Written by Dennis Brooke, NCWA President
During this motivational exercise she thought, “This is the only industry where you can just say you’re a writer and be one. Imagine if you stood up and said, ‘I’m a pediatric neurosurgeon’.”
Davis is a great writer and teacher so I was very interested to get his perspective and am glad to share them with you. Following is his annotated reading list of books on the craft. Are any of these favorites of yours? What would you add to the list? Use the comments function to answer those questions. Everyone who posts an answer by next Friday, April 25 will be entered into a drawing for a Davis Bunn novel and a half pound of Starbucks Coffee.
Dennis Brooke is a pre-published novelist who currently serves as the President of the Northwest Christian Writer’s Association. He has written for Focus on the Family, Toastmasters, and Combat Crew Magazines. He tells stories at http://www.dennisbrooke.com
T. Davis Bunn’s Annotated Reading List
Writing The Breakout Novel, by Donald Maas. Writer’s Digest Books
A breakout novel is one that rises out if its category – such as literary fiction, mystery, romance, or thriller – and hits the bestseller charts. Maas explains the elements that all breakout novels share and shows readers how to use these elements to write a novel that has a good chance of succeeding in a crowded marketplace. They’ll learn to: – Create a powerful and sweeping sense of time and place – Develop larger-than-life characters – Sustain a high degree of narrative tension from start to finish – Weave sub-plots into the main action – Explore universal themes that will interest a large audience
Writing the Blockbuster Novel, by Al Zuckerman. Little, Brown
Practical, very helpful, and certainly readable. He takes a number of bestselling novels and de-constructs them to illustrate the points he’s making about plot construction, pace, characterization etc. All essential elements of novels that will sell. And he’s in a position to know these things because he is the founder and managing director of the highly successful New York literary agency, Writers House…
Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. Michael Wiese Production
In 1993, The Writer’s Journey became one of the most popular books on writing of the last 50 years, shaking up Hollywood, and becoming a best seller among writers everywhere. This new edition will reawaken established writers and inspire a new generation with fresh insights on creating great stories. An indispensable guide to the inner workings of stories, to the ancient and deep-seated patterns of emotion that speak to us through the symbolic language of myth. It applies the classic principles of Joseph Campbell’s, “The Hero’s Journey” to modern storytelling. Christopher Vogler, one of Hollywood’s most renowned story consultants and teachers, expands his vision to show how storytelling evolved from sacred rituals and how its inexhaustible powers can be adapted to the needs of modern storytellers. “The Writer’s Journey” is now the most widely used book in the movie, TV, publishing, and computer gaming industries.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions for Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. Anchor Books
Best Anne Lamott gives witty and wise advice on the process of writing, while offering an entertaining and inspiring take on the difficult parts of the writing life. She encourages writers to take a more non-judgmental attitude towards their own writing, particularly during the first-draft stage. Covering everything from plot to professional jealousy, Lamott’s down-to-earth approach is both comforting and encouraging.
Stein on Writing, & How To Grow A Novel by Sol Stein. Saint Martin’s Press
“The best reading experiences”, says Sol Stein, “defy interruption”. With Stein’s assistance, you can grab your reader on page one and not let go until “The End”. Stein–author of nine novels (including the best-selling The Magician) and editor to James Baldwin, W H Auden, and Lionel Trilling–offers “usable solutions” for any writing problem you might encounter. He is authoritative, commanding, and neither cheerleader nor naysayer. Instead, he rails against mediocrity and demands that you expunge it from your work. Perhaps the concept of scrutinising every modifier, every metaphor, every character trait sounds like drudgery. But with Stein’s lively guidance, it is a pleasure. Stein recommends that you brew conflict in your prose by giving your characters different “scripts”. He challenges you, in an exercise concerning voice, to write the sentence you want the world to remember you by. He uses an excerpt from E L Doctorow to demonstrate poorly written monologue and a series of Taster’s Choice commercials as an example of dialogue that works. Stein’s bottom line is that good writing must be suspenseful. Your job, says Stein, “is to give readers stress, strain, and pressure. The fact is that readers who hate those things in life love them in fiction”.
Bestseller: Secrets of Successful Writing by Celia Brayfield. Fourth Estate
Elizabeth Buchan, The Times: “In this ambitious and fascinating book, Brayfield tackles the Zen of fiction bestsellerdom. Her premise is that stories define a puzzling world and help to defuse our more primitive fears, the most significant continuing to haunt and nourish our imaginations. This is based on a study of how myth works through cultures. From there she constructs her methods of story shaping, research, narrative techniques and, of course, style…….From the GCSE student upwards, writers and readers will enjoy this bold an illuminating tilt at unravelling the mysteries of the popular novel. Even, perhaps, the literary novelist.”
The Independent on Sunday: “Admirably thought-provoking and even profound. Books cited include Gone With the Wind, Damage, The Joy Luck Club, Scott Turow, J G Ballard, The Great Gatsby and James Bond. Best of all, she demystified writing but highlights the sheer craft.”
Story: Substance, Structure, Style by Robert McKee. Metheuen Press (trade paperback)
McKee’s work is genuinely inspiring, particularly in the audio version, which he reads himself. It’s to the point. And – although intended primarily for screen writers – it’s invaluable for anyone who thinks they have a story in them.
Perhaps we should let Bob McKee speak for himself: “When talented writers write badly it’s generally for one of two reasons: either they’re blinded by an idea that they feel compelled to prove, or they’re driven by an emotion they need to express. When talented people write well, it’s generally for this reason: they’re moved by a desire to touch an audience.”
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Scribner
Short and snappy as it is, Stephen King’s On Writing really contains two books: a fondly sardonic autobiography and a tough-love lesson for aspiring novelists. The memoir is terrific stuff, a vivid description of how a writer grew out of a misbehaving kid. It’s a ripping yarn that casts a sharp light on his fiction. King gives us lots of revelations about his life and work. The kidnapper character in Misery, the mind-possessing monsters in The Tommyknockers, and the haunting of the blocked writer in The Shining symbolized his cocaine and booze addiction (overcome thanks to his wife’s intervention, which he describes). “There’s one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing.” King also evokes his college days and his recovery from the van crash that nearly killed him, but the focus is always on what it all means to the craft. He gives you a whole writer’s “tool kit”: a reading list, writing assignments, a corrected story, and nuts-and-bolts advice on dollars and cents, plot and character, the basic building block of the paragraph, and literary models. He shows what you can learn from H.P. Lovecraft’s arcane vocabulary, Hemingway’s leanness, Grisham’s authenticity, Richard Dooling’s artful obscenity, Jonathan Kellerman’s sentence fragments.
(Dennis Brooke’s note: The Audio Version of the book is read by Stephen King himself.)
Ken Follet’s on-line Masterclass: The Art Of Suspense
Questions: Are any of these books on the craft favorites of yours? What would you add to the list? Use the comments function to answer those questions. Everyone who posts an answer by next Friday, April 25 will be entered into a drawing for a Davis Bunn novel and a half pound of Starbucks Coffee.
You can find Davis Bunn’s books in the NCWA on-line bookstore. Many of the books on the craft he mentioned are also in the bookstore. A portion of sales from the NCWA bookstore helps to fund our organizations activities.