Oakley Hall’s “The Art & Craft of Novel Writing”

A definite keeper. A resource. Read it twice and will read it again.

Rarely have I read a book that covers the entirety of a subject so well, so elegantly, so masterfully, with detailed examples and explanations. I had trouble finding pages I didn’t dogear, highlight portions of, make notes on, et cetera. This book is a must for anyone learning/practicing/perfecting their craft. My great loss is my local library not carrying any of his books. I’ll spend the money to see how this wonderful teacher applies his craft. If he’s half the master at writing as he is at teaching, Whoa!

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What do you mean, exactly, when you tell me to Read and Write to be an author?

It’s what they don’t tell you that’ll ruin you

Almost every writing-how-to book I’ve read has something about having to read, read, read and write, write, write to be a good author. Few books (nor any classes I’ve taken in classrooms, workshops, online, et cetera) include the two pieces of information without which all the reading and all the writing are…well, maybe not worthless but definitely worth less: How to Read and How to Write.

Reading
Read anything and everything. Read omnivorously. Read trashy novels. Read pulp. Read magazine articles, newspapers. Read onlines. Read prizewinners. Read in and definitely outside your genre.

Here’s what nobody told me; Read for craft, not content.

Pay attention to what you’re reading.

 
Pay attention to how characters are developed, pay attention to how scenes unfold, how things are foreshadowed, pay attention to how mood, atmosphere and tone are constructed to create specific effects. Pay attention to how the author does everything they do to get you to read their story.

Especially pay attention to what they do that makes you stop reading their story.

An example of the former is from Fritz Leiber’s A Pale of Air. I read this story mumbledy-mumbledy years ago and remember literally feeling cold after the first few paragraphs. No idea why and continued blissfully ignorant for ever so long. Take a moment to read the opening and enjoy the chill:
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Stanley Fish’s “How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One”

Is that an adverbial clause in your pocket or are you happy to see me?

How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One was an interesting read that spawned my Great Opening Lines blog posts. I enjoyed it, didn’t always agree with it. The one truly fatal flaw (to me) is the lack of exercises, something like “Here’s a rotten sentence, fix it. See possible solutions in Appendix A”.

 
Fish’s explanations of what makes a sentence worth reading become – to me – increasingly complex as the book progresses. I was bordering on being lost by the time I got to his “First Sentences” chapter and started skimming, looking for the meat – the very thing he warns authors against – too many readers, when unsure of what’s going on – skim until they get to something they can understand.
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Ripping Out the Pattern

Ever try to write yourself out of trouble?

Susan (Wife/Partner/Princess) is an avid and talented knitter. She’s well beyond socks and scarves. She’s knit sweaters that would keep naked Eskimos warm. She’s knit shruggs (a kind of half-shawl that’s heavy like a rug and ever so warm and toasty!) that people line up for. Some of her projects are blow offs, easy-peasy and she does them to relax. Some are challenges. She does difficult patterns to teach herself so it’ll be easier the next time.

 
Sometimes – and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a new, difficult pattern or one she’s knitting from memory – she’ll stop, pull her needles from the yarn and “rip out the pattern.” She holds whatever she’s knitting in one hand, grabs the hanging yarn in the other and pulls.

All the stitches come out. All that knit-one-pearl-two gone. History. Obliterated. Forever. No CTL-Z, no undo, only a…
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Macauley and Lanning’s “Technique in Fiction”

A worthwhile read to get you to the next level regardless of what level you’re on

Nuance. Technique in Fiction is a must read because it teaches nuance.

It teaches much more. Just when I thought my brain had filled with as much technique and suggestion as possible, there’d be another bit that I had to write down and practice so I could remember it.

The basic takeaway is that authors should read this book after they’ve finished something big (novella, novel, novelette, noveletta, novina…okay, maybe not a novina) so they can figure out how to improve their writing during the rewrite/editing process. Story writers will also benefit provided they give themselves some down time between writing and editing so their minds can absorb what’s in these pages.

Great stuff!
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