The Worlds of R. A. Hortz
Writing Fiction & Imaginative Writing
How does a novice writer begin learning the craft of writing?
By Harry S. Chou - February 18, 2015
Every beginner writer needs to start somewhere. Usually this means simply taking pen to paper and letting the words roll forth. However, very few people have the innate talent to take up a blank piece of paper and scribble out a masterpiece on the first go. Rather, learning how to craft compelling stories takes practice and a fair amount of learning - both in terms of the mastery of the language you are writing in, and in terms of learning the fundamental techniques required to master the craft. There are three main avenues to achieve this goal. 1) Write every day. 2) Read everything you can get your hands on. Read in the genre you want to write in, read history books, read the newspaper, read great works of literature, read some pulp fiction, read the backs of cereal boxes - read everything. By reading the works of others you will begin to internalize how stories work. 3) Study - Take a course in basic grammar, take a writing course, read books on how to write, and incorporate what you learn in your writing. Learning how to write is a skill that can be learned - but you have to work at it.
The problem for many beginning writers is that when it comes to beginning their education as writer, they are at a loss as to where to start. There are thousands of 'how-to-write' books on the markets, thousands of courses/teachers/and groups claiming that they can teach you to write, and while pursing an MFA degree in writing has been the path to success for some, for most it has just led to jobs teaching writing. So where to begin?
First, be patient. Rome was not built in a day and your writing career is unlikely to spring up full-formed overnight. In addition to writing every day, I recommend that you start out with a book like, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft (9e), by Janet Burroway, Ned Stuckey-French, and Elizabeth Stuckey-French. I've heard that this is the most common book used in college-level introductory creative writing courses, and I can see why. This book provides an overview of the basics of creative writing from how to start writing and as important, how to keep writing. It also explores the main techniques that every writer has to master such as using dialogue effectively and creating a sense of place. The book also doesn't stop there. Burroway also offers advice on how to revise your work. In short, she provides a comprehensive overview on the entire writing process, along with exercises that will enhance your understanding of the material and spur on your creativity. Throughout the authors have included excerpts from works that highlight the various points they are examining. If you go hunting for a copy of this book, don't panic when you see the price. The ninth edition of this paperback is currently selling for somewhere around US$ 85-90, new. If you do not need this book for a course, check out the earlier editions. From the sixth edition back, you should be able to get a used copy for around US$ 5 or less if you buy online, and possibly cheaper if you have a used bookstore near you. Also, don't forget to check out your local library! The only real differences that I can see among the ninth edition and the earlier editions are the prices, the selection of stories in the various editions various a bit, and some of the chapters get shuffled around from time to time.
In addition, you may also want to check out Burroway's book, Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft, 4e. This is another academically geared textbook aimed at beginning writers. The two books are very similar in that in both, Burroway provides a solid overview of the art and craft of writing, and she provides an assortment of writing exercises and includes relevant writing examples from both contemporary and traditional sources. Imaginative Writing looks at all forms of creative writing from fiction to creative nonfiction, as well as drama and poetry. As with Writing Fiction, the newest edition of Imaginative Writing is on the pricey side, but you can get a used copy of an earlier edition for US$ 5 or less if you hunt around.
If you read, study, and work (i.e., write) your way through these two books you will emerge with a solid understanding and working knowledge of the fundamentals of writings - across a variety of genres. You will also have a better idea of what your weakness and strengths are, and therefore and idea of what areas you need to work on next to enhance your writing skills. Good luck on your writing endeavors!
Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight V. Swain.
A first class introduction on fiction writing that teaches you the techniques you need to know to craft saleable fiction.
Creative Writing: A Practical Guide, by Julia Casterton.
An invaluable reference guide that will help you to find the writer inside you and which discusses the fundamentals of writing poetry, short stories, dialogue, autobiography, and novels.
Story Craft, by Jack Hart.
The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction. An essential guide for anyone intersted in learning about and mastering the art of narrative nonfiction.
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