Procrastination Station

by Sarah on November 7, 2011 · 5 comments

Today is Day Seven of NaNoWriMo and my self-prescribed NaNoEdMo. In other words, this blog post is an oh-so-subtle attempt at creative avoidance. What I’m supposed to be doing is wrestling a particularly stubborn scene into submission, but try as I might, it still sounds stiff. Gah! It’s probably best to leave it and move on to another.

With the exception of today’s frustration, I’m at the fun stage of my WIP. To paraphrase a line from Debra Dixon’s excellent GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict, I fall under the category of writers who dislike writing, but love having written. First drafts are a slog. Second drafts are frustrating, but with moments of intense satisfaction. Third (and subsequent) drafts are where it’s at for me. I love seeing my story take shape, and I get a buzz from marking off chapters as polished on my progress spreadsheet. There are still a few minor plotholes and a couple of redundant subplots floating around my WIP, but they can be fixed relatively quickly when I do my final polish.

I keep meaning to do a blog post about the books on the craft of writing I find the most useful. I haven’t finished compiling it, but here are three I refer to regularly.

The one I quoted above, Debra Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict, was worth every cent of the ridiculous price I paid for it. It can only be ordered directly from the publisher, Gryphon Books for Writers. The book costs $19.95 plus postage (which is where it got pricey for me). Despite being the most expensive craft book I own, GMC is the most useful. The concepts it lays forth are simple: every story and every character needs to have a strong goal or desire (something they’re striving to attain), plausible motivation for wanting to attain that goal, and sufficient sustainable conflict to prevent the characters from achieving their goals by the end of Chapter One. Basically, if you took the majority of the writing craft books on the market and distilled their advice into one, you’d have GMC.

James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure. He doesn’t introduce any ground-breaking information in this book, but like GMC, he presents his ideas in a more instantly accessible language than do other books on the same topic. Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, for example, is well worth reading if you have the time, but he often takes pages to make a point which could be summarized in a single sentence. Robert McKee’s Story is even more long-winded.

For revisions, I particularly recommend Elizabeth Lyon’s Manuscript Makeover. She introduces so-called “inside-out” and “outside-in” revision techniques which suit different writers. A brief intro at the start of each chapter indicates who might benefit from these various techniques. Further chapters focus on revising plot, structure, and characterization. Each section ends with a handy checklist which I now use as a reference when I start my revisions.

Having spent far too much time typing words which are of absolutely no benefit to my WIP, I shall return to my revisions cave. :)

If anyone has read any of the books I mentioned above, I’d love to know what you thought of them. Which are your favourite craft books?


Victoria Janssen November 7, 2011 at 19:22

Here are some of my faves, all the sort one reads slowly and digests over time:

Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew by Ursula K. LeGuin

About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, & Five Interviews by Samuel R. Delany

Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft by Jane Yolen

Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop by Kate Wilhelm

The Art of Time in Fiction: As Long as It Takes by Joan Silber

Sarah November 7, 2011 at 19:39

Thanks, Victoria! I haven’t read any of the books on your list. I’ve made a note of them. My craft bookshelf is heaving, but I can always find room for more. :D

heidenkind November 8, 2011 at 00:42

It’s been a while since I read writing craft books. I think the one that I liked the most back in the day was for screenwriters and talked about using the hero’s journey as discussed in Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a 100o Faces or some such. But that’s so predictable and tired nowadays.

Are there any good writing craft websites you’ve tried?

Sarah November 9, 2011 at 14:41

There are decent writing craft resources online, but not all of them are free.

There’s Absolute Write. It’s free, but there’s a lot of bitching on the forums. I tend to check out the ‘Writer Beware’ threads and ignore the rest. is good. They have some free stuff and other material which is only available to members (costs $30 per year and includes a reduction on all of their online workshop fees).

Romance Divas. The forums are fantastic. Seriously. They’re a better source of info than any of the five RWA online chapter I’ve belonged to at various times. They open to new members every once in a while. Not sure if they’re taking newbies at the moment, but you can always shoot them an email.

For the nitty gritty of craft, I like Edittorrent.

I need to do a post on this topic, actually, and look through the long list of craft websites I’ve bookmarked. Some are suitable for beginners or intermediate, and others for more experienced writers.

Elizabeth Lyon November 30, 2011 at 19:41

Thank you, Sarah, for the positive review of Manuscript Makeover. This was my last of 5 books for writers and I poured into it everything I’d encountered in editing novels for over 20 years. My approach in instruction has always been figuring out what’s not working, finding models of how the particular technique is done well, and then outlining the steps to correct the problem.

I appreciate what “heidenkind” said about the Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. I still think every novelist should own and reread Christopher Vogler’s “The Writer’s Journey” to absolutely nail the steps in the journey. For years, I felt that the H.J. excluded some very successful novels, especially in various women’s fiction genres. When I came across “The Heroine’s Journey,” by Maureen Murdoch, it was a real aha. This book may supply craft help to anyone with a female protagonist or writing a more inner-journey type of story.

Can’t help but recommend my book on basic novel craft: “A Writer’s Guide to Fiction.”

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