Monday, June 25, 2007

Books about Writing

There are always new books coming out, and I blogged recently about "Chapter After Chapter" by Heather Sellars, which is more about actually being a writer rather than the nuts and bolts of writing fiction.
At the moment, I'm working my way through "Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint" by Nancy Kress. This is very definitely a writing how-to book, with lots of interesting points on all those things associated with character, such as motivation and conflict. I find it useful to read a book like this while I'm wrestling with a rewrite/revision, as I can focus on the bits that relate to what I'm trying to achieve with the manuscript. The current version of this particular novel of mine has, let's face it, too many "issues" to do with the main character and they get in the way of the story rather than deepening it. So something had to go, and I've more or less decided which issue will bite the dust. It's a middle grade novel (or upper primary) so I need to focus on the tension and pace of the story and allow the mystery/suspense elements to integrate more with the family stuff. The bullying issue will still be there, but in a different way, not in terms of a big backstory element that was slowing down the narrative drive.
Kress's book has a great chapter on the motivationally complicated character. There's a tendency with kid's books to think that it is all about one thing, one character goal, one need or desire. But many stories start with the character wanting one thing, then further complications and disasters lead her into wanting a much bigger thing. It's part of the character and plot arcs, and means tension rises effectively. It also means you have to keep your eye on the ball (excuse the cliche) and make sure your story doesn't get out of control. Everyone struggles with mixed motivations and emotions, e.g. it's possible for you to dislike someone and feel sorry for them at the same time.
Kress also talks about whether your characters are changers or stayers. And that you should know this about all your major characters. Not everyone has to change. Not everyone has to change in a big way.
The other book I'm skimming at the same time is "You Can Write a Mystery" by Gillian Roberts. This is very much a down-to-basics book (hence the skimming over the standard character/genres/point of view stuff) so my interest here is in her pointers on plotting. How to lay clues, red herrings, create other suspects, etc. My novel isn't strictly a mystery, more suspense-oriented, but my plot does need a restructure, so anything that makes me think more about specific problems to be solved is useful.
Yesterday, I had a reading pig-out again. Finished "Bad Luck and Trouble" by Lee Child before going to bed. Great read. Every now and then I stop and look at how he uses short sentences - an interesting stylistic thing that adds to the main character, Reacher, because it makes you feel like he is a man of few words before you even get to his dialogue.
I make my second year students do my version of close reading on several different excerpts, and even though some of them complain, if they start to see and understand even one or two things about language and style and sentence construction, I'm happy.

No comments: