James Palmer's Journal - Day
Thursday, June 30, 2005
Books on how to write are a dime a dozen, and that isn't necessarily a good thing. I've read a lot of them, and while they have a few good qualities, many of them fall short in certain areas. If someone really wanted to help burgeoning writers, they'd write a book about how to get money out of a skinflint editor who stiffs you on the bill, or what to do with an article that a magazine assigned to you before going on indefinite hiatus (*cough*Amazing Stories*cough*). Probably the best advice I've read along that vein was featured in Harlan Ellison's essay Driving in the Spikes, in which he mailed about a ton of bricks one at a time to the comptroller of a publishing house, followed by a dead gopher.
For this reason, a writer gleaning advice from these various and sundry tomes should take only the bits and pieces that they need and apply them to their writing. Stephen King's On Writing has good advice on getting an agent, for example. He also gets extra points for stating out the outset that writing books are full of crap to begin with, because most of the time, writers don't know how they are doing what they are doing to begin with, let alone how to teach others. Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer delves into the reasons why people read, and gives some intricate details on scene-building and plot. In the end though, it all comes down to wannabes filled up on Writer's Digest articles on how they can make a fortune writing greeting card drivel who are looking for The Secret. The Magic Formula that will skyrocket them to the top of the bestseller lists without doing a lick of work. But the true secret is, there is none.
Which brings me to my latest writerly read: David Morrell's Lessons from a LIfetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks at his Craft. Morrell is the author of First Blood, which became a Sylvester Stallone movie franchise. Morrell does a lot with this book, spending a lot of time especially on dialogue, and an entire chapter on the first person point of view (his verdict: don't use it unless you can come up with a good reason not to). There's some good advice here, and anyone looking for a good book on this little craft/art we call writing could do a lot worse.
And in other reading-related news, I've recently finished Robert J. Sawyer's Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, after reading his novel Calculating God. Sawyer is now officially on my list of people I want to be when I grow up, along with the aforementioned Harlan Ellison, Joe Bob Briggs, Carl Sagan, and Ray Bradbury. Godless Communist bisexual Neanderthals. Jamesy says check it out.
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