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Writing How-To's

Terry D;1530796 said:
Here again, as in the outlining thread, much depends on the writer's own make-up and what they expect to get from a "how to" book. If you want to find a book that will tell you how to choose the right story, and the right words, and what sequence to put them in to build a bestseller you are not going to find it. Some books breakdown well written works and find patterns within their structure which they try to pass on to the writing-readers. If you want to be conscious of your structure and build a story that way, then those books probably have something to offer you. Great writing can be built like that. The author says to herself, "I want to achieve this effect at this point in my book, so I want to use this technique to make that happen." There's nothing wrong with that, if that is the writer's nature. Many successful writers work that way, so books about those techniques can be helpful.

There are other books, written by successful authors, which try to convey to the reader a "this works for me" lesson. King's book is like that, as is Ray Bradbury's, Zen and the Art of Writing. The mystery writer Lawrence Block has published several including, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, Spider Spin Me a Web, and Writing a Novel from Plot to Print. The one thing they all have in common is that they stress to the beginning writer that there is only one way to write well -- the way that works for each individual.

I use to read everything I could get my hands on about writing and I still have all the books (probably not 30, Kyle, but close!), but I don't use them much anymore. I did finally get On Writing by King and enjoyed it very much, but more for the biographical info than for any writing advice. What reading the "how to" books has done for me is to help me understand why my writing works -- when it does -- and how to build on that.

Like Sam says, most of my writing education came from reading. I never consciously copied anyone else's style, but I know mine has been heavily influenced by the things that work for me in books I enjoy. The analytic side of me likes to know about structure and technique, but when I sit down at the keyboard I'm never thinking about that stuff.

I like to compare the craft of writing to wood working. You don't have to have a shop full of the fanciest tools, or a lot of instruction books, to build a nice cabinet -- you can do it with an idea and a few basic hand tools -- but a bit of advice from someone who's done it well before and some specialized tools can improve the results.

Just my opinion, of course.


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