Book Blog--Craft Books

Katherine Longshore 3 Tuesday, March 12, 2013
As Donna mentioned yesterday, we are blogging about books and what we're reading this week.  I'm currently so immersed in revision that I can hardly remember my own name, much less what I read last week, and most of what I've been consuming has been for research, anyway.  (On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway is fascinating, by the way).

I've also been reading books on craft.  I've been reading books on craft for years.  BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott, PLOT AND STRUCTURE by James Scott Bell, THE WRITER'S JOURNEY by Christopher Vogler.  I am a careful reader.  I pay attention.  I often take notes.

But when I go back to reread, I always find something new.  It's like eating crackers.  You get most of it in the first time, but when you look again, you find crumbs everywhere.  Valuable crumbs.  Like gold dust.

A few weeks ago, I started reading STORY by Robert McKee again.  It's for screenwriters, but I believe every writer can find something useful in it.  Bret recommended ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING by Ray Bradbury.

However, I learned recently something that James Scott Bell mentioned in a workshop I attended back in 2011.  He said writing is like playing golf.  You learn the skills.  Practice the swing.  Know how you're supposed to stand, where you're supposed to look, what angle the club should be.  But when you come to hit the ball, you can't think about any of that.  You just have to do it.

I sat down to write Book 3 with notes and outlines and graphs and charts and character questionnaires.  I knew my character's goal and I knew where she ended up.  I knew I needed setting and foreshadowing and an inciting incident and a Save the Cat moment.  But I couldn't write.  I sent a panicked e-mail to my editor.  "Forget all of that," she said.  "Take a walk.  It will come to you."  So I did.  And in the middle of my walk, my narrator spoke a first line to me.  And when I sat back down at the keyboard, another came.  And another.  And I realized that my character knew what her goal was.  And together, we would get her there.  Through the inciting incident and the Act 1 turning point and beyond.

I still have a lot to learn.  I don't think we are ever finished learning craft, my friends.  There is always something that sparks the imagination, turns up the heat, ignites that lightbulb moment.  Right now, I am slowly--and mind-blowingly--working my way through WRITING 21st CENTURY FICTION by Donald Maass.  And I know that what I learn there will show up in my revision.

What craft books are you reading?  Which ones have you found most helpful?  I'm always looking for recommendations!


I too am reading Donald's newest book and take notes when I read as well lol! A line I LOVE (and I'm still trying to digest the book) is... “Not all character growth is an upward curve. Sometimes it’s a downward decent into our darker selves.” This quote sat above my computer on a Post It through most of my wip and shaped it greatly!

I've found that not only reading books on craft, but watching commentaries at the end of great movies has helped me tons. There is actually a lot to learn about character at the end of E.T.!

Stephanie Perkins, YA Author, gave a little talk at a book signing about being a better reader if you wanted to be a better writer. So with that in mind, any time I have a physical book, or even an e-book (but it's much easier with a physical book) I write in the margins what works for me, what doesn't and I try to figure out why? I've read plenty of craft books, but you can only read so many before you actually have to do the work. So as I write, I'm just applying what I've learned from my reading. And every day, I try to be a better reader.


What a great idea, Naomi--I'd never thought of using DVD commentaries as a learning tool, but you're right! And yes, Mr. Maass is pretty incredible...

Heather, thank you so much for adding that reading makes you a better writer. My husband likes to tease me that I "should be working" when I sit down to read a book, and I can honestly answer, "I am." :)

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