Well, the youngest kid is back in school today, so I’m bidding a fond farewell to summer, and turning an excited eye towards fall. I’ll admit it, I was one of those kids who yearned for school to start back. I whiled away the hours reading in the summer, but lived for September.
Let’s just say it, I was (and still am) a nerd.
I love to learn.
I particularly like to learn something new, then teach it to someone else. If I were to teach a creative writing class this fall, the following would be the Top Five books on the reading list:
This one is my bible. I go back to it again and again. Bickham’s points about scene goals and disasters, and sequels, help me plan my scenes before I write them, and help me revise them when the time comes. They also help me make sure I’m being true to my characters’ goals instead of forcing them to move through the plot machinations I dream up, which in turn helps to make my characters more real.
I find myself passing on Bickham’s wisdom again and again to my critique partners and my critique clients, from the multi-published to the newly writing, and I’m amazed at how few people understand these simple but powerful writing tools.
2. Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
This is a fairly new addition to my must have shelf. I confess I’m transfixed by his “beat sheet” where you can test your plot against time honored story elements, but the guy has a way of making everything he talks about easily understood. BTW, screenwriting books are great even if you don’t write screenplays. Movies are short by comparison to books, but they are based on the same classic story structure. I find it much easier to study that structure through movies. If you are plot challenged, as I am, this makes for a great way to study lots of stories in a relatively short amount of time.
3. The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You’re Not by John Vorhaus
Confession, I haven’t read this whole book, though what I have read has notes scrawled in the margins. What I depend on for helping me develop both a story and a character is his chapter (#7) on “The Comic Throughline.” This is a quick and dirty way to see if your character can carry the story. I use it to help guide me in building a character, the steps acting as prompts for me to explore different aspects of my character and fine tune them. I discovered Vorhaus’s (hilarious) writing book when a friend sent me a link to that chapter 7 (which Mr. Vorhaus kindly shares there). You can find it here: The Comic Throughline. I ended up buying the book because I thought he was brilliant and must have other gems to teach me. He does.
4. The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writersby Christopher Vogler
This one is a little denser than the previous three, but it breaks down the mythic structure of stories, originally identified by the great Joseph Campbell, into steps you can apply to your own stories. I like to dip into this one when my plot is meandering, or when I’m trying to see the plot of a new book, and aways find nuggets of insight that steer me back in a productive direction.
5. Myth and the Movies: Discovering the Mythic Structure of 50 Unforgettable Films by Stuart Voytilla
This is a fabulous companion volume to The Writer’s Journey. It takes movies (remember, that’s how I prefer to study story structure & plot) and breaks them down into the same categories that The Writer’s Journey identifies. It also has lovely visual aids in the form of The Hero’s Journey Model (a circle that shows each of the mythic steps for each movie analyzed!). What can I say, pictures are worth a thousand words — at least as a quick reference. 🙂
So, there’s my Top Five writing books, but wait…there’s more. I have one more to share. In New Orleans, where I once lived, they call this lagniappe (pronounced roughly, lan-yap) — a little something extra.
This does for Save the Cat! what Myth and the Movies does for The Writer’s Journey. It takes the beat sheet that Snyder explains in Save the Cat! and applies it to movies in ten different genres. Examples galore!!! Examples are right up there with visual aides in my preferred learning tools.
So, it’s September.
School is back in session.
Teacher Laurin says pick up a new-to-you writing book and see if you can learn something new about your craft. Then share that new knowledge with someone else! Heck, come back here and share it with me. I’m a nerd. I love to learn.
P.S. If you have a favorite how-to writing book, please share in the comments!