The Art of Fiction – David Lodge
Ideal as an introduction to terms and examples in situ. The book is a collation of articles written for The Independent, so each chapter is succinct and to the point. Lodge uses examples from a wide range of literature to explore such concepts as Stream of Consciousness, Aporia and Metafiction. Focused on British and American literature, but warm and accessible. A likeable tutor.
13 Ways of Looking at the Novel
Amanda Hodgkinson recommended this. I often describe a book as a ‘gem’, but this is an entire treasure chest of sparkly riches. Jane Smiley takes us on a personal journey around the literary world, asking hard questions, positing theories and offering advice. Her range is astounding and inspirational. My copy is bristling with Post-Its. What I love about this book is that it addresses the writer AND the reader. And hopefully, it makes me better at both.
Negotiating with the Dead – Margaret Atwood
In the same way as David Lodge’s book began as articles, Atwood’s work first found an audience as a series of lectures for Cambridge University. With the same witty, intelligent and thoughtful tones used in her novels, she talks about writing, writers and her own experiences. It’s unpretentious, generous and honest about being a woman and a writer. Less of a ‘how to’ and more of a ‘why’.
On Writing – Stephen King
Subtitled ‘A Memoir of the Craft’ and as always, he nails it. A personal take on how his work developed; he never claims genius, but champions hard work. Writing is a craft and he treats it as such. One can learn a lot from a skilled craftsman with his feet on the ground. A very human approach and rammed to the rooftops with quotable quotes. This is a pleasure to read.
Techniques of the Selling Writer - Dwight V. Swain
From the man with a name like a court case, one of the most practical books on my shelf. From Swain I learnt scene and sequel, a template I always use on first rewrite. His story elements technique is also a great way to find the basis of a blurb:
Write two sentences – one statement which establishes character, situation and objective. One closed question which nails opponent and disaster.
When humans start growing to twelve-foot high, John Storm wants to find out why.But can he defeat traitors in high places who would kill him and fake an extra-terrestrial plot?
The Art of Dramatic Writing - Lajos Egri
Egri is a playwright but his principles hold for any kind of narrative. Premise – character – conflict. Egri’s reduction of premise if the best I’ve read.
Every good premise is composed of three parts: the first suggests character, ‘Ruthless ambition’; the second suggests conflict, ‘leads to’ and the third suggests the end, ‘destruction’.
Best advice: Prove the premise through the character’s choices in conflict. Egri showed up my amateurism in making the hero fully rounded and the baddie just plain bad. I should return to this book more often.
Story - Robert McKee
This one is my favourite. McKee is a screenwriter, but like Egri, the principles of storytelling are universal. The most useful element for me was the Value change – each section starts at one point on the scale and must have changed by the end. I mark every chapter accordingly. He’s precise and clear on set-ups and payoffs, exposition and storyworld, with smart references to cinematic examples. I will never lend my copy of Story to anyone. But thanks to Libby O for lending me hers.