Craft Book Review: How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson

snowflake methodHow to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method (Advanced Fiction Writing) (Volume 1) by Randy Ingermanson takes the unique tact of telling a story to teach storytelling.

Why I picked it up:
I liked the approach of building your novel in repeating smaller forms like a fractal. I wanted to see how he used the analogy.

My Expectations:
I expected a unique approach to novel writing; something to do with the math of chaos theory.

Intended Audience:
Writers in the planning stage of the novel-writing process who don’t mind the odd fairy-tale retelling.

What I liked:
It covered the basics in a straight forward way. It did somewhat follow the fractal idea as it starts with a one sentence pitch and builds it to a synopsis (big picture) then looks at character overview leading to character specifics, then scenes and scene structure. I felt it had many of the same ideas as The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne explained more succinctly and the explanation of Proactive and Reactive scenes made me think of the take-aways I got from Scene & Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Jack Bickham.

What made this book different from other writing instruction books is it is told in the form of a story itself. Part of me thought this was a great way to make the content less dry and incorporate examples of concepts while learning the concepts. Clever. But I could not get over the character choices. I could only take it in small doses and thought about giving up on it a couple of times.

What I didn’t like:
Goldilocks and the three bears, The Big Bad Wolf and the three little pigs, Robin Hood and Old Mother Hubbard are all at a writer’s conference. It annoyed me. And it wasn’t only that these characters were used, but they kept calling Goldilocks “Blondie” and that didn’t bother her, but Robin Hood kept leching on her, so she finally called him out for calling her “wench”. I also didn’t find the writing “method” unique, but, like the characters, a rehash of the basics.

Rating: ♦♦♦◊ 3.5 out of 5

Overall, I think the writing ideas are useful and clear, and the concept of presenting writing instruction through story is unique and a good idea, but I found the character choices grating and distracting which cheapened the effort.

Happy Reading and Writing!

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L is for Lapidescent and Lamott

lapidescent – adjective – turning to stone; petrifying

Symbol in the Mountain

 

Watch for spiders when turning to stone

A spider outside titanium tombs admits to gathering glass and
Pokes positive whispers to flip
Lichen over rocky ruins welcome collected chlorinated streams to
Come to yes, the dust spinning
You between tungsten traps sanction catching carbonation and
Stay pro compliment still
Safety-pins under obsidian obsessions permit keeping keeps to
Arrive at every surrender lapidescent.

Anne Lamott’s Truth BombsSigned by Anne Lamott

Last weekend (for my birthday), my sweetie treated me to a talk by Anne Lamott at Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle. Anne Lamott is the author of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. My cousin (whose birthday is the day before mine) got me this book for my birthday years ago when I started my first novel.

We had great seats stage left and while we waited for the event to start, I admired the modern style of the room. The pod-like, tiered balcony seats reminded me of the floating senate sections from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

When she was introduced, we were told she likes to drop “truth bombs” and she did. She started by answering the questions “How do we keep going in these troubled times? Where do we even begin?” Her answer: “The system works because we’re not all nuts on the same day.”

I enjoyed her truth that “Help is the sunny side of control.” It reminded me of all the times my mother so kindly tells me about job opportunities. And sometimes my “help” isn’t what people need.

And if you want to have a better life, “start each day by feeding the hungry babies.”

Her advice for writers?

  • Stop! not writing.
  • Trick other people into writing
  • Write terrible first drafts
  • Get a lot of help
  • Pay attention
  • Wake up

Her newest book Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, in its gorgeous orange cover, was inspired by this song:

Though she said she sang it in church, so maybe not this particular version 🙂

These are fun too:

Want to listen to this song over and over? There are a lot of different recordings of Hallelujah Anyhow to choose from.

Happy Reading and Writing!

See you tomorrow.

D is for Duende and a Double Dose of Dufresne

 

duende: noun – 1. a goblin; demon; spirit 2. charm; magnetism

Bonus word: dejecta: noun – feces; excrement

 

Azalea petals

 

Azalea Petals

                                           It was a shame
to cover up those voluptuous curves in that floral tent of a mumu
such a contrast to the white hood and robe silently hanging in the padlocked closet
Her lime and tan wide-brimmed sun hat veiled her face in shadow,
but she also shuttered her eyes with oversized mirrored sunglasses
as if darkness was not dark enough to hide her thoughts

It was a dirty shame
the way he still stared longingly, lustfully while imagining no one saw
his history of apologies sloughed like the purple azalea petals
scattered on the pavement at the cease of spring
His gape eluded to his ape ancestry, unaware of the taboo;
triggered by olfactory stimuli: the heat, the sweat
He stood erect; up from the dusty ground revealing his genitals,
revealing his weakness

It was a crying shame
that she looked out the window at that moment of passing duende
She observed his every twitch of the dance
Her nose curled at the smell of dejecta while festering secrets burst forth
like erumpent maggots from a rotten apple
She thought of his ancestry, his family grooming him in consolation after
his beat down by the alpha male from whom he did not evolve
Now he only suffered the yearnings of the flesh.

For shame!

 

For today’s poem I took a look at a couple philosophy staples I’ve kept with me since college:Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future by Friedrich Nietzsche and Civilization and Its Discontents (The Standard Edition) (Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud).
For the poetic form, I was inspired by District and Circle: Poems by Seamus Heaney, specifically “Edward Thomas on the Lagans Road,” “A Clip,” and “A Chow.” This book of poems has great examples of using specific descriptive nouns.

Craft Book Review

If you have followed Experience Writing for a while or follow me on twitter, you have probably heard me mention Is Life Like This?: A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months by John Dufresne. I read this book early in my writing journey and I still use the tools he discussed.

Mr. Dufresne has a new book about writing flash fiction called FLASH!: Writing the Very Short Story and for this review, I also read his book The Lie That Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction.

Flash! cover

Why I picked it up: I enjoy writing flash fiction and was curious about Mr. Dufresne’s take on the subject.

My Expectations: I am a big fan of Mr. Dufresne’s other craft book Is Life Like This?, so I had high expectations that I would learn something and enjoy this book.

Intended Audience: People curious about flash fiction.

What I liked: This book is full of great examples of flash fiction stories, in their entirety, by many different authors. There’s a wonderful variety. The book flows nicely: heavy on the examples at the beginning and ending heavy on the suggested exercises and writing prompts.

What I didn’t like: There isn’t anything I didn’t like about this book. The only problem with reading it is I now have even more stories to write. Because I read Mr. Dufresne’s other writing books, I recognized some of the exercises–he even included a Flash-O-Matic–but it makes sense that many fiction exercises for longer fiction would work well for flash fiction also.

Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 5/5

Why I picked it up: I picked this one up to see what other gems of knowledge Mr. Dufresne had to impart.a lie that tells a truth cover

My Expectations: My expectations were perhaps not quite as high for this one. I wondered if it might repeat  much of what I read in his other books.

Intended Audience: Fiction writers of all levels and interests.

What I liked: This book is packed with exercises. Someone in a chat the other day asked me what books I would recommend with good writing exercises and I replied, “Anything by John Dufresne.” I was not wrong.

What I didn’t like: My issue with this book is the format. It is so packed with quotes (usually two to each page) that I couldn’t get through the text without reading through the chapter’s quotes and then going back to read the chapter. And even then I found the quotes distracting. I’m not into quotes out of context in the first place, so they don’t enhance my reading experience when placed well, but the way these broke up the page distracted me from the substance.

Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ 3/5 I recommend doing the exercises.

Happy Reading and Writing!

See you tomorrow.

B is for Banausic and Bickham – Craft Book Review: Jack M. Bickham Double Feature

banausic beauty

banausic: adjective – relating to or concerned with earning a living; utilitarian; mechanical; practical. Not operating on a refined or elevated level; mundane.

Why Stand By?

I heard a scuffle on the sidewalk below
You put down your glass and walked to the window
She saw a hussy in a public embrace
He saw a man gettin’ his
We heard her scream
They turned back to the TV

I grabbed your glass and brought it to the window
You took a sip and poked your head out
She yelled, “Let that woman go.”
He finally called the police
We watched and waited
They turned off the lights

They were too late
We took one last look at the body
She had bled out
He was never found
You refilled your glass
I contemplated banausic windows

Today’s NaPoWriMo theme was the I, or the speaker of the poem. I thought it tied in well with witness testimony which I am studying in an online forensic psychology class through futurelearn.com

I also found inspiration in National Book Award Winner Lighthead: Poems (Penguin Poets) by Terrance Hayes, especially “Lighthead’s Guide To Addiction” and “Satchmo Returns To New Orleans.”

tools of physical labor

Craft Book Review

I first came across Jack M. Bickham‘s name while reading Crafting Dynamic Dialogue: The Complete Guide to Speaking, Conversing, Arguing, and Thinking in Fiction (Creative Writing Essentials) from the editors of Writer’s Digest. His book Writing novels that sell was mentioned in a section called Parent-Adult-Child which talked about three primary roles people/characters occupy in life.

My local library didn’t have that book, but did have Scene & Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing) and Setting (Elements of Fiction Writing), so I picked them up instead. They are both part of a series called Elements of Fiction Writing 5 Volume Set (Beginnings, Middles & Ends – Description – Setting – Characters & Viewpoint – Scene & Structure)

Setting

My Expectations: A while back in a critique meet-up, I  heard people talking about active setting. I hadn’t read A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting: How to Enhance Your Fiction with More Descriptive, Dynamic Settings by Mary Buckham yet, so I still wasn’t clear what sort of magic made setting active and hoped this book might clear that up.

Intended Audience:
All fiction writers, but it may be a little advanced for early beginners.

What I liked: It was fun to learn about setting from the man who wrote Twister which  has a vibrant setting and uses setting (weather) as a character. Not only did this book answer my questions about active setting, it inspired me, through straight-forward exercises, to think about setting differently in my novel. This book really clicked for me and helped me understand aspects of setting that I hadn’t thought of before.

What I didn’t like: The writing is very dense. Though the book isn’t very thick, it’s a slow read. Definitely worth it because I really felt aha! moments, but it felt like mining through thick stone to get to the gold.

Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 4/5 I recommend this book.

Scene & Structure

 My Expectations: Because I had such a good experience with Setting (Elements of Fiction Writing), I had high expectations for this book. I looked forward to seeing what sort of clarity Mr. Bickham could bring to my understanding of plot.

Intended Audience: Writers of fiction. Perhaps most useful to someone planning a novel. Though I plan to use his order of component segments of scene and sequel to evaluate my scenes during revision.

What I liked: This book did not disappoint. Mr. Bickham’s presentation and explanation of scene and sequel were eye-opening and gave me lots of ideas to evaluate and improve my draft.

What I didn’t like: This book, even more than setting, felt like a lot of reading for the amount of useful information. However, the information is so useful, that it makes it completely worthwhile.

Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦  4/5  I recommend this book.

 

Happy Reading and Writing!

I’ll see you tomorrow.

Craft Book Review: Story Fix

Story Fix coverStory Fix: Transform Your Novel from Broken to Brilliant by Larry Brooks is intended to help authors “reinvigorate” rejected novels, but I found it lacking in tangible instruction and full of discouragement.

Why I picked it up: I was looking through Writing Voice: The Complete Guide to Creating a Presence on the Page and Engaging Readers (Creative Writing Essentials) from the editors at Writer’s Digest and started looking up the different authors who had written chapters. Because I am focused on editing and revision, Larry Brooks’s book looked like a good choice.

My Expectations: I was expecting a book on revision and editing with specific guidelines to follow as I revise my draft. With the bold title STORY FIX, I expected a plethora of tools and boxes to check.

Intended Audience: This book is for writers whose manuscripts have been rejected so many times that they are facing a major re-write or abandoning their novel to the drawer of despair, or the locked trunk in the basement. The author also assumes the reader has attended conferences.

What I liked: The examples of Mr. Brooks coaching authors at the end of the book are  worth reading. Before I got to the three case studies, I was having trouble finding anything I liked, but they were interesting. I recommend reading the case studies first and then, if you’re curious about Mr. Brooks’s terminology, going back and reading those sections of the book. I found the questions Mr. Brooks asked the authors during these story coaching sessions to be eye opening while evaluating my own manuscript.

What I didn’t like: Until the coaching examples (and somewhat during), the book comes across as very negative. Mr. Brooks appears to think he’s being honest and frank, 200 pages of tough love, one might say, but it comes across as cynical and impugning. Until I read the case studies, I felt like I had read 150 pages of how to write an elevator pitch and fifty pages telling me I might as well give up trying.

 

Rating:  ♦ ♦   2 out of 5 – only because of the coaching examples at the end.

 

Books on revision and editing I would recommend instead:

The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein. I reviewed this book as my first Craft Book Review. It is not only for authors of children’s and YA novels.

The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne

Revision And Self-Editing (Write Great Fiction) by James Scott Bell

 

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

 

Craft Book Review: The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein

The Magic Words book cover

The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein is a great book for writers who are ready to take their manuscript to the next level. As an editor for Scholastic, Cheryl has experience that makes her an authority on the subject of revision and editing MG and YA novels. She shares first hand stories about the revision process that bring difficult subjects to life.

Why I picked it up:

It was one of the books recommended by Denise Jaden at the end of Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days for when you’ve finished your draft and you’re ready to edit.

My Expectations:

Because the book is about writing for children and because Magic is in the title, I expected it to be focused on magical thinking and getting back to the child mind. I expected exercises in discovering stories that appeal to children and using language geared toward different age groups. This book wasn’t like that at all.

Intended Audience:

The ideal reader is a fiction writer who has finished a first draft of a novel fomiddle school, high school or adult readers. To get the most out of the exercises, you will want to have read through your draft and created a “book map.” The book map is a lot like the story grid from The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne that I talked about in the Editing Focus sections of my Final Days of 2017 posts. Cheryl Klein uses a post from Anita Nolan as an example. The book map is also a lot like Susan Dennard’s index card outline.

What I liked:

I liked the examples from her work as an editor working with authors. Her experiences were informative and brought the concepts into the real world. I also liked the extensive exercises in every chapter. The exercises raise poignant questions to get you analyzing your work.

Since I focused on plot last fall, I enjoyed that this book presents a fresh take. I learned yet another plotting structure called Freytag’s pyramid. I hadn’t heard of this one before. Based on Poetics from Aristotle, it describes the five act dramatic structure of classical plays, but also works as a model of rising action.

The Magic Words is thorough, covering every aspect of writing and revising your novel.

For your convenience both the plot chart and the character chart discussed in the book are available on the book’s page of Cheryl’s website.

What I didn’t like:

I got tired of Harry Potter references. If I didn’t write adult fiction as well as children’s fiction, I would have found most of the examples (Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight) to be geared toward older kids and I would not have found this book very useful. However, as a book on the craft of writing, it was excellent.

Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦  5/5 Highly Recommend

 

Writing Reviews

I have a favor to ask. This year, I plan to write a review each week. I’m trying to come up with a format that is both fun and informative so I would appreciate your feedback of this review.

  • Did you like the layout?
  • Was the review helpful?
  • What else would you like to know about the book?
  • What didn’t you like about the review?
  • How could it be better?

Please respond in the comments. Thank you.

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

Beware The Creeping Nouns

creeping-nouns

I am reading A Writer’s Coach: The Complete Guide to Writing Strategies That Work by Jack Hart. Though it is geared toward journalism,  the information is useful and inspiring for my fiction.

One sign of a skilled writer is avoiding redundancy. Mr. Hart uses the analogy of felling a a-writers-coachtree. The skilled woodsman takes efficient strokes and controls where the tree falls, but the “city slicker” hacks away, exhausting himself and endangering his neighbors.

Sharpen Your Axe

During your first draft, you don’t want to think about word choice, you just want to get your ideas down, right? But what if, some of those overused words, those pesky redundancies and expletives never got on the page? It would save you a ton of time during editing.

This Halloween, you are sharpening your axe for a monster hunt. You are hunting E.B. White’s “leeches that infest the pond of prose” and Jack Hart’s parasites that live alongside them in that pond. Once you are trained to recognize these monsters you can stop them dead before they get to your pages!

The Leeches and Parasites

leech

Leeches –

Expletives are more than the beeps we hear on TV. The word expletive also means any syllable,word, or phrase conveying no independent meaning,esp inserted in a line of verse for the sake of the metre (from dictionary.com).

Make sure to hack away at “it is,” “it was,” “there is,” “there were,” and “there are.”

Creeping Nouns are nouns that attach themselves to other nouns but add nothing but dead weight. Mr. Hart believes that if we avoid unnecessary use of “situation,” “field,” and “condition,” we could eliminate half the creeping nouns published. Here are a couple examples from A Writer’s Coach.

. . . and one source said the Cincinnati Reds manager faces a possible suspension for gambling activities.

Gambling is already the activity causing the possible suspension. Activities is redundant.

Officials are saying the combination of millions of dying trees, the seventh year of drought conditions and . . .

Drought is the condition thus conditions is redundant.

Hart’s other examples of creeping nouns you should include on your monster hunt are: field, industry, profession, concerns, event, experience, facilities, situation, and status.

Remember: these aren’t words you want to eliminate from your writing, they are words that can become creeping nouns that create redundancy when they cling to other nouns.

parasites

Parasites –

To avoid parasites, you want to avoid over using qualifiers. A qualifier is the same as a modifier – a word, phrase, or sentence element that limits or qualifies the sense of another word, phrase, or element in the same construction.(dictionary.com)

Mr. Hart calls these parasites “petty modifiers” and “needless qualifiers.” The monsters that should see the sharp blade of your axe before they mangle your writing are: rather, somewhat, generally, virtually, pretty, slightly, a bit and little.

And don’t forget the pernicious overused words: very, like and just!

Happy monster hunting and happy #Writober.