Reading about writing – books on craft

A long time ago, when I did my A-levels at college, my English tutor told us that creative writing wasn’t something that could be taught. You could either do it or you couldn’t. He told us this 3 weeks before our final exams, after not doing a single piece of creative writing with us throughout the two year course, or bothering to tell us at any point that we’d be doing a creative writing exam. As well as being a jerk, he was also a creep. Take, for example, the lesson he did on the structure of jokes, where his examples were all about oral sex, because he ‘couldn’t find any other jokes.’ Or the day we read some very purple Ted Hughes poetry. I can still remember vividly how he made one of the other girls squirm in embarassment, because she didn’t realise that the flowery prose was describing an erection.

What. A. Plonker.

Thirty of us started that course. By the end of the two years, seven had stuck it out long enough to take the final exams. Five turned up. I cried when I got my final grade. Enough said.

Anyhow, fast forward a few years, and I started writing my first book, still with this idea stuck firmly in my head. I wrote on my own, without any guidance, for two years. I knew the stories didn’t work. What I couldn’t figure out was why they didn’t work. Then I discovered (late to the party as always) that there is a whole world of support and guidance out there for writers, and that you can in fact learn how to make a story work.

Reading craft books has been a big part of this. I know many people shy away from them, often squeaking in fright, but I find them fascinating. Many lightbulb moments have occurred in the bath with a honeybee bath bomb and a craft book. Although I write romantic stories, the books I have found most useful relate not to romance specifically, but to fiction as a whole. Regardless of genre, three act structure, log lining, openings that work and middles that sag all have common threads.

So here are a few of my favourites:

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. The logline king.

Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. This book covers absolutely everything. More than that, it explains not only how to do something, but why.

Hooked by Les Edgerton. Uses Thelma and Louise as his example. What more could you want?

Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham.

Beginnings, Middles and Ends by Nancy Kress.

If there are any craft books you have read and loved, please post them in the comments!

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