(This was meant to be my currently reading list, but as the last two books have been A-grade books I just wrote mini-reviews instead.)
The Writer’s Journey – Christopher Vogler
I found this book to be extremely interesting and useful while I try to figure out the plot and narrative for my own book (in part for my uni course as well). It was serendipitous to note how many points he suggested to create new scenarios and obstacles for my characters were things that I’d already come up with but without the understanding of where and when to place them.
The book is based off Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero with a Thousand Faces’ and it does heavily reference films, as it is a source for beginning scriptwriters. However, it is not without merit for any other kind of writer as well. Vogler has provided a movable list of ideas that can be plot markers within a story to help propel it to the next act or chapter. Often a writer can get very stilted in a myriad of ideas without being sure which thread is the best for the plot, not necessarily for the characters, this book has helped me to move past my uncertainties and realise I know where the characters need to go next, it’s just up to me to write them getting there.
I could talk endlessly about this book, but I won’t. There are some low-star reviews on goodreads for it, I understand some feel it’s a ripped-off, dumbed-down version of Campbell’s book, but depending on what you’re looking for the book to give you, you’ll probably find it. It’s not a quick-fix manual, nor is it a cheat-sheet in writing a bestseller, Vogler is completely aware that many of his suggested steps aren’t needed or can go in virtually any order, plus rules are made to be broken. For me, this book was about giving me ideas, supporting my ideas I already had, and helping me find the thread I wanted to follow will still paying some heed to Classical narratives.
Still recommend this book!
On Writing – Stephen King
I love this book so much, I bought it TWICE!
I have the hardback copy, somewhere and I read about a third of it a few years ago, but still in the throes of uni I put it down and moved house too many times to remember where it was. Alas, I bought a new version on kindle, simply because I’ve gone too long on my current course without being able to quote from it. And oh, is it worth the quotes!
There is something unassuming about Stephen King, when you read his fiction you might imagine a dark, brooding figure, deliberately hiding himself from the outside world; pondering on his dark thoughts and making a conscious effort to scramble his readers brains, but he’s not. He’s an ordinary guy who worked his arse off to get to be one of the greatest writers of our generation. He talks candidly about how writing was always a part of his life, as a child, and beyond, but the need to provide financially for his young family meant he had to get a ‘real job’ as an English teacher. He doesn’t diminish this career path at all, nor talks about it interfering in anything – it was a pretty great job at the time – the problem (and his wake up call) was that he could quite easily pass thirty years away being a high school English teacher, all the while having that unfinished manuscript in his bottom desk drawer – like almost every other high school English teacher. The thought scared him into action, and from it came Carrie. Mixed influences from 70s sci-fi, telekinesis, tragic young suicides and tragic young misfits from his own school days, and a time working in a girls bathroom and noticing the tampon dispenser all eventually blended together to form Carrie… Eventually bringing in an advance of around $400,000, hundreds of times more than his yearly teaching salary of around $6,000.
He is clear that it was never about the money. It was about the fundamental human need to create something, and a compulsion that went deeper than everything but absorbed everything. (He mentions ‘The Shining’ and not realising that the alcoholic writer was probably himself.) He doesn’t hold back from much, he is straight up about his addictions and how they developed and to his point of seeking help. He cares greatly for his family and loves his wife without the macho concealment others use under the pretence of privacy. He cares about writing – not the bravado, not the accolades – but that writing as a skill that can be developed, if you take the time to work at it.
The best part of all is that he doesn’t plot. He rarely ever has, and feels in the times where he did, the narrative was more contrived and less spontaneous. I love this admission! This is where I started to breathe more easily, having taken one too many literature classes and a Modernism class where we discussed the superior intellect of Joyce, I became frozen and succumbed to writer’s block. How could I possibly write anything of interest when I couldn’t/didn’t want to spend an extra thousand hours weaving various literary themes and concepts through my story? Turns out Stephen King doesn’t, so neither do I. What he does suggest is many of these things will naturally appear in your work. He likens writing a novel to sculpting or excavating something which already exists. All the themes and plot are already there, it’s just a matter of how you pick it out of the soil. Therefore, his advice is upon reading the first draft, to make note of any recurring themes or motifs and to expand and flesh them out more in the second draft. Solid advice. Just get on with it, stop debating and pontificating. Just bloody write.
After all, you can’t edit a blank page.
Read this book because you’re interested in seeing the man behind the weird and fantastic, and for seeing how the writer saved the man.