For me, I’ve come to believe, that writing is a craft. You need to practice and you need to learn. If you want to write, by far the most important and useful writing advice you’ll ever get is to write (followed closely by reading, a lot).
Don’t talk about it. Don’t wish for it. Put your butt in the seat and do it.
But how? Maybe you need some guidance or some inspiration. There are a ton of people making a ton of money off course, books and workshops. I know. I’ve tried more than a few before I realized the most important thing was to just write, get feedback, and repeat.
But even if you are putting in the time and pouring out the words everyone needs some help and reassurance. At some point during all the writing you are going to look up and wonder just where you are and how you might get back on track. This is where writing books can come in handy.
Looking broadly, there are typically two types of writing books: inspirational and instructional.
Some straddle both worlds, like King’s popular On Writing.
The other side of the coin is instructional and these focus on the nuts and bolts of writing (plot, characterization, dialogue, editing) and sometimes the business of writing (agent, publishing). They rarely stray too much into style – maybe that’s a whole other segment.
After having read over 20 books of both types, I have my favorites that I come back to while writing each book. Jerry Cleaver’s Immediate Fiction isn’t one of the instructional books you see mentioned very often. It’s about 15 years old and well reviewed but seems like it has faded from the collective writer’s consciousness. That’s a shame. I think it has a lot to offer, especially the beginning writer.
Along with Coyne’s The Story Grid, Immediate Fiction is the book I most often flip through to re-orient and remind myself of the basic rules and forms for story when I suddenly find myself looking for the forest in the trees. It happens with every book. Usually multiple times a book.
Immediate Fiction is sub-titled, A Complete Writing Course, and it does touch on creativity, story theory, and how to get published (mostly dated now), but I find the best parts of this book start in Chapter 3 with Story.
Here are the things I highlight and return to most to get myself (and my stories) back on track:
- Fiction is a Dirty Game. If there is no conflict there is no story. In its purest form a story is just three things: conflict, action, resolution.
- If the characters are having a good time, the reader is not. If it’s going well, it’s going nowhere.
- Conflict = want + obstacle
- Conflict forces the character to act
- Is the character feeling emotion? Are you showing it or telling it?
- An easy way to pin down what a character is feeling is to ask what are his worries, fears, and hopes
- For drama to build, for plot to thicken, things must be worse at the end of every scene and every chapter
- The reader will take your word for nothing. You must show the actual experience. Give the actions of the character without labels or generalities. Specifics, specifics, specifics, of the character and their actions (showing) are what get the job done.
- Showing a little is better than telling a lot.
Like I said at the beginning, writing for me is craft and these pieces of advice and the most important tools I’ve been able to find to put in my tool box. If you find yourself struggling or overwhelmed with your manuscript or story idea, maybe Immediate Fiction can help you, too.