A random stroll through the library or bookstore can turn my whole day around. I love the randomness of the books that catch my eye, and trying to figure out why that title or that book cover drew me in.
Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing recently caught my eye at the library because 1) we’re a list-loving society and 2) I’m a writer always trying to improve my craft.
The book is small, filled with few words and many illustrations, and can be read completely in 10 minutes. The advice is solid and witty. You may want to take another 10 minutes to read it again.
#3 Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
#4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…
These are ones I’ve heard many times but a reminder is always nice.
#9 Don’t go into great detail describing places and things — I can’t agree more. There are certain authors I love but at the same time, I despise their lengthy paragraphs of description. Get to the point or I’m going to skip a few pages and then be frustrated when I realize later on that I missed an actual plot point!
Which leads us to the tenth rule of writing that can not be argued with…
#10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Obvious, right? But what are those parts and how do we, as writers, know when we’re boring our readers? Check out the book during your next local library stroll to get Leonard’s take on this.
Interesting Fact: This book was originally published in the New York Times in July 2001 as “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”.
This entire novel is a good quote but here are a few I picked out that specifically pleased me. Enjoy!
“I wish I could convey the perfection of a seal slipping into water or a spider monkey swinging from point to point or a lion merely turning its head. But language founders in such seas. Better to picture it in your head if you want to feel it.”
“When you’ve suffered a great deal in life, each additional pain is both unbearable and trifling.”
“…Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims.”
“Ten thousand trumpets and twenty thousand drums could not have made as much noise as that bolt of lightning; it was positively deafening.”
“I cannot think of a better way to spread the faith [than leaving sacred writings like the Bible where weary travelers might rest their heads]. No thundering from a pulpit, no condemnation from bad churches, no peer pressure, just a book of scripture quietly waiting to say hello, as gentle and powerful as a little girl’s kiss on your cheek.”
“It was as unbelievable as the moon catching fire.”
“At moments of wonder, it is easy to avoid small thinking, to entertain thoughts that span the universe, that capture both thunder and tinkle, thick and thin, the near and the far.”
“There were many seas. The sea roared like a tiger. The sea whispered in your ear like a friend telling you secrets. The sea clinked like small change in a pocket. The sea thundered like avalanches. The sea hissed like sandpaper working on wood. The sea sounded like someone vomiting. The sea was dead silent.”
“Life on a lifeboat isn’t much of a life. It is like an end game in chess, a game with few pieces. The elements couldn’t be more simple, nor the stakes higher.”
“If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.” -from the Author’s Note
Posting writing-focused book reviews is the most beneficial thing I did in 2014 to improve my personal writing (yes, even more so than completing NaNoWriMo in November. Check out my post on 10 Things I Learned from NaNoWriMo) It forces me to be critical and attentive to everything I read. I uncover tricks the writer incorporates, I pick apart the structure, characterization and voice the author uses and determine how they strengthen the work as a whole. I also figure out what specifically makes me like or dislike a book.
When I started this blog last January, I thought it was going to be a way to share what I already knew about books and writing but I turned out to be the student, not the teacher.
So often when I sit down to write a book review, I’m still unsure what I want to write about or what I took away from the book but the process of putting my vague thoughts into words and paragraphs reveals characteristics about the story and the writing that otherwise would have dwindled away in my unconscious, never to be learned from.
All of these things help me understand my own writing and provide constant ideas to improve it. Understanding my likes and dislikes of the things I read has helped me understand what I want my own stories to be and what I need to include to ensure they would be a story I would enjoy reading.
I also love the fact that this blog has connected me to a wider writing world than I have ever been a part of. Big thanks to everyone who liked and/or commented on my posts!
If you don’t mind, I’ll reminisce on few special blogs from the past year:
My First Blog Post:
Blending Boundaries on a New Time-Travel Twist This book review on Stephen King’s 11/22/63 reads more like a college essay than a blog, but hey, I had to start somewhere. Thankfully I’ve adapted a more simple, sparse, and easier-to-read format.
The Maze Runner: A Deep Look into a Weak First-person Perspective Okay, so I didn’t cause a national uproar but this book review held very strong opinions and I was actually pleased that someone disagreed with me in the comments. I recently watch the Maze Runner movie (because my boyfriend insisted) and did enjoy it more than the book.
Also check out a few of my favorite posts from the year on the right hand side of my homepage!
Last night I got the opportunity to view a special IMAX viewing of the movie Interstellar before it opens in theaters on Friday and it was the best movie viewing experience I have ever had.
It is the most mind-blowing, revolutionary, engaging film I have seen. I recently saw Gone Girl in theaters which blew me away and is still an exceptional movie but it simply does not compare to Interstellar. The circular plot line, the un-linear structure, the emotion-driven characters, the never-before-seen special effects, and the unmatched intelligence that populate this film are unlike any story I have ever read, seen, or heard. Viewing the movie on the oversized IMAX screen is worth the extra money. The space scenes and special effects on the IMAX convey the story in the way it is meant to be told; larger than the universe.
As a current participant of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), this epic story made me want to throw my novel in trash because comparatively, trash is all it is. After another hour of thinking of nothing but the movie, I was even more rejuvenated to push my own writing forward. I write with the ultimate goal of being able to astound readers like Interstellar astounded me.
An hour after the movie ended, I sat down at my keyboard and had the most productive hour of NaNoWriMo so far! I know my story will never compare to what the Nolan brothers have written but I reminded myself that their first “masterpiece” was likely a story no one ever praised.
No matter where our stories end up they all begin at the same place, the blank page.
*I don’t claim the rights to any of these photos. Now, go buy your tickets for Interstellar!
As I currently redesign my “writing room,” I’m constantly thinking about what I want the room to be. What color should I paint the walls? What kind of decorations do I want to hang? What should I fill my bookshelves with? What do I want the general feel of the room to be? I understand not everyone is lucky enough to have an entire room they can call their “writing room” (and I feel very grateful to be one of the few) but I think every serious writer needs a “writing space.” Somewhere they sit down and immediately feel like writing is the right thing to do. If you want to be a writer and don’t already have a writing space, make one! It could be the desk in the middle of your living room or the corner table at the local coffee house. It could be the porch in your backyard or a park bench with a notebook on your lap. Wherever it may be, however big or small, keep the following in mind when you choose a new spot or perfect your current one.
1. A Sense of Comfort
If your not comfortable, you won’t be able to focus on your work. If your too cold or too hot you’ll be strangled by blankets or wishing you were jumping in your neighbors swimming pool the whole time. If your in public and worried about that creepy barista staring at you, get out of there! If your roommate’s giggles are echoing through the apartment as she watches that movie with her new crush, put your headphones on. Control the things you can control, put distractions out of reach.
2. Writing Tools
At the minimum you need a notebook and a pen/pencil. Maybe also a desk, a computer, a chair, post it notes, inspirational photos, a window, a whiteboard to sketch an outline, music, headphones. Not everyone will need all of these things but everyone’s writing space should have all the tools they need to make Number 1 a reality.
Is this not the thing that inspired us to write in the first place? Then it should be there to always remind us and to teach us. Reading is essential to any writer’s success, so make sure to have books close at hand. We’ve all heard Stephen King’s quote, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” And he is right. Reading is how we learn as writers, its how we figure out what we like and don’t like, what works and what doesn’t, what makes our eyes zoom across the page and what makes our eyelids heavy. Not to mention that if you enjoy writing, I’d be shocked to hear you don’t enjoy reading. So keep your books close!
This will most likely be more books; a dictionary, thesaurus, a book of interesting facts or jokes. Books on writing. I know what you’re thinking, why do I need books when I can search all that stuff on the internet? Well, when you’re hunched over your keyboard for hours and you suddenly can’t spit out the word on the tip of your tongue, why keep hunching over the keyboard to Google it when you can lean back in your chair, grab a book and flip a few pages until inspiration strikes?
5. Something That Reminds You Why You Write
Place your favorite book on your desk and mark your favorite passages. That quote that puts it in perspective, paint it on the wall above your desk. Pictures of people and places that inspire you. A collage of beautiful, mysterious, interesting, curious, unique thought-provoking Google Images. A Wordle image that includes everything you need to remember while writing. Make it personal. Make it something that when your head feels completely empty and you throw your head back in despair, this something will catch your eye and say to you, “There’s a reason you’re doing this, don’t you remember? This is what you’re suppose to do. This is your art.”
Check back for pictures of my remodeled writing room!! I’ve had a lot of fun decorating it and am excited to share pictures!! 🙂 Should be in a week or two!
Book Review on The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni. Published by Putnam.
In this Young Adult novel, Peter Bognanni reminds the reader that no matter how strange one’s life is, no matter what extremist views they hold or what kind of futuristic ideals they strive for, every human being alive experiences moments of self discovery, a first crush, the power of music and unyielding love.
The House of Tomorrow introduces the reader to Sebastian Prendergast, a sheltered teenage boy who lives in a glass-walled geodesic dome with his fanatic grandmother on the outskirts of a small town in Iowa. With his parents dead, being homeschooled his whole life, and no siblings or friends, all Sebastian knows is what his grandmother has taught him; proper English and the teachings of philosopher R. Buckminster Fuller. Sebastian’s grandmother looks up to Fuller as a sort of godly figure and belives all his teachings are the key to the future. By following in Fuller’s footsteps, Sebastian is going to save the world. At least that’s what his grandmother’s plan is until she has a stroke and Sebastian meets Jared, a punk rock kid from town.
Pace (*slight spoiler*)
As a writer, you can create convenience and that is exactly what Bognanni did with his timeline. The next event was always ready and waiting to happen, with very little “down time” in the story. Sometimes the characters would make plans so the reader would now what was coming, other times surprising things just occurred that kept pushing the story forward. One specific instance of this was the big event at the end of the novel when the boys’ band played in the talent show. Before their last song was even over, the next event intervened and caused the boys to leave the stage before the scene could run its full course. One part of me wished I could have seen the uninterrupted aftermath of their concert but I also appreciate the fact that Bognanni kept the story moving forward, avoiding the possibly stereotypical, drawn-out “encore.”
Humor & Contrasting Characters
Bognanni successfully pulls humor from something very simple, the contrast between Sebastian and Jared. Listening to the audiobook, I literally laughed out loud at times! Sebastian’s innocent, proper, sheltered personality clashes with Jared’s punk rock, f* the world attitude that it literally shocks you. The reader becomes familiar with Sebastian and his formal, yet bizarre, way of life first so when Jared comes into the picture, his foul language and risk-taking attitude are a slap across the face. Their personalities are in a constant tug-of-war game, adding genuine humor to the novel.
The House of Tomorrow is centered, like Sebastian’s life, on the teachings of Buckminster Fuller, an American architect, author, designer, inventor and futurist. Fuller, who died in 1983 at the age of 87, never physical appears in the novel but is always present. “Bucky” directs Sebastian’s thoughts like God directs the thoughts of a child who grew up in a Christian home. Fuller’s large presence in the novel encouraged me to look into his life and from the little I’ve read, everything that is mentioned about him in the book is based on truth, including the term her popularized “Spaceship Earth.” Adding that kind of thorough research and seamlessly blending it into the story is very enticing. It adds a layer of interest that nothing fictional can.
Where did this story come from? I love asking that question after reading a piece of fiction. I think its safe to say that Buckminster Fuller and his teachings inspired Bognanni to begin this story. I would be truly be truly shocked to find out Fuller appeared after the story had begun.
How I found this book: Browsing a book store. Enticing cover. After I finished the book, I found out that Peter Bognanni lives in Minnesota and works at a college down the street from the University I attended. Small world!
Check out my previous book reviews!
You’re Writers Notebook does not have to simply be writing. So many of the things we write are expressed through the visual. Show don’t tell, they say. The characters physical description, the setting, facial expressions, clothing, darkness… As writers we try to express the visual through the written word and how are we suppose to do that successfully if we don’t look at the things we try to describe?! So, my tip for you today is this:
Cut and paste pictures in your Writer’s Notebook!!!!
Put in family pictures, pictures from the internet, newspaper and magazine clipping, drawings, bubble letters, artistic prints, the cover of your favorite books or authors, and anything else you can get your hands on!!! Your Writer’s Notebook should be home to anything and everything that inspires you or makes you think about something in a different way. And that should never be limited to words.