Book Blog - The Story Masters

This past week, we Muses attended the Story Masters conference in Houston, Texas. Over the course of four days, we attended classes with three preeminent teachers on story craft. Here’s a mashup of my favorite books of theirs, along with some of the highlights of the conference:

Day One – Donald Maass

Don is a literary agent, and author of the successful Writing the Breakout Novel and Fire in Fiction. His books are aptly named. He’s a great believer in pushing story to its limits in terms of creating tension, high stakes and deep emotional connection. He encouraged us to draw from authentic experiences, sometimes secondary emotions, to find what is fresh. Don led us through exercises designed to mine the power of contrasting desires, and to find our character’s true arc over the course of the story. Does any of that sound good? Then read his books!

Day Two – James Scott Bell

James is a writer, screenwriter, lawyer, and comedian (I’m adding this last one, after hearing him talk.) He’s the author of Plot & Structure, among other books for writers, and in fact, he does love both plot and structure. One of the first things he said was, “If plot were a stuffed animal, I’d sleep with it every night.”

His talk covered the gamut for writers. James covered everything from the book opener to the book close in very practical, and very funny terms. I don’t want to give too much away specifically, because they are his systems and he should reap the reward, but he has a number of great acronyms, checklists, and processes to whip your writing into a solid form. I’m reading his Revision & Self-Editing right now, and find myself alternately dog-earing, smiling, and high-lighting.

Day Three – Christopher Vogler

(Clouds part. Choir of angels.) You guys know about Chris Vogler, right? If not, let me tell you a little story.

Many moons ago, Chris, a young fellow fresh out of film school, was hired to work for one of the big movie studios. At the time, there were very few books or systems to evaluate story structure. Chris, as a script-reader for the studio, saw the need for such. In college, he had discovered the teachings of Joseph Campbell, who spent his life studying mythic structure. So Chris wrote a memo outlining the teachings of Campbell, distilling the hero’s journey into a very clear succession of events. That memo launched his career as one of the great teachers of story structure.

If you have any interest in learning about classic story form, read his books. You’ll learn about mentors, the ordinary world, trials and ordeals and much more. Really, there’s so much that so many of us, I believe, can apply to our writing.

What are some of your favorite books on craft?


Sounds like a fantastic conference! I'm a big fan of PLOT AND STRUCTURE and James Scott Bell in general. Other craft books I love? BIRD BY BIRD and EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES.

Ohhh. I don't know ES&L! I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the rec, Katy!

Lin Oliver just seriously sang Maass' praises at the SCBWI Writer's Day I attended last weekend. Looking forward to reading his books. Love "Eats, Shoots & Leaves"--for some reason we have 2 copies on our shelves. I think Francine Prose's book, "Reading Like A Writer" is a fabulous tool--although I don't seem to be as much of a close reader as she advises. Arrrgh.

I just finished The Fire in Fiction (have read Maass's others and loved them as well). Now starting Vogler's book (it's next to me right now!) and looking ahead to Bell.

Maass's Breakout Novel Workbook is probably my favorite at the moment. It's invaluable, especially right after a crappy first draft.

This post came at an excellent time. I'm looking for more good books to read up on. Thanks!!

OK- I couldn't be more jealous. I scraped and scrounged, but couldn't come up with enough $$$ to attend unless I wanted to short-shift the kids at Christmas.
(Won't lie-- it was a close thing.)
I guess I'll just have to live it vicariously through your comments. :(
Next year, though...Ah.. next year.

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