The 7 Most Useful Books on How to Write Fiction – for those who didn’t get it yet!

Posted by on Feb 5, 2013 in On Writing

These are the books on writing that excited me most when I read them, which I still consult when I need advice. 1. Solutions for Writers by Sol Stein. First published in 2005 this is the essential guidebook on how to write for our times. Broken up into sections and covering both fiction and non fiction it contains a mother lode of practical advice on issues from the writer’s job, to the keys to swift characterisation, to adding resonance. What grabbed me about this book though was the focus on practical advice. Almost every page of my copy has a section underlined and a corner turned. This is the book I turn to again and again. If you can only afford one book on writing make it this one. 2. Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, by Donald Maas. First published in 2004 this is the workshop book for Mr Maas’s famous Writing the Breakout Novel book and training modules. Its three sections cover a wide range of topics under the section headings character development, plot development and general story techniques. I went for the workbook version because I like to fool myself that I’m focused on the practical. The exercises at the end of each chapter made real sense to me too. They made me think about how to apply the excellent writing observations Donald describes so well. My copy of this book is heavily underlined and there are notes sticking out of it. I also return to Donald’s book at critical points in the development of a manuscript. This workbook should definitely be in your library, especially if commercial success is something you aspire to. If you want to write and then starve, you definitely won’t need it. 3. Conflict, Action & Suspense, by William Noble. First published in 1994 this book provides step by step guidance on setting the stage, creating and building suspense and bringing it all to a gripping conclusion. My copy is poodle eared. For me suspense is one of the most important aspects of any novel. It’s why I keep reading. It’s what keeps me turning those pages. It’s what Michael Connelly does to make me want to buy every book he writes. What Harlan Coben does to make every book he writes go to the top of the bestseller lists. If you want to write suspense well, this is the book for you. 4. A Natural History of the Senses, by Diane Ackerman. First published in 1991 Diane’s book is a grand tour of the realm of the senses. In it she describes the evolution of the kiss, the sadistic cuisine of eighteenth century England, the chemistry of pain and a lot more. Structured into chapters for each sense, including synthesia (yes, it’s the combining of constituent elements into a single or unified entity), this unusual and thought provoking book is a...

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Emerging Writers: Guest Post #1 On Finding the Right Voice

Posted by on Jan 16, 2013 in Guest Posts

Sliding on the Snow Stone author, Andy Szpuk, tells us about finding the right voice: It was back in 2007 when I conceived the idea of writing Sliding on the Snow Stone. I’d already written a box full of short stories and was developing my writing craft, taking small steps daily, and occasionally, bigger leaps. However, when my father recounted the experiences of his childhood in Ukraine and subsequent journey through the horrors of famine, Soviet Terrors and Nazi brutality during World War 2, I knew I had no choice. It was a story that needed to be told. Ideas began to form in my head about how to approach it. First, I considered producing it in standard biographical format. Biographies are generally written in the second person, but with much of my father’s material consisting of so many powerful personal experiences, I felt second person would create too much of a distance for the reader. Often, biographies can become academic in their tone. Instinctively, this didn’t feel right for my father’s story. I felt I needed a way to project the emotional drama, to capture how it must have felt. I spent many hours talking to him, and making copious notes, collecting details and building a picture. It was sometime during this process when I realised it was HIS story, so I needed to write it from his point of view. I decided it would need to be written in the first person. It presented many challenges over many months. Managing a story in the first person presents obstacles: the viewpoint is limited, and the voice needs to be consistent and authentic, and also there needs to be variation in the first person delivery, i.e. starting too many sentences with ‘I’ can become over-repetitive for the reader. Finally, after much editing, Sliding on the Snow Stone was published in 2011 by That Right Publishing. It was quite a journey to undertake, but I feel I’ve added a small piece of jigsaw to the history of the world, and I’ve given voice to a story that might never have been heard. For details on my other written work, including a diary of a 10-day stay in Ukraine in 2012 when I visited my father’s old home, visit my blog: Lines from the Word Lab +++++ Thanks Andy for being our first guest post writer. Your story is very interesting. War casts a long shadow. Please visit Andy’s site and if you like what you’ve heard Sliding on the Stone it’s available to buy there. This guest post is the first in a regular series in 2013 where I will be showcasing emerging writers on this blog. You can help by clicking through to their sites, buying their books, sharing this site on Twitter or Facebook and coming back, or by Following this site (click the button above right), to see who is next in a few days. And  if you are a writer and want to be featured...

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A short guest post: Ken Atchity – master story merchant

Posted by on Nov 9, 2012 in Guest Posts

I met Ken Atchity on a visit to a writer’s conference in San Francisco. Ken was one of the speakers. He is both a master storyteller and a great producer. Below you will find a brief biography of Ken, and below that his answer to this question, what is your number one piece of advice for storytellers, Ken? Kenneth John Atchity or “Ken Atchity” is an American producer and author, who has worked in the world of letters as a literary manager, editor, speaker, writing and career coach, book reviewer, brand consultant, and professor of comparative literature. Ken’s films include the Jim Carrey movie, Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Amityville 4 among others.   He and his companies, The Story Merchant, Atchity Entertainment International, Inc. The Writers Lifeline, Inc, and The Louisiana Wave Studio, LLC, produce films and develop books for publication; and books, screenplays, and films for television and cinema. They also consult with writers about their career strategies and tactics. So, Ken, what is your number one piece of advice for storytellers? My advice to storytellers is to recognize that your stories can change the world, and that you can make that happen best by retaining control over your own career and getting your stories onto the Internet and into print without losing your publishing or other rights! You are born under the lucky star of the Worldwide Web and it would be a crime for you not to take advantage of that piece of good fortune. Ken is supremely positive about the impact of the web and about the opportunity it provides for writers. We are on the cusp of a new age. Thanks Ken. Ken’s latest novel is The Messiah Matrix, available on Amazon here. It is a rousing twenty-first century adventure story that moves from the wrecks littering the floor of the Mediterranean to the corridors of the...

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Get Your Writing Noticed: How to grab your reader’s attention!

Posted by on Jul 6, 2012 in On Writing

. A key aspect of writing for the 21st century, applicable to non fiction and fiction, is grabbing the reader’s attention. The number of distractions people have these days was covered in my last post. Here are some techniques for grabbing the reader up front: 1. Establish credibility. If you’re being published by a major publishing house this will help, but even if you’re not you can put your key credential up front. If you spent 20 years as a gardener and you’re writing a book on gardening I will want to know that. ‘Gardening from 20 years experience” is a good title in my opinion. So don’t be shy. Tell us why we should read your book. And tell us quickly. 2. For non fiction, make it practical. I am writing a guide to social media and making it practical is a key consideration. Two of the top five Sunday Times non fiction books this week are practical in some way. 3. Other favorite themes for non fiction, which grab readers are war, for the armchair fighters among us, violent crimes, to make us glad we’re safe, and cooking/homecraft. These areas make up most the remainder of the top non fiction slots. 4. Start in the middle of the action. This standard piece of advice for fiction writers, to cut out the long preamble, to go straight into the action, is also what non fiction readers want these days. In non fiction we want a quick way to move to the key areas of our interest. So let us get to the heart of it, fast. 5. Make a bold statement. In commercial fiction there is often a big scene right at the beginning. This could be a murder, a kidnapping, an interview or a disagreement. The purpose of the scene is to hook the reader in. Similarly, in non fiction you can make a bold statement. If you have something new to say offer it up early, then let us read the rest of your book to find out what’s next. Digital, whether through blogs, Twitter, Facebook or video/audio are all vitally important to success these days. Whatever you are writing, consider how you can build an online presence which will use the skills you have. The demand for online interaction is high and likely to get even higher. Publishing and being successful with just a printed book is becoming less and less likely. Other aspects of grabbing your reader’s attention include titles and keywords. Here is a post I wrote, on my social media blog, explaining key words in simple terms. Beyond key words is the whole area of titles. This is an art, which includes many elements difficult to distill. Taste, fashion and culture are all part of the choosing of titles. My suggestion is for you to consider the most popular current titles in your...

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Get Your Writing Noticed: Writing fiction for the 21st century

Posted by on Jun 8, 2012 in On Writing

The first thing you have to do to get your fiction noticed is to write in a style that is up to date. I read a novel from a hundred years ago a while back and after page one I wanted to throw it away. The style was long-winded. Every sentence had thirty words. I could imagine the lives people lived back then, when the next interruption would be the bell for lunch, two hours from now. Readers these days live in a world of constant interruption. Media, mobiles and madness lure people away from books all the time. Our job as writers is to provide fiction that can be assimilated between other tasks. In order to achieve the goal of writing in an up to date style I suggest you consider the following four characteristics of compelling early 21st century fiction: Accuracy. Accuracy is now realistically attainable for fiction writers. We can find out how the Welsh valleys look in December, how hot Paris is in the Spring and listen to the sound of a wren whenever we want because of the internet. Flights of fancy are good, at times, but reality has a power that can be used for good effect. The truth is often stranger than fiction. Finding out that Paris is no warmer than London in Spring is the sort of information that leads to readers being able to place themselves in the city. Being Fantastic. Fantastic to me means being absurd, exotic and imaginative, to choose some of the long list of definition words in my dictionary for fantastic. Add a sparkle to your fiction. Yes, I know it’s interesting that Aunt Maud went to work in a shop for twenty years and Uncle Fred made her tea every night, but I want to see Aunt Maud going to work in a man’s  suit, with a flat cap, and learn that Uncle Fred was a circus midget with six brothers who shared his bedroom for six months of the year. Absurd, exotic and imaginative novels can be seen on the bookshelves of all good bookshops. Being Sensuous. To me being sensuous is about being passionate, in touch with our senses. We all know what being passionate is in the traditional sense, but I also think it is about having passion for your work, for your writing. Being in touch with your senses means being able to describe how something feels. Take raining for instance. We should be able to describe the taste of rainwater, the silky feel of it on our faces, the sound of it tapping with a million hammers at our windows and the tiny circles it makes in the puddles. That’s what makes writing jump of the page. And Gripping. With all the distractions around us, it is an essential element of 21st century writing to be gripping. Something must happen. There...

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