Are you the type of writer who can’t remember what things are called? Do you wish there was a simpler way to access your knowledge of things at the tip of your brain, or maybe even to search for the names of objects that are nowhere near your brain?
Then you need to get yourself a copy of Merriam-Webster’s Visual Dictionary.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. So, what is the Visual Dictionary? It’s a doorstopper of a resource that can help you find the name of that skinny thing sticking out of the back of that thing you use to scroll this page, among many other things, just by searching the object’s category (electronics) and general section (computers), and eventually the object itself (mouse). By seeking information in this way, you may discover that the skinny thing that’s perplexed you is, in fact, called a cable.
And that’s how the Visual Dictionary works. Find out more and see cool pictures in this video.
So, you think you’re finished with your magnum opus? Think again. Maybe go back through it. Just make sure you didn’t accidentally name your hero “Jack” in one scene and “Jill” in another. What was that? He had dark hair in one chapter and blond in another? Is he a spy? And what about that dog? Is its name also “Jack,” or did you get your wires crossed again (or is your hero sometimes a human and sometimes a dog)?
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. Today, we’re looking at Troubleshooting Your Novel, Steven James’s follow-up to his excellent book for organic writers (I refuse to call them pantsers), Story Trumps Structure.
In this book, you can learn how to take your messy masterpiece and clean it up, fixing broken plot points, identifying shifts in message, and otherwise taking that rough piece of clay that resembles a novel and chipping away the rough edges (or maybe lob some chunks off) until something smooth and beautiful emerges.
You can check out my video for it here. And don’t forget to check out Steven James’s other book when you get a chance.
Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.
Oh, and before I forget to tell you, this episode marks the end of our weekly Season 2 episodes. That means there won’t be any new craft books to review next week. But don’t worry, I still have five episodes left in the planner for our season bonuses, which will begin November 4th, and cover more practical items like specialized dictionaries and word usage guides.
Season bonuses traditionally air on the first Friday of each month, so I plan to release a new Writer’s Bookshelf episode every first Friday until March 2022. At that point, Season 2 will officially end (although I may still do a recap episode like I did for the first season).
Regarding the start of Season 3, I don’t yet have a schedule in mind. But I doubt it’ll happen before May 2022. Season 2 hasn’t been nearly as followed as Season 1 (in fact, every book I thought would be in demand turned out to be my least viewed episodes), so I think it’s time to cool it down a bit. Not to mention, I need a break from reading craft books. I definitely want to get my slate for Season 3 together—some important ones on that list—but I also want to make sure my reviews are useful to you, and that means refreshing my head a bit. So, May 2022 will likely be the earliest we launch the next season.
But that’s also good news for you because it gives you time to catch up with the books you haven’t read yet. So, go ahead and catch up. You’ve got seven months.
See you in November!
Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.
Whenever we sit down to read a book, we take it for granted that the author will confidently display his storytelling skills. But whenever we sit down to write a book, all that confidence flies out the window because we know the truth: What storytelling skills?
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. In this week’s episode, we take a look at The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird, a book written for screenwriters, but adopted by all writers. In this book, we learn not just the fundamentals of story structure, because we can learn that from anyone, as The Writer’s Bookshelf series has proven, but the little tweaks that can turn a mediocre story into a hot one.
And we all want to write the hot one, don’t we? We certainly want to read it. This book helps us to write the book that the reader wants to read.
Remember that dream you had about Santa Claus disciplining his elves with a giant candy cane? Not the one at the North Pole, but the one at that New York department store? Yeah, that’s not what we’re talking about today.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. Today, we’re looking at From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler (transcribed and edited by Janet Burroway), a book about yet another approach to writing that’s neither for plotters nor pantsers. In this case, this book is for the dreamers.
Check out our one-sided conversation in this video.
Note: I’m pretty sure I was tired when I recorded this episode, and the energy I display in it shows. You may need to plan for session viewing in this case. Finish the video, but I understand if you do it over several sittings. Probably makes sense that I also have little energy as I write this article. Fortunately, the book is more energetic.
The Donald-sance continues this week (no, not that one—the Donald Maass-a-sance), with Donald Maass’ latest book, The Emotional Craft of Fiction. If you liked the last two books we covered, then you’ll no doubt appreciate Maass’ unique take on the subject matter driving the thesis of this book.
And what exactly is that thesis?
Okay, that’s the topic. But that’s also what his latest book is about. For the most part.
Honestly, this one’s difficult to talk about because it goes beyond the craft of writing, and it has no peers, as far as I know. It’s a unique take on a topic that is hardly ever addressed but still important to consider if we want to approach our work with more than just a half-heart. So, it’s one worth putting on the list.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. Check out the discussion in this week’s video.
Note: You aren’t imagining things. We did skip Donald Maass’ third and fourth books. Why? Because they’re not on my bookshelf yet. Maybe for Season 3.
Last week, we had a look at Donald Maass’ debut for writers who want to breakout in Writing the Breakout Novel. This week, we continue the discussion about Donald Maass and his education for the rising stars in the fiction industry in, well, read on to find out! (Or, you could just look at the screenshot. It ain’t rocket science.)
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf, assuming you’d left earlier.
Have you written the breakout novel, but you worry it lacks that certain…fire? Well, maybe you want to give Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction a glance (or even a whole read). Because we could all use a little more fire in our fiction, especially if we choose to read it. Learn more about this important book in this week’s video.
Quick question: Would you prefer to learn how to write the breakout novel from a writer or a literary agent? This isn’t a trick question, nor is there a right answer. It’s just a question. But one worth asking.
Throughout The Writer’s Bookshelf series, which you’re reading now—welcome back—I’ve featured books by writers, authors, and instructors. This week, I’m presenting Writing the Breakout Novel, the first of many books on writing from Donald Maass, a major figure in the world of literary agencies. If you selected “literary agent” from my question above, then you’ll want to check out this week’s book.
What is voice? No, I don’t mean that thing that comes out of your mouth when you talk (no, the other thing). I’m referring to that enigmatic “writer’s voice,” which is something that most people, writers included, can’t ever seem to define when asked.
The writer’s voice is a mysterious thing that every writer needs, but no instructor can teach.
The writer’s voice is a valuable thing that can make the difference between building a readership and building a revolving door of sampler readers.
What is voice?
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This week, we cover Writing Voice, the Writer’s Digest compilation of articles and chapter excerpts that attempt to identify, demonstrate, and “teach” the writer’s voice. If this concept gets you in the throat, then be sure to watch my commentator video on everything the book offers that you may want.
So, you’re ready to write your magnum opus, but all of your ideas are rooted in stock images and cardboard cutouts. What are you to do? Well, it’s time to put some meat on those three-dimensional bones and dash in the mood music. It’s time to write “deep” scenes.
But what does that even mean? Thankfully, veteran authors Martha Alderson (The Plot Whisperer, not yet featured on The Writer’s Bookshelf) and Jordan Rosenfeld (Making a Scene, also not yet featured on The Writer’s Bookshelf) have teamed up in the excellent book Writing Deep Scenes (now featured on The Writer’s Bookshelf) to answer that question and a lot more (not literally that question, but the question that lives in that same camp). If you want to pump up your writing game and learn the techniques to develop your scenes into substantial works of art and functional conflicts (not settings, to be clear, but complete five-point dramatic scenes), then this book may be right for you. Learn more by watching this video.
Oh, and welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf, in case you’re not sure where you are at the moment.
Once upon a time, a plot twist involved writing a scene that surprised the audience. Maybe the twist made sense. Maybe it came out of left field. But either way, it was unexpected, and the audience cheered. Unless the plot twist sucked. Then they booed.
Nowadays, audiences are more discerning in how they appreciate a plot twist. The fact that a plot twist can suck means that not all plot twists work. If they don’t align with the established rules of the story, they’ll suck. If they shock for shock’s sake, they’ll suck. If being told the story has a twist means the audience can now figure out the ending, it’ll suck.
You don’t want your story to suck.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This week we focus on Mastering Plot Twists by Jane K. Cleland. This short but dense book will show you how to craft plot twists that are both natural to the story and surprising yet inevitable, just as a plot twist should be. Find out more in this week’s video.