There are certain books that change a person’s life. The Joy of Cooking is one of them. Our Bodies, Ourselves, is another one. In the writer’s world, there are a huge number of books that make you understand how much you really, really suck. And that’s a good thing! Cuz once you think you don’t need to learn anything else about writing fiction, you might as well be writing copy for the Maytag company
Here are the books keeping me safe from the Maytag company:
1) On Writing, by Stephen King. An obvious choice. How obvious a choice? If you don’t own this book–dog-eared and highlighted, mind you–you are officially kicked out of the writer’s club. I’m totally serious.
Some of the best inspiration from this book? Knowing that he typed his manuscripts in his laundry room while working as a janitor. And that he bent a nail he’d put in his wall–a nail struggling under the weight of rejection letters.
2) GMC, by Debra Dixon. GMC, by the way, is Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. Your book’s gotta have each of these things in order to work as a book. If you ain’t got ’em, you ain’t got a book. Debra makes you understand you need to have a reason for the character to on her journey, a reason for what she wants out of this journey, and what kind of four-eyed goblins are going to stop her along the way.
3) Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder. Barring the dumb-sounding title and dumb-looking cover, this is an awesome book for plotting woes. I got this book after hearing Jennifer Crusie say the best thing she ever did was take a screenwriting class. Well, I had no time for that. So I did my research on Amazon and–bam!–Save the Cat. Why this title? Some good advice is in the explanation–the “Save the Cat” scene in a movie is when the hero is forced to do something (like, uh, save a cat) and we find out exactly what kind of person she is. For instance, Cruella de Vil would save a cat a lot differently than Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
4) Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maas. Donald Maas is like the Julia Roberts of literary agents–talented, popular, and super busy with hobbies. Julia’s hobbies may be environmental crap, but Donald’s hobbies include writing books about writing. And my, what a stellar book. He discusses that every PAGE needs tension; heck, every paragraph
Before reading WTBN, I thought you just needed tension at the end of a chapter, to keep the reading going. Maas talks about how the great novels–you know, the kind that get a $100 million budget and a crazy-eyed Tom Cruise as your star–all have this microtension.
5) Write Away, by Elizabeth George. I can’t believe I didn’t know about this book until a couple months ago when another writer went on and on about how it talks about some unknown secrets about writing. No, there’s nothing in there about writing a book in an hour while eating bonbons and learning French, but there’s some gold nuggets none the less. One? Reminding me to have rising conflict in my manuscripts. You forget, as you approach page 234, that obstacles need to go up in degree of difficulty throughout the book. The obstacle on p. 54 should look like an annoying housefly compared to the killer bee and his cavalry of killer bee friends on p. 230.