Booknotes: Favorite Writing How-to Books Part 6

[Note: When I began this series six months ago, I thought I would only focus on writing how-to books but that is no longer the case. I will probably leave the main title as is for now because I do intend to get back to featuring actual writing how-to books in the next few installments.]

Last month, I shared three free writing how-to resources in the form of podcasts. This month, let’s look at more free online resources — in the form of online blogs/websites.

While there are way too many blogs and websites out there related to almost every aspect of writing beyond just craft, I am listing below only those related to craft and only those which, over the years have been my frequent go-to sites. This is not to say I have not found other many useful ones through google searches or recommendations from other writer friends. But, well, sometimes, you get hooked on a particular kind of advice delivered in a particular kind of way, right?

Let me add one note of caution here because, given the sheer volume of writing-related advice out there, there is a wide range of quality too. Given where you might be in your own writing journey or what you might be looking for specifically at any given point in time, it may be best to use free online writing how-to advice as sparingly as possible.

1/ The Master’s Review Blog

While this is actually a literary magazine, they also have a pretty active blog. I particularly like their various features on short stories like ‘Stories That Teach‘.

I accidentally stumbled onto this blog when I was looking for some free Aimee Bender short stories online and found a quick analysis of her story, ‘The Rememberer’. Sadye Teiser, the editorial director, writes many of the blog posts, as she did this one. As a teacher of fiction, her analyses of short stories are deep, thorough, and insightful.

Many of the blog posts here are well worth bookmarking and rereading. Here’s a bit of the aforementioned story analysis by Sadye Teiser:

When we discussed “The Rememberer,” we identified the story’s inciting incident (the lover turns into an ape), plot points (for example: people call the house, asking where he is), and climax (the narrator decides to let her lover free in the ocean, before he disappears from her vision). But most of all, I wanted my students to know they could write about anything, real or unreal. I wanted to teach them that as long as they wrote with authority and had control over their own fictional worlds, there were no limits to the shapes and subjects their stories could take on.

2/ Litreactor Essays:

This website has something for every aspect of the writing journey and, I think, almost every genre too.

My focus is on the craft essays. Not all of these are free to read but there’s quite a treasure trove if you are willing to mine the archives carefully. In particular, Chuck Palahniuk has written many excellent essays here.

Here’s an excerpt from one of Palahniuk’s essays about how to bring a rhythm into your writing/narrative through the use of innovative conjunctive devices:

What I’m getting at, here… my point is… fiction is facing the same crisis that figurative painting faced when photography arrived. So many people know the skills for telling a clear, technically perfect story, essentially taking a photo. Our writing software corrects our grammar and spelling. By now we might even have programs that can construct bestselling books. My point is that fiction writers should abandon technically correct writing and experiment in the same way painters were forced to experiment in order to keep their medium relevant.

3/ Nieman Storyboard:

This is from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. It focuses on showcases narrative journalism and nonfiction storytelling but many of the essays and articles apply to other forms of creative writing as well.

There are some regular features/columns and my favorite is Story Craft. I particularly loved this post on Katherine Boo’s 15 rules for narrative nonfiction. And, of course, many of these also apply to creative fiction.

8) I don’t try to find simple characters.

“If you’re searching for a super-virtuous character, you’re denying … the infinite variety of the human condition,” Boo said. “When I select people to write about, I’m looking for individuals who don’t necessarily fit existing blueprints and whose choices and actions reveal the most about the societies they inhabit.” Boo also doesn’t believe in making herself a character in the story so that readers will have someone to identify with, as many of her editors have encouraged. “If you have this image of me constantly present, that distracts you from what’s going on,” she said.

There are many such amazing resources out there, of course, to help improve one’s writing craft. These are, at the present time, my favorites. I will share others as I find them. Do share yours if you’d like.

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