I recently read two relatively new books about writing that I found very useful, and thought I’d share them with you.
Wired for Story
My best friend since college is, like me, a professional writer, although she specializes in a totally difference field. When she raved about the book Wired for Story, I immediately added it to my Goodreads list. It just took me a while to actually buckle down and read it. I’m glad I finally did.
Wired for Story contains lots of useful information about how to create a narrative (novel or screenplay, in particular) that jives with how the reader’s brain works. Cron uses lots of examples from famous books and films, but gives enough information about these so that even if they are not familiar to the reader, the references still make sense. She employs lots of great, illuminating quotes from lauded writers, as well. Her writing style is light-hearted and zippy, not artsy or academic, which some writing manuals suffer from.
I do with that instead of summarizing the neuropsych research underpinning her writing strategies, Cron had explained more about the experiments that generated this new knowledge. And I do think that Cron’s definition of “story” is way too narrow. If you look beyond character-centered novels and screenplays to short stories and longer non-character-based fiction (what Orson Scott Card would call stories based on milieu, idea or event), some of her recommendations make less sense. She also offers little guidance on how to use her tips when writing memoir, biography and long-form narrative non-fiction, even though you can see that many of her strategies could be employed in these areas.
I highly recommend Wired for Story for new writers. Even experienced writers, who will know many of the tips from other sources, will find unfamiliar insights, plus a few tools to implement the familiar ones.
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage
First-class, elegant writing marks the very personal essays collected in This is the Story of A Happy Marriage.
Patchett has a marvelous way of writing from her unique perspective without excessive editorializing, so that she is able to touch readers who might disagree with her opinions about controversial topics such as politics and religion. My favorites essays were “Love Sustained,” “The Sacrament of Divorce,” “The Getaway Car” and “The Mercies.”
“The Getaway Car” in particular describes her relationship with writing, and should be essential reading by all writers. My favorite quotes:
- “Set your sights on something you aren’t quite capable of doing…” (p. 50)
- “What I like about the job of being a novelist, and at the same time what I find so exhausting about it, is that it’s the closest thing to being to G-d you’re ever going to get.” (p. 50)
The latter sentiment is, by the way, shared by Isak Dinesen. The first time I read Dinesen’s words along these lines, they really resonated with me. I was 16 at the time, and I’ve never forgotten them.
Patchett also very much believes in working out stories in your head while they germinate, and not feeling guilty for not writing at that stage.