“Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook” by Donald Maass. Get it. Love it. Live it.
Practical, effective, explains the reasons behind the do/don’ts to help you avoid not only common beginner mistakes but really polish what you’ve got to make it thrilling and meaningful.
My only issue with it was that I didn’t always agree that the examples were effective because some of the examples didn’t follow his own advice! He mentions being specific but in his pitch example he has vague “dangerous cargo” and something like ‘must make an important decision.’ Same with the first line/last line list… I thought it was a trick question, that he was giving ineffective lines and on the next page he would show some ways to transform them because I found them average at best. Admittedly, none were specificly sci-fi/fantasy and I’m a hugely biased geek for those genres so it may just be me. Still, I went to the bestseller shelf a few weeks ago, only a few were my genre, read the first paragraph of every book, was was much more captivated by what was there.
Additional writing resources
“The Fire in Fiction” by Donald Maass. An excellent guide to building tension, with (mostly) practical prompts at the end of each chapter. This is more than just a ‘do/don’t’ book. He shows you what works, explains why it works, and then goes a step further to show how and why breaking the rules can work equally well.
Absolute Write – This bottomless writing resource includes a plethora of articles in addition to a forum frequented by writers of all shapes and sizes (bestselling novelists, newbie screenwriters, freelancers, variety of genres).
A place to find competant beta readers and get your own reading material as well. I’ve found some seriously grade A stories, diamonds in the rough just needing some editing to make them shine…can’t wait to see them on the shelves (:
My writing ability has skyrocketed since critiqueing others. There’s just something about seeing ineffective techniques in someone else’s work that really clarifies them in your own. I had no idea how redundant I was being nor how confusing my fruit basket of characters was. It’s amazing to see someone’s work brighten as they edit…now it can be frustrating to read books from the library because I can’t tell the author how I feel or what I think might work better ;p
Plus it’s just nice to come to a community of writers after spending hours locked to no one but the keyboard.
Then there are, of course, good ol’ writing classes and workshops. I have to thank my English degree for something 😉