The Art of Character: Book, Blurb & Collage

The Art of Character

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, The Art of Character, written by David Corbett. Image created by me and free to share.

 

During my transition to the new state over the last month or so, I’ve continued hitting the books and eating my greens. The Art of Character, by David Corbett was a delight to read. Honestly, I’ve burned through so many bloody books about writing characters and examining archetypes that it was starting to get repetitive — this book caught me by surprise.

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Image linked to Goodreads.

Corbett offers some fresh perspective about understanding how to craft and build believable characters. Unlike many of books I’ve read, he emphasizes the importance of shaping the character before your build the book. In my experience working with other authors, many go the opposite direction: starting with the story or general plot, then populating it with characters.

The issue, and I’ve seen it happen, is the characters are custom fitted to the story and one dimensional when you plot the story then begin to craft the characters afterwards. They say, “I want a scene where he/she commandeers a pirate vessel then builds a robot out of Pixy Stix, duct tape, and bubble gum…oh, they must be able to knit kitten sweaters too! I better make sure the character has X, Y, and Z traits.”

The book is separated into four main parts: Conceiving the Character, Developing the Character, Roles, and Technique. Each section builds on the previous and provides instruction on how to weave characters into the tapestry of your story. This is bolstered by countless examples from a smattering of different genres.

Speaking of examples, one thing I like to do when I read books on the craft of writing is glance at the bibliography at the back of the book. Corbett’s bibliography is three pages long with about fifty cited sources. That’s a goldmine!

When it comes to character studies, this book has quickly jumped to the top of my go-to pile. I can see it being one I refer to clients and friends alike. If your Amazon trigger finger is itchy, give it a go!

question markThat’s it for today. If you are curious about some of the other writing books I’ve read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here (going to have to update this beast soon), or jump to my Reads section. I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same. What writing books are you reading? I’d love to hear about it. I’m always looking for more books to devour. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Non-Fiction Writing Books: Suggestions?

libraryMonday is the day I usually share a book about writing with all of you. You can find examples of this in my reads category.  While I still have plenty of books to talk about on the page, I recently finished reading the last one I have in my possession. Instead of trusting Amazon or Goodreads, I thought I would take a day to see if any of you would be kind enough to offer me some suggestions.

To avoid replication, a while back I posted the last twenty books I had read that examined some aspect of writing. Since then, I’ve added a few to the list:

Editors on Editing, by Gerald C. Gross
Cryptozoology A to Z, by Loren Coleman & Jerome Clark
Developmental Editing, by Scott Norton
Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury
The Sense of Style, by Steven Pinker
Archetypal Patterns in Fairy Tales, by Marie-Louise von Franz

question-markSeeing all of this, what am I missing out on? I’d love to snag some more great books. If I’m not doing self-study in my limited downtime, I’m usually doing something less than productive. Help ol’ QE out! [Note: If you’ve suggested a book in a comment to me, I’ve likely ordered it already and am waiting for it arrive.] Until our quills clash again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Writing Tools: Book, Blurb & Collage

Writing Tools Collage.jpg

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, Writing Tools, written by Roy Peter Clark. A great tool for any writer looking to hone their craft.  High-res version of the image is right here.

 

Another book read, another set of shiny pencils to toss into the toolbox.   Writing Tools, written by Roy Peter Clark, is a book I would highly recommend.  The book provides you with, 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (which is emblazoned on the cover).

writing tool book.jpgEach strategy is a chapter/section of its own, and I found them to be very easy to read and understand.  Clark uses examples from published works to emphasize points and support his writing.  The quotes I placed in the photo are some of the one-liners he provides at the opening of his chapters.

Additionally, this book offers some really interesting tools and tips to work through common issues writers face.  I have referenced his work in past blog posts—most notably his strategy for busting up clichés (located here).

Perhaps my favorite aspect of this book is the sheer amount of well-written content.  Many of the non-fiction writing books I own have twenty chapters or so.  Some of those books stretch out concepts to fill space (at least that’s how it feels to me sometimes).  This book is very concise with information because it tackles fifty topics.

Topics range wildly but are organized into four main parts.  Starting with the basics of grammar, punctuation, syntax, style, and usage, the author then begins to build on those basics.  Showing you how to achieve effects with these rules and make them work with you.  The idea is you need know the rules so you can manipulate them.  I love this kind of thinking.

[Editor’s Note]

This book continues to be a staple for me both as a writer and an editor.  When I work with clients, especially when they are working with a new manuscript, I like to address issues with potential solutions.  This book is handy because the material is condensed and easy to share.  I’ve used the contents within this book more than once during video and phone conversations with clients to help them understand why certain things they are doing go against the grain.  I’ve also used it to illustrate stylistic opportunities they could take advantage of to enhance their story.  It seems easier for folks to accept advice when the viewpoint is reinforced by other professionals.

question-markThat’s it for today.  If you are curious about some of the other writing books I have read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here.  I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same.  If you have a book recommendation, I would love to hear about it!  I’m always looking for more books to devour.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Zen in the Art of Writing: Book, Blurb & Collage

Zen in the Art of Writing.jpg

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, Zen in the Art of Writing, written by Ray Bradbury. Clicking the image will take you to a higher-res version on my Flickr page.  This collage was created by me and is free to share.   

 

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury is one of the most enjoyable call-to-action type books I’ve flipped through.  I know, I say that a lot.  But heck, it feels like Bradbury is slapping you on the back while you read this and whispering, “you got this,” from the grave. Before I get into the meat of the book, you can give it a glance on [Amazon] or [goodreads] if you would like.

A quick aside.  I purchased this book on Amazon, but purchased a used version.  It came to me from some small bookstore.  When I flipped it open…jackpot!  There was a message written on the inside cover.  I don’t know about all of you, but I love stuff like this.  Here is the message:

Erin,

Bradbury shares well, and with wit, the timeless creative spirit, objective and true. This work reminds me of the eternity I see in your eyes, in you. May it find and inspire your creative self well.

Joe

Joe, if you are reading this, I’m sorry man.  It looks like Erin was not impressed by Bradbury and sold the book despite your inspiring words.  I enjoyed the book though.

zen in the art of writing.jpgErin, if you accidentally misplaced this book, shoot me a message and I’ll get it back to you.  I hope you did find your creative self.  If you did sell this book, I hope you fall off your bike and knock out your two front teeth!  Okay, I hope nothing that bad happens, but sheesh, have a heart.

*Corey considers deleting the previous insanity then shrugs his shoulders instead*

Back to the book!  Bradbury’s book was very different than most call-to-action type books I’ve read.  There is a surge of energy behind his words and a contagious optimism.  Yes, he is realistic about some of the challenges, but there is still an undertone of positive lightning.

Bradbury offers a ton of takeaways and recommendations.  Some of them seem insane, and some of them make a lot of sense to me.  I’ve listed a spattering of them below.  They have been ordered from least insane to most.

  1. Write every day.
    I like it.  Doesn’t have to be a WIP, but at least keep your fingers moving.  I even count these blog posts as part of my writing regiment.
  2. Read every day.
    Right on Ray!  You’ve got to eat your greens and gorge on desserts every now and then.
  3. Get out in the world and experience life to enrich your writing.
    As a hermit, this is hard to digest.  But I wasn’t always a hermit.  There was a time I sailed the oceans, traveled the world, spied on terrorists, and chased criminals.  I wrote a post a while back about how Herman Melville’s style and voice changed after he signed up to be a crew member on a whaling boat. It worked out well for him when he wrote Moby Dick.
  4. Utilize word association to generate interesting ideas.
    This is my kid of weird, literary science.  Bradbury has a list of crazy words and phrases he used to help generate fun ideas and concepts. He encourages the writer to choose things that resonate with them on some level and play with the concepts.
  5. A Refined ListActivate the readers senses.
    This is great advice.  It could have populated any of these first spots on this list.
  6. Make the skeletons in your childhood closet dance.
    This is probably great advice for some, but I had an awesome childhood.  Growing up on a farm and playing in the woods.  For me, this is a well with no water to pull out. But for some of you, this might be an exploding geyser.
  7. Write a short story every week for at least five years.
    For some of you, this is no sweat (I’m looking at you, Andrew and SDS).  For me, this seems a little intimidating, but hey, I can’t argue that it wouldn’t be effective.
  8. Play with story ideas for years before you bother trying to write them.
    This one is a bit harder for me.  Bradbury talks about twenty to thirty years being an okay amount of time to let a story marinate in your brain.  I guess because I write post-apocalyptic fiction I assume the world will have ended by then…
  9. Write like a man/woman possessed by the gods.
    At first I thought, heck yeah Ray—write the words, all of them!  Then he talked about how he would write the first draft on a Monday, the second on a Tuesday, and so on until the story was ready to mail out on Saturday.  While this was likely regarding short stories, and not full-length novels, this is still a tremendous pace.  I’m not sure I will ever be confident/skilled enough to pull this off even for a short story.

I know I almost always say, “This is a great book,” but this has become one of my favorites.  Between Ray’s shout-outs to his cats, to his infectiously positive prose, it’s hard to not find yourself giving him high-fives from beyond the grave while you flip through it.  If I am feeling cynical and need a boost, I’ll read On Writing, Bird by Bird, or Writing Past Dark.  If I’m feeling good, but want a couple extra jolts of inspiration—this is the book.

question-markThat’s it for today.  If you are curious about some of the other writing books I have read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here.  I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same.  If you have a book recommendation, I would love to hear about it!  I’m always looking for more books to devour.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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The War of Art: Book, Blurb & Collage

War-of-Art-Part-2

This book spot is a bit sentimental for me as it’s the first one I ever posted here on QE.  I’m recycling it because when I initially posted it four months ago I didn’t have much of a following.  On a side note, the image up above (which I talk about in a second) is what inspired me to take select quotes and compile them into collages for this webpage.

Now to the original post…with a couple additions at the end.

I found this beautiful collage while searching for the cover of the book, The War of Art.   Steven Pressfield wrote the book and I’ve found it to be a solid call-to-action type read.  The collage above comes from Sunni Brown, and I linked it to their website.

Sunni Brown, the owner of this image and creator/owner of the linked website, offers some amazing eCourses.  If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to be a creative taker of notes, these courses will be right up your lane.  For me, I find doodling notes really helps cement the concept material in my mind.  It was also the source of much scolding during my younger years.

war of art.jpgBack to the book!  If you were considering snagging The War of Art, I would encourage you to do so.  It’s a look at the struggle writers face as they pit themselves against the many obstacles they encounter.  It also works to highlight what differentiates a wannabe writer from a professional one.

“This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t.  When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us.  The Muse takes note of our dedication.  She approves.  We have earned favor in her sight.  When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings.  Ideas come.  Insights accrete” (p. 108).

I don’t know if I believe in the “us versus them” mentality of a writer versus a wannabe writer.  In my opinion, if you are writing, you are a writer.  I don’t care if you never publish a word.  If your words somehow find a way to influence the way a person thinks or feels, that’s worth more than monetary reward.  Heck, if the writing is just for you, you’re still a writer.  After all, this blog isn’t making me rich (unless you count the $2.30 I’ve made from Amazon referrals…cha-ching!), but I sure enjoy sharing insights and collaborating.

[Update] Despite this being a book I read a while ago, it still holds up for me as a book that offered me inspiration.  I remember struggling with aspects of Wastelander: The Drake Legacy, and thinking of passages from this book to help motivate me to finish.

QE from four months ago forgot to mention the premise of the book.  It’s written like a series of letters to a friend.  Each letter addresses a way to fight Resistance (I know Thomas, there’s a purpose for the capitalization though).

To Pressfield, Resistance is basically anything that gets in the way of you completing your work.  Resistance is capitalized because Pressfield works to enforce the idea that distractions and self-doubt are universal forces conspiring against you.  They are the enemy that must be defeated to reach your potential.

The War of Art now lives in my bathroom.  It’s written like a daily devotional, so it really is the perfect bathroom companion.  Plus, with a book, I don’t have to worry about dropping my cell phone in the toilet…not saying that’s ever happened to me.

question-markThat’s it for today.  If you are curious about some of the other writing books I have read, you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here.  I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same.  If you have a book recommendation, I would love to hear about it!  I’m always looking for more books to devour.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Writing Monsters: Book, Blurb & Collage

Writing Monsters

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, Writing Monsters, written by Philip Athans.  If you click the image you will be teleported to my Flickr where the image lives in high-res.  As always, it’s free to share and use however you would like.


W
riting Monsters
, by Philip Athans, has been on my list of books to showcase here on QE for a while now.  Why?  Because it is one of the most entertaining and well written books I have found on the subject matter.  Before I go into my blow-by-blow, you can check out the book on [Amazon] or [goodreads].

A Refined List

There’s a big list of things that really made this book appeal to me.  To make my bias apparent, I’m going to make a slight deviation from my normal blueprint and offer a short list.  Some of these things may seem silly to you all, and some of these things may make you foam at the mouth and impulse buy the book (or snag it from the library).

  1. Philip Athans is awesome.  There, I said it.  I’m a fanboy of his, and he actually maintains a WordPress blog called Fantasy Author’s Handbook, which he updates every Tuesday.  There is a massive amount of information to be mined from his page.
  2. In our continuing study of character archetypes, I wrote a post called Writing Characters & Role Playing Games a few weeks ago.  In it, I talked about how the computer game Baldur’s Gate blew my mind and really made me examine character archetypes when I was younger.  Well, Philip Athans wrote the book on it.  By that, I mean he literally wrote the official Forgotten Realms book, Baldur’s Gate.
  3. Why am I sharing all of this?  For transparency.  I’m obviously biased toward this author, and I like to be honest with you all.  With that being said, let’s talk about this book.

writing monsters.jpgThis book, for me, is solid because it covers a wide range of topics regarding how to write monsters.  More so, because it uses a number of examples and cited works to bolster and emphasize points.  Athans uses examples from literature (spanning from historic works all the way to modern time), movies, and even video games.  For my gamer friends (console, computer, and D&D), you are going to feel very comfortable flipping through these pages as Athans uses these mediums as tools to provide information to the reader.

Writing Monsters also does a phenomenal job of defining the physical, psychological, and emotional characteristics of monsters from almost all genres.  While this book is shorter and more current, at times I felt like I was reading the “monster version” of Joseph Campbells’ book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  The only difference being Campbell provides a sweeping mythological look at the hero throughout time, while Athan pinpoints certain monsters to drive the purpose of his book.

The book is broken into three main parts: What They Are, Why They’re Here, and How to Write Them.  While all parts are very insightful, I found the chapters within, Why They’re Here, to be especially enjoyable.  In this section of the book, Athans talks about monsters as metaphors, obstacles, agents, sources of pity, sources of magic or technology, and how they bring out the good and bad in people.

In short, if you are struggling with coming up with concepts for monsters, or simply curious about them, this book provides some very interesting and fun information.  Also, this book serves as a great tool to find other relevant sources of inspiration.  I did a quick scan of the cited sources and Athans uses more than thirty books and short stories to drive his narrative.  That by itself is a gold mine if you are entrenched in these genres.

question-markThat’s it for today.  If you are curious about some of the other writing books I have read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here.  I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same.  If you have a book recommendation, I would love to hear about it!  I’m always looking for more books to devour.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Bird by Bird: Book, Blurb & Collage

bird by bird, Anne Lamott.jpg

This is a quote collage I tossed together to highlight some of the content from the book.  Clicking the image will send you over to Flickr where you can view it in high-res.  This is free to share and use however you would like.

I finished reading Anne Lamott’s, Bird by Bird, a couple weeks ago and am happy to share it with all of you today.  This is a call-to-action book about writing that I would highly recommend.  It was suggested to me by theherdlesswitch, here on the blog.  Thanks for pointing me toward such a fun book.

bird by bird.jpgIf you’re unfamiliar with Lamott’s voice and style, it’s witty and has some kick to it.  For me, that’s always a plus.  What she does amazingly well is talk from the heart about the struggles most writers face (more on that in a second).  It’s unapologetic, truthful, and very easy to connect with.

Given I’ve read a gazoodle (a number more than ten and less than twenty) call-to-action books now, many of the subjects she covers have been tread upon before.  As with many of these autobiographical type writing books, she pulls from personal experiences to drive her agenda.  For me, it was an effective and entertaining read.

I will say that Lamott often makes it feel like writing is akin to having your skin peeled from your body while being whipped with lemon-soaked rags.  With that being said, if you are riding the euphoric waves of writing right now, you may feel slightly disconnected from the content of this book.  But eventually (and unfortunately) those waves are going to likely break and the riptides of self-doubt, jealousy, and self-loathing are going to start pulling on your ankles.  When that happens, this book might just be what you need to stay afloat.

The book is broken down into four main sections (1) Writing, (2) The Writing Frame of Mind, (3) Help Along the Way, and (4) Publication—And Other Reasons to Write.

Corey Truax.jpg

One of my photos from back in the day.  Marines carried rocks to build land bridges to allow vehicles to reach a village that had been destroyed by a mudslide in the Philippines in 2006. 

Personally, I really enjoyed her insights on publication.  My focus is often on pushing the product to publication, and I think we all have varying expectations when it comes to this.  Back when I was a military journalist, I can remember when a story I wrote was circulated globally for the first time.  News outlets from around the world began snatching up the story and publishing it.

Guess what though, no one really cared.  Network news didn’t email me and ask me to come work for them when I got out of the Navy.   Half of those places stripped my name from photos and the story and replaced it with, “Courtesy of U.S. Navy.”  The friends I grew up with didn’t start flooding my inbox with virtual congratulations.  Now, I can’t even find those news stories when I search for them online—I can only find the corresponding photographs I took to accompany them.  I tossed one on here for you all to check out.

That was my first taste of publication “glory” and it wasn’t the last time this would happen.  My expectations for my current works (Wastelander and the novella) are tapered by these experiences.  Books like, Bird by Bird, really force us to look at our current works with realistic expectations and understand the struggles we face as writers are struggles that are shared collectively.

question-markThat’s it for today.  If you are curious about some of the other writing books I have read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here.  I’m constantly eating my greens and I encourage you to do the same.  If you have a book recommendation, I would love to hear about it!  I’m always looking for more books to devour.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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