The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Need A Bit Of Assistance With The Story, Huh?

Posted by BigWords on August 8, 2009

There’s as many ways to write a book as there are writers, possibly more. I’m not the kind of person who slavishly devotes time to following How To books, mostly because there is often as much bullshit as there is good advice tucked in the pages of that “best-selling author who want YOU to achieve the same success” and who has outlined their methods in painstaking detail. It always strikes me as fanciful that a person picked off the street at random could be turned into a chart-topping success after reading one of those books.

But that is the belief which How To books exploit, in the hope you will part with your money. Put the cash back in your pocket, and wait a minute before you give your credit card details to the webpage which promises to get you millions of sales. I’ll point you in the direction of a few places which are distilled and undiluted help for the ideas rattling around your brain. They aren’t pretty, and they aren’t particularly long, but they work for me. That’s the important thing, right?

If you have read The Da Vinci Code and thought “How the fuck did that piece of shit get so many readers,” then The Da Vinci Formula: The Da Vinci Code’s Formula For Success is what you need to check out. It was originally published in a writing magazine, but the webpage is easier to find than a back-issue, so I’m directing your attention there.

Please, for the love of Cthulhu, don’t write like Dan Brown, even if you’re just in it for the money… It is more of a brief outline of how it managed to break through popular consciousness than a step-by-step guide to the process of writing such a book. Some parts of the article have been useful in figuring out what I should avoid, rather than copy, but take from it what you will. You could tell that I hated The Dumb Venetian Crud from what I’ve just written, right?

I’ve been a big fan of old pulp magazines for as long as I can remember, possibly due to seeing the Doc Savage movie at an impressionable age, but I digress… The Lester Dent technique for writing pulp stories is a fine tool for short stories and novellas. It is an excellent resource, and one which should be savored for the brevity and intelligence of advice.

An Effective Writing Formula For Unsure Writers is useful, and Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Emmons, Jr., the author of the piece, has a good grasp of the requirements of a riveting story. The numbered outline idea has plenty of followers, but I can’t honestly say that it has ever worked entirely well for me. Things get moved around too much, and I like twisting the story to fill in the blanks when I come to natural pauses, though it might give your story shape.

There’s a special world of How To devoted to getting kids to write, such as Formula Writing originated by Jan Cosner, and anyone wanting to get back to basics should thing about using this to decide if every word is working properly in their stories. I got irritated with the tone after a few minutes, but more patient writers will probably receive some good advice from the work tools. While I’m on the subject of “back to basics” writing, I’ll explain where fairy tales come into the equation:

Most genre fiction (I’m using ‘genre’ even  though it is a moronic word) has a tendency to structure itself around some very basic and intuitive ideas which can be traced back to fairy tale and myth. Substitute magic cloaks of invisibility for chameleon nets, swords for phasers, princesses for diplomats and castles for starships, and that is basically what SF has been using since the creation of the form.

There is a How To article which spells out the writing of fairy tales better than I can, and it should be viewed through a distorted lens of modern ideas to get the most out of the ideas in fairy tales.

I’ve steered clear of some of the better know books on the subject of writing thus far into my meanderings, so it is only fair that I share with you a couple of the titles sitting on my bookshelf which have helped me manage ideas, just to clear up which books are actually useful and which you should take with a grain of salt. I’m starting with Stephen King’s exploration of the horror genre Danse Macabre,which has lots of ideas about the conventions and twists that horror stories use. His tone is, as always, reassuringly chatty, and he never gets too complex for the material he is using.

It might not be of use if you are planning trash like Twilight, but for horror it is one of the few indispensable books out there. On Writing is also up there with some of the best advice you can find.

Most real How To titles are useless for me, but Christopher Kenworthy’s Writing Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror from (ugh…) How To Books is not completely irrelevant. Some of the advice is completely patronizing and redundant, and he has the troublesome knack of finding the most obvious choices in his examples, as if he is trying to show how not to follow an idea through to its’ most interesting angle.

I may come back to this book at a later point for a more detailed reason why I dislike it, but for now I’ll put this post aside for a while.

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2 Responses to “Need A Bit Of Assistance With The Story, Huh?”

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