Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Recommended reading

Over the years, there've been a couple of books that I have found invaluable.  The first one dates back to 1934, but the material is still relevant only there's nothing about author platforms or social media, of course. Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande was one of the first books on writing I ever read. It is still in print, which is a testament to its worthiness, and it is a book which will never leave my bookshelf because I often pick it up and dip into it. Like an early morning swim, it is refreshing. Dorothea was a believer in The Writer's Magic and what other writers call The Morning Pages. She was also a believer in discipline, which any successful writer will tell you is a must. You can read more about Dorothea here and you can order Becoming a Writer from any of the major booksellers. It now has a wonderful, inspiring cover. 

The second book, a book which had a big impact on me, is Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (and, no, I haven't made a typo, that's how you spell his name).  Maass is a literary agent, and president of the Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York. He wrote the book as "insider advice for taking your fiction to the next level", and a large part of the book is an analysis of how successful novels have become just that. (I'm assuming that you know what a "breakout novel" is. Think The Da Vinci Code or the Harry Potter series.)  The usual things are discussed: Premise, Stakes, Characters, Plot, Theme, but there are also sections called Why Write the Breakout Novel? and Breaking Out. Breaking Out covers Agent and Editor; The Pitch, Outlines, Breakout Living, Success, Sequels - you get the idea.  My only criticism of this how-to book is that nearly all of the novels discussed are American and, quite frankly, I got a bit sick of that after a bit. (And I think you can guess what I might have to say about the cover.)

The last book I'm going to discuss - probably my favourite out of the three - is Everything I know About Writing by John Marsden. Most Australians know who John Marsden is. He's not only a wonderful man - I've been lucky enough to attend one of his masterclasses - but a prolific and terrific writer, known best for his Young Adult novels, particularly the Tomorrow series.  What's helpful about Marsden's book is that he covers unusual topics. He talks about How to Use Experiences, Stating the Obvious, Make Something Happen and he gives examples. Make Something Happen, for instance, follows a story being told, and as soon as it becomes boring you contradict it, and the story is forced to take a more imaginative turn.  B: I woke up this morning, got up and got dressed ...  A: No you didn't.  B: Oh, OK, I didn't. I stayed in bed and went back to sleep.  A: (Still bored) No you didn't.  Included, at the back, are 600 writing topics, ranging from the banal to the exotic.  If you don't know what to write about, one of these topics will surely help you. Marsden's book is joyful, fun and inspiring.

And just quickly a mention of two other helpful writing books:




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