17th May 2011 - Laura Crosby
As a bookseller and an aspiring writer, I am surrounded every day by so many incredible books I wish I'd written, books like The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Wasp Factory. The writing in them is of such a high standard that it can be quite demoralising and it's easy to start doubting your own ability.
Until recently I tried my best to write without any outside help whatsoever, but I've now discovered that it doesn't need to be this way. Writers encounter any number of issues when crafting their books and there seem to be guides for most of these. So I tentatively approached the Writing Guides section in Foyles and the cover of the first book I picked up featured a gun pointing at a kitten, so I figured that might be a good one to start off with.
How Not To Write A Novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark is the book in question. With great humour and reader-friendly sections (like 'Getting to Know Your Hero' and 'Bad Guys'), they've managed to create the perfect guide, without its feeling like one. It's definitely unmatched on pitfalls to avoid.
What about introductions? It's all well and good for your novel to have a brilliant middle and end, but what about the beginning? Unless you hook your reader instantly, they'll put your book down straight away.
Hooked by Les Edgerton gives insight into modern story structure and the all-important beginning, including why it's important, as seen from an agents' or editors' point of view. He also gives many practical suggestions on what should be avoided and what needs to be achieved when it comes to writing the first few pages of a novel. It took me a while to identify the best book for inspiration and tips on how to get the best of your characters, but one aptly titled book that catches the eye with its bright green cover comes highly recommended.
Breathing Life into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional and Psychological Depth by Rachel Friedman Ballon underlines the power of emotional imagery and how to successfully create a character who's mind is so far from your own - a very tricky thing to do completely brilliantly.
Finally, there's The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood - a wonderful little creative cracker to really get your writing juices flowing, one to dip in and out of when the mood takes you and one which ensures you'll come off one better every time you do.
So, having approached writing guides believing that they'd teach me nothing new, I've found my resistance softening at the edges, and resorting to the wine bottle for inspiration rather less often than I used to.
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Howard Mittelmark; Sandra Newman