Guest blogger, Tracy Holczer concludes her series about writing “quiet books” and shares her recommendations for great reads.
Part 4 Sticking With It
I should probably start off by saying that the ideas in these last few posts aren’t gospel (nor are they new). All the ideas presented are a sort of goo that has come together from reading a million how-to books and attending workshops and classes. I found early on that the plot based how-to books didn’t help me as I could never fit my story ideas into those neat little boxes, so I had to create my own set of guidelines to get me through a book.
I feel that writing stories is an alchemy of sorts. A blend of muck and action and stakes and events all mixed together in this magic way. Because of this, I don’t believe stories come from the intellect, necessarily. I think they come from this deep down place that is always yearning. Yearning for love or acceptance or (fill in the blank). Then it’s the intellect that helps us shape our yearnings into a beginning, middle and end. We can filter our deepest longings into a character and have them face things we sometimes don’t have the courage to face.
There are so many things that have been left out of these posts – an economy of words that must be mastered, an ability to recognize when we go off the story path. We have to learn to trust ourselves and to share our words with other people. We have to bleed and scab over and bleed again. We must learn to kill our darlings.
I could go on forever, but I’ll end here. Read as many contemporary books you can get your hands on. Write down what made them work, what the story events are, where the turning points fall. Identify what is at stake. Write down what you loved.
Some of my favorites (but not a complete list by any means):
One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street – Joanne Rocklin
Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me – Nan Marino
Sparrow Road – Sheila O’Connor
Waiting for Normal – Leslie Connor
Shooting the Moon – Francis O’Rourk Dowell
Because of Winn Dixie, Tiger Rising – Kate DiCamillo
Bridge to Terebithia, Great Gilly Hopkins – Katherine Paterson
All Alone in the Universe – Lynne Rae Perkins
The Penderwicks – Jeanne Birdsall
Crooked Kind of Perfect – Linda Urban
Missing May – Cynthia Rylant
Mockingbird – Katheryn Erskine
Walk Two Moons – Sharon Creech
The Sky is Everywhere – Jandy Nelson
How to Save a Life, Story of a Girl – Sara Zarr
Pieces of Georgia – Jen Bryant
Skin Deep – E.M. Crane
Nothing but Ghosts – Beth Kephart
If you have trouble with plot based books:
From Where You Dream – Robert Olen Butler
That little girl in knee socks who liked to keep records of the weird things people did? She became a writer, of course. But her young life, and even her not so young life, was fraught with peril, both real and imagined. Start there. Start with yourself. Dig deep. Make your character shlump. Work through it. Then give the both of you a happy ending.