I’m so happy to be guest blogging about craft books today. Thanks to the fabulous Rachael Johns for having me!
First of all, I have a confession to make. I am a geek to the core. I love craft books. Unfortunately for my husband, not only am I constantly reading them, I like to talk about them, too. To illustrate how significant this problem is I’ll share a quick story with you.
Last month I was watching The Green Hornet with my husband and son. The movie begins with the main character as a kid, and in the scene his dad is criticizing him in a horribly humiliating way. At the end of this heart-wrenching moment, the father grabs his son’s beloved action-hero figure and breaks off the toy’s head. Without missing a beat, my husband turned to me and said, “Guess we just discovered the main character’s backstory wound, huh?”
Ha! I knew my reading had ruined my ability to watch a movie without analyzing it, but my poor husband is now a victim of my studies as well.
I’ve read several dozen craft books through the years, so picking out my favorite was an impossible task. Instead, I chose the one I often reach for just before I start a round of revisions. It has the rather unwieldy title of Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore.
Written by Elizabeth Lyon, the book is broken down into four parts and spans a broad list of topics pertaining to writing fiction. It even includes sections on style, prose, grammar, and punctuation. Boring, you say? But of course! Unfortunately they are necessary elements no writer can ignore. The author’s handling of these subjects is excellent, and her chapter on creating movement and suspense in writing is fascinating. She states:“Everyone knows what movement is; that part is easy. It’s action. In fiction, it is certainly that, but it also encompasses the idea of change. Change of ideas, realities, and emotions. These shifts—action and change—create movement of the plot and character . . . One of your most basic jobs is to keep driving your story forward, through action and change, to its conclusion.”
Throughout the book, including the section on movement and suspense, she uses excellent examples to illustrate her ideas, and these really help to clarify some fairly esoteric ideas in an effective manner.
My favorite section of the book is part three. Its focus on characterization is well worth the price of the book alone. It contains a chapter on character dimension and theme, a chapter on character-driven beginnings, and another on character-driven scenes and suspense. If you struggle with the concept of a character-driven plot, these three chapters pack a wallop of information that can help. Entwining the elements of plot and emotional arc is essential to ensure you are writing character-driven stories.
And finally, the most reassuring aspect of this craft book to me is the idea that getting it right the first time around is far from necessary. After the first draft, the author states we should be sure to ‘layer in’ character development, a process which she describes as such: “follow the ‘bones’ of backstory wound, strength, weakness—and the way those factors impede and propel the plot goal—and make sure you show and tell your character’s personal yearning of one universal need throughout the story.”
I have to admit I was pretty proud of my husband’s astute observation of the backstory wound in The Green Hornet. I guess he’s been paying attention to all my crazy ramblings, eh?
Secret History of a Good Girl is out now in the anthology Mills & Boon Loves. You can find out more about my upcoming books at http://www.aimeecarson.com
WOW – Aimee, awesome write-up. I can see I’m going to have to pull this book down off my shelf. And soon, because I’m almost at the end of a first draft myself and I’m sure it’s going to be in need of a complete overhaul before I sub it!