Writing Resources: Hardcopy Textbooks, Old-school style

I like Googling things. Sometimes, I’m told that I should Google things rather than ask questions. I don’t always agree with this. But Google is treated as a library, encyclopedia, professor and research assistant. Like it or not, you gotta get with the times, kiddo. However, Googling only gets me so far. In my opinion, nothing beats a good, educational book. AKA: a textbook.

Why read textbooks when you can just read novels? I’ve frequently heard that the best way to learn to write is to read a lot of novels, then slyly steal styles and techniques. I guess that’s one way of doing it, but I also like to read books on how to write alongside works by other authors, so I better understand the tools they are employing. Then I can make mental notes on how they use them effectively. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, then how can you take it and use it?

Incidentally, over a year ago (pre-Covid, I should say) I sat next to someone on the train to university reading a writing textbook. It was called Write Great Fiction – Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints by Nancy Kress. Intrigued, I tried to read it next to them without them noticing me peering over their shoulder.

Write Great Fiction - Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints by [Nancy Kress]
Get it here

What I noticed is that this book had practice exercises. I like exercises and drills, more than I like Googling things. What can I say? The grade school mentality never left me.

Even more intrigued, I looked up the book on Amazon. I went through the previews on my phone next to the man reading Kress’ book, but he seemed too engrossed to care. The reviews seemed good, so I bought the book and finished it.

Overall, I’d say this book is great if you’re trying to improve how to write characters, aren’t sure what you’re doing wrong and/or how to fix it, or even if you want to refine techniques. Kress lays out the basics clearly and succinctly. She also does an excellent job of explaining how to show rather than tell characters’ thoughts, feelings, and emotions (that relentless phrase we’re all sick of hearing). She provides numerous examples to support her instructions, which I found helpful in understanding the concepts she presents.

And really, what’s wrong with running through the basics? I do it all the time in martial arts; you must perfect the basics to build up to the tougher stuff. Like Kress notes in her book, if you’re struggling with the basics, editors and agents may be less likely to work with you. So get in there and read it, even if you think you have it all figured out!

This isn’t to say that online resources aren’t helpful, either. I learned a lot from podcasts, Limyaael’s Rants, and the r/writing subreddit. Still, reading this book was immensely helpful. I recommend it if you’re struggling to understand concepts like showing rather than telling emotions, or want to write stronger, more complex characters and utilize various viewpoints effectively.

Any thoughts? Want more details on the book? Have links to good resources? Disagree with me entirely? I’m happy to hear either way, just leave a comment below.

Writing Resource: Improving Dialogue

Happy Sunday! I was browsing r/writing as always, and stumbled upon a great article regarding writing believable dialogue. It’s appropriately called 10 Tips to Help You Write Realistic Dialogue.

I found all of these tips relevant and useful. I especially liked the tip about not using corny lines during fight scenes, and how the author uses real life experience to describe what actually goes through someone’s mind during a scrap. You don’t have time to think of witty lines or insults, nor would you ever say them. You tend to be too focused on not getting hit, keeping up, and not letting exhaustion stop you from defending/attacking. I’m also speaking from real life experience here – believe it or not, martial arts happens to be one of my favourite pass times next to writing.

Another point I liked was that feelings can be conveyed through actions or descriptions. Iglesias correctly states that “…if the character is constantly telling us how s/he feels, we stop caring.” Something I’ve been working on a lot in my writing is using body language to show (not tell) how my character is feeling. In re-reading my drafts, it adds much more depth and lets the reader infer what the person is thinking, rather than cramming it down their throats through the character’s dialogue.

I think another great point to keep in mind is avoiding heavy-handed dialogue. Something that irks me (even in television) is when a character explains why someone is making a decision. I see it all the time in the Hundred. One of the characters will do something, and before I can ponder why, a different character will shout “I know you regret your previous actions, but doing this won’t change the past!” It makes me roll my eyes and irritates me. Let your readers come to their own conclusions about the character’s behaviour. It will make your story more gripping.

Another tactic I employ is acting out some of my scenes between characters. I’m no actress, but hearing things out loud  helps make things sound more realistic. If you’re stuttering or stammering, or having to pause to try and understand what you’re conveying, chances are it needs a rework. This is also kind of fun and provides some entertainment while working on a draft (for me, anyways).

Hope this helps! Share your tips/thoughts below. I would love to hear them!