Sunday, October 3, 2010

From the Writer's Shelf

Today I wanted to share some information about books I've had on my bookshelves--some of them for years--that have helped me almost more than any of the more traditional books writers rave over. It's just a small selection, but I hope you might find one or two that look interesting.

And for those of you who aren't writers, let me reassure you that there is just as much here for the "normal person" as for the twisted writer. (You have to be a little twisted to writer, don't you think?)

So here were go...a few oddball selections from my bookshelf.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
By Stephen Covey

The world of writing is strewn with rejections, harsh comments, and discouragement. Sometimes, you wonder if you'll ever make it or if you should just pack up your toys and go away quietly. But writing isn't the only career out there that can lead to frustration and depression.

This book has been the friend I most needed during both my "daytime career" and my career of choice, writing. Sure it's old, heck, my copy is from 1990, but some things--mostly challenges--never really change. And although this book focuses on more traditional jobs where you are not working by yourself, the "you can do it" tone is just what you need to keep the spirits up and make you feel like you can continue in the face of the appalling odds in the current publishing industry.

It is more about achieving your personal best than anything, and we all need that.

I recommend reading this the day after you get one of those shattering rejections. It will help you refocus on your positive goals. We may have no control over if/when our books ever get published, but we do have control over the writing and submission process. It's important to focus on what we can control.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
If you read nothing else, read this. When you are depressed, read this. Ben focuses on what Covey calls the "Character Ethic" but really, it's all about integrity, courage, justice, patience and industry. All traits which a writer--and anyone, really--needs to live a happy life.

When I got this book and read it, I felt incredibly jazzed and energized. Here's a dirty little secret: I've suffered from depression and the sense of "not being good enough" my whole life. This book and Covey's gave me the kick in the butt I needed, and still need, to feel like I do have power over certain things in my life. I may not be able to force a publisher to pick me up, but I can sure control my work, the quality of my work, and how I deal with the situation. I like the sense that when I go to bed at night, I've done the best I can do for that day.

If you feel you need "something" you may wish to read this book. It gives you some basic tools for building a successful and more importantly, happy, life.

The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense  and More on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense
by Suzette Haden Elgin, Ph.D.
I've taken several Internet writing classes on characterization and have spent a lot of time studying it. However, in practical terms, I've gotten more out of these two books (and a few other similar ones) than any other courses or books.

When you think about it, when you write a character, you're portraying them through words. Dialog and action. How do you portray that father who always blames his family and co-workers for his failures? How does he express himself? How does he phrase things?

These books are absolutely brilliant for giving you concrete examples of how different personality types speak. I've never found better references for helping me to develop characters with specific personalities and ways of expressing those personalities.

For years, I struggled with (and still struggle with) developing characters who feel and sound real. Who are distinct individuals with equally distinct speach patterns.If you've been accused of creating characters who all sound alike, or are "inconsistent" with their position and background, then I urge you to take a look at these two books.  I actuay prefer The Last Word on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense and refer to it constantly, particularly when developing secondary characters and conflict. It covers things like language choices, syntonics and language as a system. It sounds dry but it is very readable and extremely usable.

Whenever I get stuck because a character won't gel for me, I start to build the character using traits and information from a verbal self-defense book, and that character immediately starts to come to life in a consisten way.

The last book I'm going to mention is one that is more "traditional" for writers:

Creating Character Emotions
By Ann Hood
Of all the writers' books on my shelves, this one is the most useful. It covers several of the "big" emotions such as anger, sorrow, happiness, and grief, and gives you examples of who those can be effecitvely conveyed. I go bck to it time and time again to remind myself of how I can more effectively draw my characters.

As you can see, I'm obsessed with characters and characterization.
But then, when you think about it, isn't that really what fiction is all about? The characters?

And of course, keeping ourselves sane and optimistic enough to continue in what can be a very gruelling and challenging career.
Amy Corwin


Terry Spear/Terry Lee Wilde said...

I love the Character Naming Guide--it's great for giving "character" to your characters just by naming them a particular name. In Seduced by the Wolf, I had fun adding to some of my characters' personalities by explaining the meaning of their names, and the same with in Heart of the Highland Wolf. :)

Jill James said...

When I get that "why am I doing this?" feeling I reach for Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul. It has many touching stories in it and I usually find the one I need at that moment.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Great list of books to consider. I know I can always use extra help on creating the believable characters. I can see them in my mind and how I think they are acting, but sometimes the written word doesn't come across quite accurate. Thanks for sharing your list. :)

Joanne said...

I'm familiar with the "Effective People" book you mentioned, but not the second book. You're right, it's all about the characters.