A Writer’s Journey: Part 3

A Writer’s Journey: Part Three – Get Yourself Booked

“It is encouraging to see how perfectly a book, even a dusty rule book, perpetuates and extends the spirit of a man.”

— E.B White, from The Elements of Style

So you want to write a book? Good for you. Maybe good for us; the readers of your future accomplishment. I want you to write the next winner of the Stoker award for first novel. But you can’t do that if you don’t read. You need to get yourself booked before you can hope to ever hold your own book in your hands. And I want to give some suggestions. The following books I will be mentioning have all been invaluably helpful to me for different reasons.

The first is the above quoted “little book” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style. Any published writer in the English Language that has arrived at some degree of success in their chosen field will tell you to keep a copy in your back pocket and read it often. Memorize passages of this roughly hundred page book that encompasses more than just grammar. If the school system failed to teach you the fundamentals of grammar as it did me then the passages you will find clearly written in these pages will seem like a liberating revelation. At the usual price of $10 it is affordable, which means there is no excuse for a writer not to have a copy if they are serious about the craft.

I get asked all the time to recommend books that would be helpful to other writers and the most influential one I have come across has been Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages. Written from the POV of an Agent, Editor and Writer, Lukeman puts the mysteries of the industry behind the books that end up on the shelves into the light of day and into easy to understand terms. After you read his examples in each chapter of where a paragraph can go wrong, you stop and think of your own writing, realizing that you’ve made the same mistakes numerous times. I’ve slapped my head to the point of bruising over such easily avoidable mistakes. Lukeman takes it a step farther by giving end-of-chapter exercises to follow, encouraging you to rip apart your manuscript until it is lean, mean and the best it can be. I’ve read the book at least eight times now and never fail to come away with something new each time.

A quarter memoir, a quarter confessional and half instruction manual, Stephen King’s On Writing is at the top of many list. Written in King’s usual laid back and conversational tone. It comes across like a self-help seminar at times but never fails to inspire through the heart felt descriptions of his childhood, using the landmarks in his writing life as platforms to give easy to remember lessons through very visual and at times amusing writing. A must-have; less for hard fact, more for inspiration. The man makes you torn between hearing what he has to say and getting your own words on the screen.

Writing Horror by Edo Van Belkom, is a hard to find book but worth the search. Van Belkom lives in Toronto and writes a wide range of horror, including the popular Wolfpack YA horror series. The book reads like an easy to relate to text book and some of the information provided can be found in much easier to locate books on the craft but Van Belkom has some serious style that would be worth learning or any new author.

If King’s book is in part inspirational then The Writing Fairy Guide to Calling Yourself a Writer by Dorothea Helms is all inspirational and motivating. Helms has made a living out of writing and approaches it daily as a business the same as going to work at a regular nine-to-five job but one she takes great joy in, even when it gets hard to do. The first thing she starts off with is by giving the reader permission to call themselves “a writer”. It seems like a simple concept but I saw her lecture at a local library and let me tell you as a young writer plagued with self-doubt, it is intensely liberating to be told it is okay to tell people that I am a writer. I use to tell people I write. Never that I was a writer. It helped to feel less guilty about this after my first publication but thanks to Mrs. Helms I now say it without shame. Filled with motivational exorcises that break down the self-imposed barriers we all put up, I think you’ll find her lessons invaluable.

There are many other books out there and you should seek them out. Not just in your chosen field of horror but in other genres as well. I’ve learned many great lessons from reading books on writing mystery and thrillers as well as romance even. A good novel incorporates some of the elements of these other genres and a great novel that will appeal to many and stand the test of time to be called a classic incorporates all of those elements. Life isn’t just filled with horror. There is mystery, love, and history. Don’t forget that and readers won’t forget the tale you weave.

To take this lesson a step further is also to remember that a book shouldn’t only be fiction, for no fiction can stand without support in fact and to help with this aspect the library is your friend. Research the people, places, occupations and events of your story but when writing don’t bog the story down with too many facts otherwise you might as well right a text book on the subject. Roughly 80% of what you learn while researching shouldn’t make it into the final product. You’ll know what things to include and the rest is only there to help you write those things with confidence. If you feel like you don’t know what you’re talking about it will come across in your work and readers will pick up on that; feeling even more lost than you. Plus you’ll be so worried that you’re not getting your facts straight you’ll forget to write believable prose. The end effect won’t be a fun experience. Knowing your facts lets you write them as if it were second nature.

I’d also like to encourage anyone reading this who has a book they would recommend to list it here in the comments section if it hasn’t already appeared above. Pass on them gems people.

Now, hit the books!

Brandon Layng

 

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