WRITING TOOLS (10th edition) by ROY PETER CLARK
I was totally amazed by the comprehensiveness of this paperback book (it is available on Kindle, though I like reference books with pages to annotate). It even has an index.
Although Mr. Clark covers writing for nonfiction, journalism, and fiction, it’s a wonderful reminder to me (now 100 percent committed to fiction) of those strategies I already knew and those that can use some practice.
I’m sorry to say that I’ve undertaken few of the workshop tasks, but I have made many notes that pertain to a novel in the (final!) editing stage. Perhaps I’ll need to read the book again for every major project. I cannot accede to all of Mr. Clark’s points–which I note below–but I am on the whole hugely impressed by the templates.
Mr. Clark provides a very handy Quick List of his topics, all neatly contained in 5 sections, together with an appendix on the striking elements of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby.
Part l: Nuts and Bolts: An overview of the basics
Including: how to begin sentences; how to order words; the selection of active verbs (and when to use a passive voice); the limitation of adverbs (except to change the received meaning of a verb) and “ing” words; short and long sentences and twists from the pattern; and pruning the WIP.
Part 2: Special Effects
Including: the selection of short words, sentences and paragraphs at points of complexity; the application of key words; word play; the GET THE NAME OF THE DOG mandate, that is digging for the concrete and sensory detail; an attentiveness to names to arouse interest; an attentiveness to original images (and the rejection of cliché); the joy of riffing on language; the setting of pace by sentence length and varying paragraph length; the choosing of the writing piece’s number of elements—1, 2, 3, 4, which all send different messages to a reader; the times to understate and exaggerate; the interplay of telling and showing (the “ladder of abstraction” which begins in the concrete and ends in an appeal to the intellect); the reading aloud of your work.
Part 3: Blueprints
Including: Working from a plan (at least with an index of the big parts); an awareness of the difference in reports and stories; using dialogue as a form of action; the reveal of character traits; the placement of odd and interesting things next to each other; the foreshadowing of dramatic events and powerful conclusions; the use of cliffhangers to generate suspense; the construction of your work around a key question—an engine that the action will answer.
I LOVE THIS ADVICE: Place several gold coins along the path. This is a strategy to reward the reader by revelation or moments of insight or joy during the course of the narrative.
Additionally: the use of repetition; the use of cinematic angles—varying lenses; the alignment of information into meaningful sequences; the mix of narrative modes; the painstaking selection of every syllable in a short piece; the selection of archetypes over stereotypes (using subtle symbols).
ONE OF MY FAILINGS: Working toward an ending to help readers close the circle of meaning. I DO EVENTUALLY HAVE CLOSURE, BUT NEVER FAR IN ADVANCE OF THE STORY’S END.
Part 4: Useful Habits
Including: Drafting a mission statement for every work. THIS IS SOMETHING I WILL DO.
Additionally: Don’t fuss about procrastination, everyone needs “rehearsal” time; do homework in advance; when reading other people’s work, read for form as well as content.
I AM COMMITTED TO THE HABIT OF SAVING STRING—this is, saving little bits of writing or information that may be useful for a future project.
Additionally: Breaking long projects into parts. I HAVE DONE THIS WITH SOME SUCCESS. I WROTE THE BONES OF A COUPLE OF MANUSCRIPTS IN UNCONNECTED CHAPTERS AND TWEETS.
Additionally; paying attention to all crafts that support your work; recruiting your support group; limiting self-criticism in early drafts; learning from your critics (accept advice without argument—but don’t necessarily follow it); owning the tools of your craft in the metaphorical workbox–from idea, info collection, focus, drafting, to clarification.
Part 5: Bonus Tools
Including: the use of narrative numbers (as in Catch-22); the expression of your best thoughts in the shortest sentences; the matching of diction to your writing purpose I’M IN THE PROCESS OF JUVENILIZING (!) MY FREE-FLOWING NORMAL STYLE IN ONE MANUSCRIPT; the creation of a mosaic of detail to reveal character. THIS IS AN AREA WHERE I TEND TO DISAGREE; I DON’T FIND LENGTHY DESCRIPTIONS OF CHARACTERS APPEALING BUT IT IS NECESSARY TO BUILD UP ANY CHARACTER BY HABITS, GESTURES, SPEECH, AND SO FORTH; AND LAST BUT FAR FROM THE LEAST, the search for the INCITING INCIDENT—the moment that changes of life or day or propels the character into a journey.