Today, author Andi Adams has stopped by to share her thoughts on some great craft books on writing. I’ve read a few of these, and I absolutely swear by the second book on her list!
Don’t forget to check out Adams’ new fantasy novel, The Girl in the Glass Box, to see how she puts her craft into practice.
Some people don’t believe in craft books. They say since writing has no rules and since writing is different for everyone, no one can really write a book on “how to” write. Which is true. However, as an English teacher for the past decade, I can attest to the fact that there are concepts and elements in which a writer must be well-versed in order to craft a strong story. Perhaps I can liken it to putting together a sculpture. You need good, strong materials, but what you come up with is all your own. But if you work with weak, shoddy materials, your sculpture is sure to fall apart. Get it? So though I agree that you can’t tell anyone how to write in an easy step-by-step guide, I also think that learning the fundamentals is a big part of a writer’s job. These are some of my favorite resources on writing. I’ve found them to be infinitely helpful at all stages of the writing process and I hope you do, too.
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
When I wrote my first novel, I was a tried and true “pantser.” (For those who don’t know what that means, its when a writer writes by the “seat of his/her pants.”) But the reason I was a pantser is because I didn’t really know any better. And I especially didn’t know the advantage of plotting and planning before diving into a draft. Many people think that plotting minimizes the creativity and spontaneity of drafting, but that doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, I’ve found that plotting – even minimally – has increased my productivity exponentially. The advantage of plotting is that you have built yourself a road map to follow. It doesn’t mean you can’t divert or explore other roads, but generally speaking, you know where you’re going, which makes drafting much more focused. When I used to “pants” without a plan, if I became blocked or got stuck, I had to stop until inspiration hit again (which sometimes took waaaaaay too long.) There were spans of time where I’d go days without writing. But when you have an outline, you can skip ahead when you get jammed up and then always come back to bridge the material together. Truly, I wish more than anything that I had discovered this book back when I had first started my book. I think my life would have been a ton less stressful and the days when I did write would have been far more productive. Synder’s “Beat Sheet,” though devised for screenwriting, is a simple checklist of points to help you develop a fully realized plot. He gives great examples and once you become familiar with the Beat Sheet, you’ll seriously see it everywhere!
The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
This book isn’t really a craft book per se, but it is a great resource if you get stuck in a rut writing gestures and emotions the same way over and over. This book and its easy-to-follow format gives you a list of emotions in the table of contents and then once you choose one and you go to its page, it lists the definition, the physical signs of the emotion, the internal sensations one undergoes when experiencing that emotion, the mental responses, cues of acute or long-term harboring of that emotion, cues of what happens when that emotion is suppressed or escalated, etc. Whew! So instead of someone stomping their foot every time they get angry, maybe you’d describe an internal reaction instead, or a different physical cue. I especially love it in ebook version because you can just click on the emotion in the table of contents and it takes you to the page you need. Super fast and easy, which is always a good thing.
Emotion Amplifiers by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
As mentioned before, this isn’t really a craft book, but is a great resource similar to their Emotion Thesaurus. Emotion amplifiers are meant to add in circumstances (maybe internal or external) to increase the emotion or conflict and therefore the tension, within the character. Here’s an example: Ackerman and Puglisi use The Hunger Games to explain this principle. They say that, “Tension is high throughout the story because of what’s at stake. But Collins doesn’t let it stay at that level. Instead, she ramps it up by adding stressors to Katniss’s situation.” Each time she faces a new obstacle, her stress level increases, which can affect her ability to focus, think logically, make good decisions, and thus can affect her emotional state. It’s cyclic – her emotions affect her actions and then because of increased stress, her actions then affect her emotions. The text explores amplifies like boredom, addiction, pain, inebriation, heat, hunger, etc and shows you how these things can increase the tension and the emotional weight in a story. It, once again, is easy to use and is preferable in ebook format. And it’s currently FREE on kindle right now!
GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon
For many writers, this book is the holy grail. Dixon walks you through these three integral pieces of story writing and breaks them down into manageable pieces. In order to write a well-crafted story, a writer must understand goal – what a character wants, motivation – what drives a character to attain this goal, and conflict – what stand in this character’s way from getting their goal. Seems simple, and at its core, it is. But story and plot boil down to these three concepts, so it’s best to really understand how they work and how they can be manipulated in a story. This, for many, is the best of the best in terms of a resource on the subject. It doesn’t matter if you are just starting to write, or if you’ve been writing for 20 years, this book is always a trusty resource.
Outlining Your Novel Workbook by K.M. Weiland
Truth be told, I didn’t use this book when writing The Girl in the Glass Box, because I didn’t know about it. But I love workbooks when initially outlining and conceiving an idea and just came across this one and have been using it for my current WIP (work in progress). Workbooks are great because they give you small tasks and assignments that help you to explore an idea before you get to writing. It may have you craft small scenes or focus on character development, which can help you orient yourself in your story before you dive in to your first draft. As I mentioned, some people (and I was one of them) do this exploration as they’re writing their draft, but for me after learning more about outlining, it’s been easier to compartmentalize the steps in order to find clarity and direction more quickly. This workbook talks about the “what if” question, the scene list, character arc and theme, conflict, backstory, world building, and so much more. This is a useful tool for someone who has an idea for a book and wants to craft that idea into a story. Idea and plot are not the same thing. An idea is amorphous and has no direction; whereas a plot is the steps a story must go through from beginning to end in order to realize a full concept. This workbook will help you figure out those steps, whether you are just starting your book, are in the middle, or at the end of your draft. These elements can even be adjusted in the revision process so it’s never too late to explore these concepts.
ABOUT THE BOOK
A witch. An apple. A mirror. That’s all most people think of when they recall the story of Snow White. But the truth is rarely so simple. What if the Queen wasn’t born evil and the princess wasn’t always so pure of heart? Is it possible that these two women could have ended up in one another’s place?
The Girl in the Glass Box tells the story of Agrippine and Genevieve, two women who are not all that different, but who quickly learn through a series of choices, encounters, and devastating losses that the course of their fates can change in an instant. Through the influences of the people they love and lose, both are redefined as their stories head for a different sort of happily-ever-after.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andi Adams writes, teaches, gets excited about performing random acts of kindness, invents words, and talks with strangers, as often as she can. She loves learning about the world, about others, and about herself, and uses that knowledge to write realistic fiction – everything from YA Fantasy to Women’s Lit. She has a passion for travel, for all things Harry Potter (of course!), and for her two dogs, who are also incidentally her biggest fans. The Girl in the Glass Box is Andi’s first novel. For a daily dose of crazy or to see pictures of her cute fur-babies, follow her on Twitter and on Instagram (both @andiadamswrites).