Monthly Archives: September 2015

Writing books – Writing Faster FTW

2015-09-30 07.39.45Writing Faster FTW is written by L.A. Witt and Lauren Gallagher. FTW means For The Win, for those who haven’t come across it before. This is a short book, available only in ebook format, and offers to give you ways to remove barriers and make your writing process more effective and productive. It’s fairly cheap, current price £1.26, and my copy was obtained when they ran a free promotion.


I’ve read a few other books on writing faster or more productively, and while this one has lots of good advice, I don’t feel that it covers as much as I would like in terms of maintaining quality and maximising small pockets of time.


What it does cover:

  • Not all writing advice is applicable to all writers; if it works for you, follow it.
  • It is perfectly possible to write fast and efficiently.
  • You need to step away from distractions and overcome self-doubt.

It also gives practical advice on outlining, writing out of sequence, writing with a co-author and researching efficiently, as well as avoiding burnout. These tips are likely to lead to increased productivity, but the rest is more or less common sense.


In the end, this book seems to be full of practical advice that any writer who is serious about their craft needs to take on board but in the main should already be aware of. Writing means writing, not writing about writing, not tweeting about writing, not complaining about how hard it is to write, not watching TV while complaining there’s no time to write. Dare I add to this list: not reading books about how to write more. There is a place for such books, of course, but the single best thing you can do to improve your writing productivity is to write.


Writing books – The Story Grid

2015-09-23 10.37.53The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne is subtitled What Good Editors Know. This is another book that looks in detail at story structure, but from a different angle than the Blueprint your Bestseller that I looked at previously.


Coyne looks at two ways of analysing a book: the Foolscap Global Story Grid breaks a book down into its essential components, as a check that the basic structure is sound and clear, while the Story Grid Spreadsheet looks at each scene in more detail, recording the change in mood, turning point, length of scene, POV and other aspects. Both these sections take Silence of the Lambs as a reference point, analysing it in depth and applying the methods to the text.  I found this a little irritating, as it has been many years since I read the book and I’m not sure I ever saw the movie, so my lack of familiarity with the sample text made these parts a little harder to follow.


However, what I did find very useful with this book is the in-depth look at genre, both in the sense of genre fiction and in the sense that every book falls into a specific category of book. Each genre has its own rules and conventions, and these are laid out for some genres at least in great detail. This came to mind recently when I read a thriller that did not follow those conventions, and I did indeed find that it fell flat because of this.


Story arcs are also looked at in depth, with the arch-plot, the mini-plot and the anti-plot discussed in detail, as well as the interplay of external and internal content genres.


Most or all of the material is available online, at, and I would suggest that before considering buying the book you take a good look at the website and the resources there. You can see a summary of the techniques used on the resources page. The paperback book is rather expensive, at £25, while the kindle book at just under £5 is better value, but I found it a struggle to view some of the images, especially on a kindle device, which doesn’t have the same facility as an iPad to zoom in on images. However, it is useful to have the text all in one place for easy access.


There is a lot of useful material in this book, and it is well worth looking through. It emphasises the necessity of knowing the rules in order to break them deliberately if you feel appropriate, rather than ploughing on without understanding them in the first place, and the fact that understanding your genre is essential to producing a strong book. The grid is a good way of checking that every part of your story is strong, while the foolscap method is a good check that the overall arc is clear. Both techniques together will tighten up your writing and reduce flabbiness that fails to drive the story forward. This is not a book for the writer just starting out, but if you’re nearing the point of thinking about seeking publication in some way then this would be very useful. It would also be useful for any beta reader to bear in mind, although there is always the fear that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and I would hate to see anyone applying these rules rigidly without understanding why they exist or when they may be broken (a bit like the rules of writing itself, in fact!).


Writing books – The Emotion Thesaurus and others

2015-09-16 09.40.42The Emotion Thesaurus is one of a collection of books by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, the others being The Positive Trait Thesaurus, The Negative Trait Thesaurus and Emotion Amplifiers. The first three are available in paperback or kindle versions; the last is a free, small kindle-only volume, and works as a good introduction to the others.


The Emotion Thesaurus contains 75 emotion entries, ranging from adoration through nostalgia to worry. Each entry includes a definition (for example, Terror: a state of extreme fear), a long list of physical signals (ranging from images like flaring nostrils to behaviours like spinning around, trying to spot any and all danger), internal sensations (weak legs), mental responses (risk taking), cues of acute or long-term terror (insomnia, hallucinations), indications of how that emotion may escalate (paranoia, rage), cues of that emotion being suppressed and writer’s tips. Each of the entries offers a couple of pages of words and phrases. In the kindle version, there is a handy link back to the table of contents, as this is not the sort of book to be read linearly.


The book also contains general advice on writing emotions, and a guide to using the contents of the thesaurus.


The Positive Trait Thesaurus and the Negative Trait Thesaurus are on similar lines. A guide at the front of the book gives guidance on creating believable, rounded characters. Then the main thesaurus lists different attributes, A definition is included, a guide to similar flaws/attributes, possible causes, associated behaviours and attitudes, associated thoughts, associated emotions, positive aspects, negative aspects, examples from film, overcoming this trait as a major flaw, and traits in supporting characters that may cause conflict. There is a wide range of traits included, with several under each letter of the alphabet. Smallest category is XYZ, containing only Zealousy, while several letters contain more than twenty entries.


The free Emotion Amplifiers book is much briefer, but covers topics including addiction, attraction, boredom, hunger, illness, pain and stress, plus a sample of the other books in the series.


These books are ideal for any writer who is seeking to widen the range of emotional description, covering multiple suggestions for describing just about any characteristic or emotional state you could think of. The Positive Traits and Negative Traits book would also be invaluable in the creation of rounded characters, whether you want to create a flawed hero or a well-rounded bad guy. While I found the paperback versions a little expensive, there’s no doubt that the physical book would be useful. However, the link to the index at the end of each chapter makes the kindle version perfectly valid as an alternative.




Writing books – Thanks, but this isn’t for us

2015-09-08 14.46.48While the previous writing-related books I’ve reviewed have been suitable for any active writer, this one isn’t for the faint-hearted! I would definitely suggest that Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us by Jessica Page Morrell, subtitled A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing Is Being Rejected, is aimed at the more confident, polished writer who is nearing the point of either seeking an agent or publisher or getting ready to hit the self-publish button.


Written by a developmental editor who claims to have been called the Angel of Death by a critique group she ran, this book goes through all the common problems she sees in manuscripts. For each category she looks at, such as first impressions, she gives a detailed explanation of that aspect, why it is important and what it needs to include. She breaks down the categories of what she sees as the dealbreakers (dud prologues, trying too hard, not enough happening, too much happening), all with detailed explanations of how and why they are a problem, and then gives options for improving that aspect (dialogue, anecdote, suspense, theme, setting). Examples are given from published works and from novels she’s come across that have problems (heavily disguised so as not to embarrass anyone!). Each chapter concludes with exercises and tips for your own work, and a list of further resources.


The fourteen chapters include first impressions, plot, style and language, conflict, avoiding dialogue disasters, characters and writing memoirs. The final chapter is entitled Driving an Editor Crazy: Goofs, Gaffes and Howlers That Sink a Manuscript (dippy and oddball names, creepy sex scenes, fact checker breakdown, head hopping, inconsistent voice…).


There is also an epilogue that covers living the writer’s life, with tips and advice on how to make writing more than just a hobby. The first section, entitled Toughen Up, maybe should have been at the front! The book concludes with a glossary of relevant words – “The lingo of writing; The lingo of publishing” – which covers relevant words or phrases, such as crucible, inciting action, subtext, earn out, imprint, remaindered; all the vocabulary that the author wants to be able to use intelligently in discussions about their craft – or rather about their business, because this really is the attitude that the author is expecting from her readers.


There is a lot of valuable material in here, to the extent that I feel it would be off-putting to the writer who is relatively new to the craft. The author really does not pull her punches, and is almost intimidating in her fervour (“If I sound like a badass on these pages, keep in mind that I’m a pussycat compared to the suits in the publishing world. You know, the folks who send out the rejection letters.”). However, close reading and analysis would probably help any writer on the cusp of publishing standard to figure out any remaining problems and tidy things up.


If you’re putting your first novel together, then there are plenty of other books out there to hold your hand and guide you gently. If you’re submitting and not getting the results you want, or are about to take that first step of sending your work out to find a publisher, then this book would be a very useful addition to your library. If you’re self-publishing, then the responsibility to make sure your work is of publishable standard rests on your shoulders.


The interior of the book is clearly laid out, with clear headings and subheadings. Checklists are included for your own work. The writing style is clear and to the point. I love the simple but effective cover design on the paperback, and at just under 350 pages it’s a fair-sized book. The kindle version isn’t much cheaper than the paperback, and in this case, as in most writing books, I’d definitely recommend getting the paperback version.


Writing books – Writing Active Hooks Book 1: Action, Emotion, Surprise and more

2015-09-02 10.44.32This is one of a series of books by Mary Buckham. She has books on writing active hooks, and writing active settings, and I think I’ll be working my way through them. This one is on Active Hooks, covering action, emotion, surprise and raising questions, with mentions of other types of hooks (book 2 in the series includes unique character hooks and foreshadowing among its topics, as well as placement of hooks). This book is only available as kindle version, costing around the same as a posh coffee, although I note that there is an omnibus edition available of the Active Settings series, with the Active Hooks as a bonus, in both ebook and paperback format, and I’m very tempted.


Hooks are “tools to engage readers and keep them engaged”, and the examples include ideas on how to control the tension within the hook, depending on what genre you’re writing in.


Each hook is introduced clearly, with each chapter including examples from popular fiction, plus worked examples where a simple sentence is enhanced to include a hook, or a variety of hooks, that pull the reader forward and make them want to read more. There are then practical assignments, such as going into a book shop, to a shelf you don’t normally read from, and picking up books at random to read their opening sentence.


This isn’t a particularly long book, but it provides a lot of detail on a specific topic, and is worth a look at if you feel your writing needs a little more jazz. As it’s a short ebook, it’s ideal to have on your phone app for those moments you’re out and about and need something to read. By itself, it’s not going to have a major effect on your writing, but if you’re at the stage where you’re confident on the basics of plot and setting and just want that extra oomph that will pull the readers along, then this would be well worth considering.