There are a lot of books on writing.  I have not read them all, but I very well may before the next four or five years are up.  I still feel inadequate, even after authoring two books and many short stories.  I don’t know if that is writer’s neurosis or if it is the fact I know there is a lot I don’t know.  That is why I keep reading and studying books about writing.  It was tempting to save Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott for this category but I don’t think her book is about writing as much as it is the artists life.  Of course, I could be wrong.

Here I mean books that actually instruct on nuts and bolts, dos and don’ts of writing.  There are three that stand head and shoulders above the rest, in my honest opinion.

The Elements of Style (Illustrated), Strunk/White/Kalman

Let me put the cards on the table.  It is just the tiny Strunk and White that is the real help to the writer, but I adore the illustrated version that came out a few years ago.  It makes me laugh.Elements of sTyle Cover

It just strikes me as impossible for any writer to seriously discharge his or her duties without Strunk and White nearby.  How else would we keep things in our stories from being incorrectly labeled as inflammable?

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King

I wish I’d read this book before I wrote my first book.  Seriously, that book would have been much better had I know all the important things in this book.  It covers everything from voice, point of view, dialogue, and the oh-so-important and often referred to catch-all called show don’t tell.  If anyone wants to be a fiction writer and could only pick one book–pick this one.  It even tells you how to use curse words–if you’re into that kind of thing.

Ernest Hemingway on Writing, Edited by Larry Phillips

Okay, Hemingway didn’t really write this book as one sits down to write it.  This guy named Phillips sifted through Hemingway’s letters, articles and anything else he could find and pulled out things Papa said about writing.  It is a treasure.  Hemingway was a violent, womanizing, amoral man but he knew his craft and a lot can be learned by watching him work.  Consider this little gem:

The hardest thing in the world to do is to write straight honest prose on human beings.  First you have to know the subject; then you have to know how to write.  Both take a lifetime to learn (p. 26).

Some of you out there might have your favorite writing books.  I’d like to know what they are in case it is something I’ve not read and which would be a help to me.  I can always use the help.





I apologize for neglecting the blog the last week or so.  I’ve been busy working on my novel (and fighting with health insurance companies–Yeah, I’m talking about you Blue Cross Blue Shield–and you should know you will be a bad guy in a future novel or short story.  Bet on it.)

The fun part of writing for me is plot and character development.  I enjoy both of those aspects more than I should.  The hard part for me is the mechanics of such things as point of view (POV) and interior thought.

The POV of this novel is omniscient, but I am attempting to get a fair bit of narrative intimacy.  What that means is I do not want the narrator to be distant, but instead I want the tone to be almost inside the head of the characters.  Where I get into trouble with this is that I often flip POV back and forth between characters in the same scene, which is a technical no-no.


Closely related to this, at least for me, is the aspect of internal dialogue.  I do not have a lot of that in the novel, but where I do it is significant.  My guide in this endeavor is the most excellent book titled Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.  They argue that the most common ways writers achieve interior dialogue is bad, very bad.  The bad three ways are:

1.  Dialogue quotation marks.  This is something I’ve used in the past and they call it amateurish.

2.  Italics.  Browne and King show how this can be effective, but they also warn that it is so overused that it often comes across as hack writing.

3.  Thinker attributions.  These are those “he thought” and “she pondered” statements.

Their solution is to write it plain and let the reader recognize that this is how the character feels or thinks and not the narrator.  Here is there negative example.

Had he meant to kill her?  Not Likely, he thought.

This uses the common thinker attribution, “he thought.”  My go-to instinct on that would have likely been to italicize it.  What they teach is to write it like this:

Had he meant to kill her?  Not likely.

So, now move inside the work I’ve been doing this week with a sneak peak of some of this in the novel.  This is an important scene, early in the book, when the three heroes, Amber Smith, Wyoming Wallace, and Pastor Butch Gregory all meet each other for the first time.  It does not go well, which is foreshadowed by some of Pastor Butch Gregory’s fear and anxiety.

She guided Butch through the back woods of the deep forest like an expert pathfinder until finally the dark blue sedan pulled up to a single-wide trailer house.  A DirectTV satellite dish was mounted on the side of the trailer.  A rusted barrel was smoldering with what appeared to be yesterday’s garbage.  The stench of burnt plastic filled the air.  A black jeep sat parked under a tree towards the rear of the trailer.  There was no yard to speak of, as the trailer was set in the middle of a clearing that had been hewn out from the tall pines.  Rusted-out Buicks, Chevys, A Honda and a Kia along with the bed of an old Ford Ranger formed a kind of post-apocalyptic hedgerow separating the trailer’s clearing from the forest.

The wary pastor spied a very large dog.

Big dogs panicked him beyond measure.  Dogs unlock a primordial urge for him to run.  That urge was a nearly uncontrollable part of his psyche.  He knew the fear was illogical and he’d worked hard to get over it.  Over the years he kept intending to ask his mother if he’d been attacked by a dog as a small child, but he’d never gotten around to it.  Classic denial.

The dog barked thunder.

Cold sweat formed on his brow and his muscles clenched.

Oh Lord, why did there have to be a big dog?

He looked at Amber for a reprieve or at least support, but she was already unbuckled and was opening the door.