Saturday, April 30, 2016

Writing Tools - 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark

Book cover The focus of Writing Tools is more on the journalist than on the novel writer. Of course there is a lot of overlap, but some of the tools there may feel either not relevant or truly gold, since book writers would not write about them so easily.

Roy Peter Clark lists the 50 tools (55 if you have the revised edition) in four categories:
  • Nuts and Bolts - about the use of language: verbs, adverbs, phrase length, punctuation and so forth
  • Special Effects - various creative ideas that give inspiration and direction to writing
  • Blueprints - overall planning
  • Useful Habits - various solutions for common problems or for improvement
I will list the entire 50 entries at the end of the review.

What I liked about the book is that it is direct, to the point, listing the tools so that you can always pick up the book and refresh your memory on how to use them. Being so many, it is impossible to just skim through the book, unless you already know and employ most of the ideas there. I feel like I have to practice, practice, practice in order to absorb everything there is inside the material. It's not a huge thing, though, like something Kendall Haven might have written, but still it is packed with information.

I am unable to understand if the source material is still under copyright or maybe Clark made it available for free. The book is sold on Amazon, but you can also read it as PDF online or listen to it freely on iTunes.

Now, for a list of the tools, something that I have shamelessly stolen from another review, because I am lazy:
  • Part One: Nuts and Bolts
    • Begin sentences with subjects and verbs.
    • Order words for emphasis.
    • Activate your verbs.
    • Be passive-aggressive.
    • Watch those adverbs.
    • Take it easy on the -ings.
    • Fear not the long sentence.
    • Establish a pattern, then give it a twist.
    • Let punctuation control pace and space.
    • Cut big, then small.
  • Part Two: Special Effects
    • Prefer the simple over the technical.
    • Give key words their space.
    • Play with words, even in serious stories.
    • Get the name of the dog.
    • Pay attention to names.
    • Seek original images.
    • Riff on the creative language of others.
    • Set the pace with sentence length.
    • Vary the lengths of paragraphs.
    • Choose the number of elements with a purpose in mind.
    • Know when to back off and when to show off.
    • Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction.
    • Tune your voice.
  • Part Three: Blueprints
    • Work from a plan.
    • Learn the difference between reports and stories.
    • Use dialogue as a form of action.
    • Reveal traits of character.
    • Put odd and interesting things next to each other.
    • Foreshadow dramatic events and powerful conclusions.
    • To generate suspense, use internal cliffhangers.
    • Build your work around a key question.
    • Place gold coins along the path.
    • Repeat, repeat, and repeat.
    • Write from different cinematic angles.
    • Report and write for scenes.
    • Mix narrative modes.
    • In short works, don’t waste a syllable.
    • Prefer archetypes to stereotypes.
    • Write toward an ending.
  • Part Four: Useful Habits
    • Draft a mission statement for your work.
    • Turn procrastination into rehearsal.
    • Do your homework well in advance.
    • Read for both form and content.
    • Save string.
    • Break long projects into parts.
    • Take an interest in all crafts that support your work.
    • Recruit your own support group.
    • Limit self-criticism in early drafts.
    • Learn from your critics.
    • Own the tools of your craft.