I've been meaning to make a list of my all-time favorite writing books. It's going to take some time to really review and remember all of the books that have been excellent, but I thought I'd at least start on a few. Whether you do screenwriting or novel writing, I've found ALL of these books have been insightful. Also, if you have any favorites that you thought were helpful but I've missed them, please let me know. =================================================================== Save the Cat! and its two sequels, by Blake Snyder
Snyder was a successful Hollywood screenwriter who sadly died last summer. He has developed a system for writing a story that is amazing; I just love what's he's done here. Snyder starts with a 15 point story progression, then breaks it out into 40 scenes that are ready to write for the screenplay. =================================================================== The Anatomy of Story by John Truby
This is an intellectual book that needs to be worked through slowly with your story development notebook in the other hand. Truby sticks with the important throughline of the story, and especially the all-important changes that MUST occur in your character in order to make the story gripping and resonant. =================================================================== Writing the Fiction Synopsis by Pam McCutcheon
This book is hard to find, which I never understood because it's so on-target. McCutcheon breaks down writing the synopsis and gives many examples that will help guide you to write a decent synopsis. This book is also helpful if you're simply trying to work out what your story is about. If you want to purchase, I suggest you go to the publisher Gryphon Books for Writers HERE, since this book is outrageously expensive on amazon. =================================================================== Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon
Another offering from Gryphon books for Writers (HERE) that gives clear instruction for the smaller units of fiction development. Randy Ingermanson and others also talk about the GMC -- a critical concept if you want to write well enough to become published. Again, buy this from the publisher rather than on amazon. =================================================================== Break Into Fiction by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love
The book that goes along with the workshop taught by these two ladies, different chapters focus on different aspects of the story with templates and worksheets that give thought-provoking exercises to help develop your ideas. =================================================================== Writing the Breakout Novel, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, and The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass
Maass is a successful literary agent who has deeply studied books that have "broken out" and grab readers. He includes very challenging and thoughtful exercises to do once you have finished your first draft -- and believe me, you will NOT finish your next draft for a very long time, but it will become so strong you won't recognize it. =================================================================== The Dramatic Writer's Companion by Will Dunne
This is an insightful book that puts forth many questions about your work, in different categories, that will help you shape and then refine it. At the end Dunne has a troubleshooting guide called "Fixing Common Script Problems" that gives clues and suggestions to help with bugaboos such as not enough conflict in a scene, or a passive main character. =================================================================== The Scene Book by Sandra Scofield
Scofield looks at a unit of story construction, the scene, and discusses how to focus it so that it resonates. Step by step instructions, examples, and exercises really guide to write something effective.
The Kindle for a bibliophile is like crack cocaine for an addict.
My family is tired of hearing me talk about the Kindle, since I've been wanting one for over a year. It seems like a reader's dream, to have so many books available at the touch of a button. So... Last Friday, with their support, and since I won't be attending a writer's conference this summer that I usually go to, I decided finally to push that "Buy" button on Amazon. Here is my preliminary report.
I bought the Kindle II at $259, a sturdy cover at $35, and an adapter kit for $10 that included a car charger, travel wall charger, and earphones -- total shebang a tad over $300. This is steep, but not totally outrageous for a purchase; still, we saved and thought about it for a good long time.
Amazon gets total stars for shipping -- even though I ordered with the "free supersaving shipping" (5-9 days) and ordered right before the weekend, would you believe the Kindle STILL landed in my mailbox Monday morning? The packaging was protective, and yet easy to open without frustrations or danger of piercing or scratching anything.
Out of the box the Kindle was already registered to my account. If you purchase the Kindle for a gift, you must deregister it and then the giftee registers it herself. The registration allows you to easily purchase books (or download free ones) from the amazon site. The Kindle is also able to read PDFs, and will download other people's emailed PDFs to your Kindle for a small transaction fee (the person sending you a document must first be cleared by you). You can also download PDFs or books directly from your computer onto the Kindle, so if you want, you can download the person's file onto your computer and put it on for free. I have not yet tried the computer-PDF links with the Kindle.
The Kindle is an elegant piece of machinery. It's very thin and about 8 inches tall, light enough to be held quite comfortably. The cover that I also bought opens, like a book, and keeps the Kindle safely protected at all times. There was another type of case available that was a little cheaper and is simply used for porting the Kindle. I highly recommend you get something to protect it, anyway. The Kindle also comes with a mini-USB to USB port, and an adaptor for USB to electrical wall socket. It works really well.
The battery took about 3 hours to charge, but the Kindle was fully functional as soon as I plugged it in. There was a small booklet with the basics for using the Kindle, and a more extensive user's guide on the Kindle itself. It took me about 5 minutes to figure out how to navigate and use the keyboard to search, how to display books, how to change text sizes, and how to turn the reading voice on or off. You don't need to touch the screen to use the Kindle, although you may want to put a screen protector on anyway. Next, I downloaded a bunch of free books from the amazon site, including Dracula, Count of Monte Cristo, Sun Tzu's The Art of War, and many other books in the public domain. You don't need to use a computer though, since the Kindle also has a streamlined downloading process.
Amazon has an archiving function for your Kindle account, which means you don't have to display 42,598,662 books in your directory -- when you want the book, you just download it over the Whispernet network. If you are in a place that limits device communication, say on an airplane, you won't be able to retrieve your book. Also, you need to be cautious about too many times that you attempt to download a particular purchased book, since some books have enabled their digital rights management (DRM) option that limits how extensively the book can be downloaded.
I'm still deciding if I like using the Kindle enough to replace my book collection, although so far I'm enjoying it. Reading it definitely is not like reading a book. For one thing, the screen is smaller, so the pages need to be turned more frequently, especially if you use large text. It just FEELS different. The electronic ink is very easy to read, though, and changes between pages are super-fast. This is an impressive little machine. I like the voice feature, and used it to listen to Treasure Island while I was preparing dinner. The earphones I purchased in my accessory kit unfortunately don't work, but they are the cheap kind and I don't think will be difficult to find.
It is incredibly easy to spend money on this thing, since the books etc. are so easily available -- it's like buying the music from itunes. There is a good selection of books available for Kindle, but it's by no means exhaustive, especially for some of my favorites that are about 10 years old. Books seem to run in several categories of pricing: free, 1-2 dollars, 5 dollars, 10 dollars, and 15 or more dollars. Most new books are available on Kindle, but are not cheap. The Kindle has a free sample feature that allows you to download about 5% of a book to see if you like it before you buy. This is a great feature, since it gives you a good sense for the book and whether you'll like it or not. I checked out my own book, A Lever Long Enough, and was pleased with its appearance on Kindle.
OK, as I mentioned the jury's still out on this. I downloaded Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth for $6.37 since I've had about 5 people recommend this book to me but have never gotten to it. I'm going to see how it feels to read the entire thing on the Kindle. If I like it, I want to start shifting over to using this instead of always using print books. Yes, the future of publishing is here.
One other thing I'll need to worry about: my son is as big a reader as I am, and is also very excited about the new toy. He's downloaded Christie's Mysterious Affair at Styles, and after that is looking forward to reading The Count of Monte Cristo. I'm wondering how easy it will be to find my Kindle when I'm ready for it.
An art teacher ran an experiment in his ceramics class. He divided the class into two groups. One would receive their final grade based on the quantity of pots they were able to make: for example, 50 pounds was worth an A, 40 pounds a B, and so forth. The other half of the class would be graded on the quality of only one pot; it had to be exquisite.
And the experiment began...
The first group made pot after pot, some small, some large, more, more, more.
The second group strategized, studied the ceramics of the masters, sketched and plotted, calculated, planned, and finally each made his one pot.
So which group won?
Interestingly, the group that was judged on quantity also ended up with the highest quality pots. The second, strategizing, group found their pots beset with mistakes that they hadn't anticipated. As the first group made pot after pot, they also learned to better produce works of art.*
*a story from John Ortberg's If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat.
The moral of this story is that if you want to accomplish something, you must do it! Don't talk, don't take classes, don't read books about it, unless you also start producing attempts. Yes, your attempts may stink, and they are hard and impinge on your schedule, but they are also the only way to become better. If you want to write a novel, then start by writing: emails, grocery lists, little scenes, anything. If you compose beautiful music, then write a million songs and record the best.
Don't be someone who in ten years looks back on today and says, "Oh, if only I'd done this..."