The advice to read craft books is a good one. Writing has many layers, from the nebulous theme of your story, right down to the use of the oxford comma, and squashed in between are even more vital components for a soul-stirring read; plot, dialogue, setting, point of view, voice, literary techniques…. Every writer is born with some of these elements programmed into their innate abilities, but not all of them. We all have some part of writing that we can upgrade. I believe it’s what our readers deserve.
Craft books allow us to discover the ingredients we hadn’t considered and tighten the factors we’ve recognised aren’t our strength. What’s more, it can be extremely validating to read a piece of writing advice and realise that you’re already doing it. Craft books are a valuable component of reaching your writing success dreams—writing a bloody good book.
The issue is that in the booming publishing industry, there’s more choice than time. We want our self-help efforts to be targeted and well spent so we can get back to writing better and better books. I know I don’t have time to read all of the writing guides out there, nor do I want to, because the reality is, not all writing guides are created equal.
So if I come across a good one, I like to recommend it. Your time is just as precious as mine, and if we can spend it proactively and productively, we both win, and so do our readers. Which leads me to the non-fiction gem I just finished. Donald Maas obviously has spent his career immersed in writers capacity to capture the human condition, and has come up with a book full of wonderfully written advice and useful exercises to aid future writers in achieving just that.
Here’s why I think The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface is one of the books you should use to take your writing to the next level:
- Donald has worked in the publishing industry for a very long time, and it shows. His grasp of literature, including the many examples he cites throughout the book, moves us and stays with us. It’s impressive and motivating—you realise he gets why story matters.
- It’s full of golden nuggets of wisdom. You can explore the difference between tension and energy, the true difference between showing (outer mode) and telling (inner mode), plotting the non-plot driven novel, and why readers really fall in love with protagonists.
- It’s written masterfully, eloquently and insightfully. Donald is my new hero when it comes to articulating humanity’s diversity and complexity, but also our shared experiences and commonalities. You gain insight into yourself as a writer, but also what readers are seeking from your stories.
“Writing a novel is itself an emotional journey akin to falling gin love, living together, hating each other, separating, reconciling, gaining perspective, accepting each other, and finally finding deep and abiding love. Writing fiction is like living.”
- Donald understands the complementary relationship between a writer and a reader, the challenge of connecting them, and after each sub-heading, provides valuable exercises on how to join those elusive dots.
“When you illuminate the meaning of everything, you can do anything. You can deliver dry facts and make them matter. You can tie together the narrative that spans decades or lifetimes. You can make poetry out of doing the dishes. Anything you put on the page becomes charged with electricity because it’s telling the story that your plot doesn’t. It’s telling the universal story of human growth and change.”
- The final chapter focuses on the writer’s emotional journey, an essential counterpoint to the reader’s emotional rollercoaster that we seek to take them on. This chapter is truly inspiring, and a testament to Donald’s belief and faith in the human spirit. I’ve never read a writing craft book that encourages a writer to be magnanimous!
“Heart is a quality inherent not in a manuscript but in its author. It is not a skill, but a spirit. Spirit may seem mystical, but it’s not an accident. It can be cultivated and practiced. Every day it can seep into the story choices you make. The spirit you bring is the spirit we’ll feel as we read, and of all the feeling you can excite in your readers the most gripping and beautiful is the spirit of hope.”
What do you think? Have you read The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface? Can you see it complementing the writing tools you’ve already assembled? Comments and feedback are always appreciated. Connecting with others is why I write. You can comment below, or connect with me on Facebook, or Twitter.
Have a wonderful week,
You can check it out here and decide for yourself 🙂