Monday, May 26, 2008

Ten Vietnamese and Sunrise Over Fallujah

I am learning more from reading books by other authors right now.. I checked out a book written in the 60's by Susan Sheehan called Ten Vietnamese. She interviewed a variety of ordinary citizens for her book. I was impressed with how she let each person tell his or her story without author intrusion or judgment on her part. I felt as if I were sitting there listening to each person tell their story.

I tried to imagine what questions she had told her interpreter to ask the person being interviewed. The identity of the individuals and their locations were not revealed for all their safety. I think she must have asked about what changes had taken place in their lifetime? What had they experienced in the war so far? What decisions had they made? Which side did they support and why?

The second book I read was Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers, a fictional account of Robin "Birdy" Perry. "Birdy" tells his story of the Civilian Affairs unit in Iraq. Mr. Myers used first person POV to tell the story from "Birdy's" eyes. The story was so well told I felt as if I were a member of the unit. I suspect Mr. Myers did a lot of research and interviews before he wrote his story. This book was on the display table near the library entrance. The cover and title caught my eye. I selected the book on that basis and wasn't disappointed.

What I learned from reading these two books was the author needs to step back and let the characters tell their stories whether the books are fiction or non-fiction. I think interviewing my characters as well as real people would give me insight enabling me to let them speak for themselves.

Monday, May 19, 2008

First Draft in 30 Days

For years I spun short stories along with one long manuscript which I filed away feeling it wasn't good enough, but two years ago I determined to learn the craft of writing fiction books. With my bookkeeper mentality, I needed a formula for finishing a long manuscript while keeping everything in order. I discovered the book "First Draft in 30 Days" by Karen S. Wiesner. Invaluable ideas by Ms. Wiesner outlined helps I've used with each of the three manuscripts I've written and my current work in progress.

Ms. Wiesner breaks the process into steps from brainstorming to first draft, giving approximate number of days to finish (assuming, of course, you're working on it every day of the thirty days). One simple suggestion has saved me countless going back and forth, losing time and concentration. While writing, you come across something you need more information about, you add it to your research list with page number of your manuscript where you need to add what you learn. By doing this, you continue writing while it's flowing. Then you can spend time researching all the things you need to add and go back editing from your list. This really does save time. Her ideas about character sketches and time lines add depth and detail to a new story.

I highly recommend this book. Even after finishing manuscripts using this method, I often revert back to the book and gain new suggestions I missed the first time around.

Starting a new manuscript? Check out this book and see if you can come up with a rough draft in thirty days. If you only write one day a week, you could still have a rough draft in less than eight months. Did you do that well the last few months?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Peace Like A River

Peace Like A River © 2001 by Leif Enger

Peace to all your households,

This is my first blog on this site, and I pray that it encourages and inspires.

When it comes to writing, I’m kind of like my husband. In this “some assembly required world” we live in, he never reads instructions—as least not until he gets stuck or finds one extra screw without a home. I sheepishly admit that I tend to put off the “how to” books for writers, and this out of sheer laziness. I’d rather be writing that reading about doing it. In the same breath, however, I boldly declare that as writers, we are in the business of forever honing a craft. It’s kind of like being a Christian—we can always find room for improvement, amen?

I have taken my share of writing courses and attended seminars, but I also look to successful novels for inspiration. Excluding super-sensationalistic, jump-on-the-band-wagon types, books that sell millions copies in either the CBA or ABA markets deserve a little research. For example, I learned a great deal about POV from the way Leif Enger crafted his debut novel, Peace Like A River.

I love the classics of American literature, so when I first aspired to writing, I imagined writing epic novels in the first person narrative. The trouble with those first efforts is that they were narratives, causing my early mentors to yank at their curls (EVERYONE had perms in those days), “Don’t tell me, show me!” Therein lies the paradox of effective first person narration—to show the reader the action while you’re telling them about it. At least it was until Leif Enger so poignantly demonstrated the first person narrative technique.

The story is narrated by Reuben Land, an eleven year old asthmatic. When his brother Davy is accused of murder, the family travels through Midwest searching for him; always staying a few steps ahead of Martin Andreeson, “the putrid fed” hot on Davy’s trail since he escapes from his jail cell. The novel is told from Reuben’s POV, which I find tremendously challenging about the first person narration—not to be able to slip into another POV for expository purposes, if nothing else. Reuben’s tender and innocent POV is really all we ever need.

Peace Like A River truly has is all action, romance, comedy—and don’t forget the Kleenex box either. And while you’re enjoying the book so much, remember that there is much to be learned from Mr. Enger’s writing.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King

Another staple for your writing shelf.

Back cover Blurb:

Hundreds of books have been written on the art of writing. Here at last is a book by two professional editors to teach writers the techniques of the editing trade that turn promising manuscripts into published novels and short stores.

In this completely revised and updated second edition, Renni Browne and Dave King teach you, the writer, how to apply the editing techniques they have developed to your own work. Chapters on dialogue, exposition, point of view, interior monologue, and other techniques take you through the same processes an expert editor would go through to perfect your manuscript. Each point is illustrated with examples, many drawn from the hundreds of books Browne and King have edited.

Okay, by now you know I love writing exercises. I believe they are such a great way to learn the craft of writing. This book tackles some of the most common fiction writing problems. The authors offer ample writing exercises to seal-in what you've learned with each chapter.

Still not convinced? Maybe you say, "Oh, come on, Debra! When I do those exercises I never know if I've done them correctly."

In this book, these two authors go a step further and actually include the correct answers to all the exercises listed.

The chapters in which I felt particularly drawn to were point of view, interior monologue, easy beats, and voice. I definitely can say I walked away from this book with newer insights into my craft.

On the downside, one specific aspect, in which I cringed while reading, was the constant and somewhat lengthy use of examples from other author's work. I found myself skipping over the examples to read the rest of the lesson.

In closing, I feel this book was worth every penny for it's instruction and insightful revelation into what editor's want in a manuscript.

I give this book 4 stars.

Writing Tip of the Day