabeth Berg, Writing the Popular Novel, Loren D. Estleman, and No Plot? No Problem! Chris Baty. None of them have bumped Bird by Bird from it's coveted spot in my heart of hearts as the most inspiring and helpful book on writing ever known to the 21st century (wo)man, but each has its own merits and is worth the time if you've got it.

Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing TrueEscaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True, Elizabeth Berg, was lovely. She gets more into how to live and write while both living and writing than she does into the technical aspects of writing craft, but her angle does serve a purpose. And likely fills a void in the writing manual market that made her publishers gleeful. She also talks common sense about what to look for in a writing group, a writing instructor, how to be a writing instructor, and how to spot toxic friends - and not the kind that have been dipped in radio active waste and are now superheroes. Other than that, I can't remember much about her book.

It's been a few months since I gave it back to my lovely public library but I do recall wishing I lacked a conscience and could therefore slice out all the pages in her chapter about how to be a good workshopper: the part where she calmly discusses how it's not about you, the writer, it's about the story. And you, the writer, are not the story. That there will never be a "you, the story" just "you, the writer." It would have been a handy chapter to smack people with should they ever start walking that road or attempting to belittle other workshoppers by confusing the story with the writer.

Finding Writing the Popular Novel, Loren D. Estleman, was an unexpected treat. I picked it up, in the library again, thinking it was going to be some old, stuffy, utterly annoying guide that would have a stick up its ass while denouncing pretentiousness in writing ... but I was wrong! It wasn't a thing like other guides to "popular novels" that I've come across. Estleman writes in a clear no-nonsense way that assures me that if I told him I thought his style was "just cut through the crap" he'd do that grudging acceptance chin sticky-outy thing that older men do and nod.

He comes across as having this down to earth mentality combined with a Midwestern work ethic. The kind of man who could win the respect of any of my hardworking uncles even though he writes novels for a living.

Estleman goes through mechanics, dialog, researching, figuring out which story needs to be told, developing conflict, getting the hell over yourself and writing the damn story without whining, publishing, and figuring out who your reader is. All this in less than 250 pages. It's a good, tight, fast overview. If you can't get into the academic quides, and the Artist's Way is waaay too shisshy-foo-foo for you, then this may be a good place to start.

No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 DaysAnd I'm going to wrap up with the ever so fun No Plot? No Problem! written by Chris Baty. Baty is the creator of NaNoWriMo also known as National Novel Writing Month which I've blathered on about on occasion (and, as a matter of fact, I'm about to embark on a cousin competition, SoCNoC, for the month of June -- see the kiwi bird icon to the right). NaNo was Baty's idea for taking the month of November and forcing himself, and his friends, to write a 50,000 word novel in that short period of time.

How long is a 50,000 word novel? Think Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men,Fahrenheit 451 or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

No Plot? No Problem! -- also, conveniently 50,000 words -- lays out the story of how NaNo came about, and how it became a world wide thing that now thousands of people embark on every November. Some just for fun and some for profit, but mostly just to prove themselves (much like marathon runners).

When it comes to writing craft, Baty lays out some slap dash guidelines that will hold the hobbyist through the month long writing marathon. His voice and writing style are enchanting. I mean who doesn't want to keep reading something that has just given her permission to write a story entirely about "a pair of super-powered, kung-fu koalas who wear pink capes and race through the city streets on miniature go-karts?" The entire book is littered with such images making it a quick and uplifting read. His input and, more importantly, his pep speeches are good to have on hand if you're looking to embark on an intense month long writing journey, or even if you just need a quick pick up.

Up Next: A Memorial Day Special

Highly Recommended