Cutting a Few Corners in Pursuit of Good Writing

I began my writing career late in life. I’m over fifty and I don’t have an undergraduate degree in English or Creative Writing or an MFA. Maybe that should deter me. Perhaps I should be more sensible and practical and get a job with a regular paycheck and benefits. But that doesn’t really interest me. Instead, I try to find ways to get around my lack of formal education. After all don’t Americans love the idea of self-taught success stories? The underdog rising up?

I’ve already shared my love for library book sales and the hidden treasures they offer up for mere pennies. And, I’ve told you about my trips onto college campuses to attend any and all free writers’ talks. This summer I found yet another way to learn more about the craft of writing from the “experts”. My youngest son just happens to be a Creative Writing major. Instead of moaning and groaning at the two huge boxes of books he insisted on bringing home from college, I gamely stuffed them into our Cruz. When we got home, I dragged them into the living room and what to my wondering eyes did appear but a plethora of books that today’s college professors are assigning their students! Talk about an opportunity to “double dip”!

I’m almost done with my first book, Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern. I wasn’t enthralled with the title of the book or its first section, which often felt contrived to me, with sub-chapter titles bordering on “cutesy”. The second part got better, especially the portion titled, “Don’t Do This: A Short Guide to What Not to Do” which discussed common errors authors can make. The ones that resonated most with me were:

  • Trying to tell too many stories in one novel. Here, Stern wisely notes that complication isn’t necessarily the same as complexity.
  • Becoming moralistic and preachy, rather than allowing readers to draw their own conclusions from how your characters act and feel
  • Thinking “This is fiction so I don’t have to fact-check or do much research”

However, it’s the last chapter, where Stern finally seems to hit his stride, that’s making the book a worthwhile read. “From Accuracy to Zigzag: An Alphabet for Writers of Fiction” offers definitions for common writing terms as well as insightful tips and excellent suggestions. A sampling of concepts you’ll find there includes:

  • Allusion
  • Names of characters and settings
  • Profanity
  • Psychic Distance
  • Resolution

If you want to learn about these and more, you’ll have to read the book yourself! I realize that not everyone has a Creative Writing student or MFA scholar in their family to utilize. But don’t let that stop you. Figure out a way to get ahold of a college writing class syllabus and start working your way through it. This is guaranteed to save you time and energy. Rather than standing in a large, overwhelming bookstore or library wondering where to start, you can confidently stroll to the Reference section and begin to read or make your purchase. You can also keep checking my blog for regular reviews of my summer reading!

Got a favorite writing book? I’d love to hear about it!

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