The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)
By Jack M. Bickham
Published by Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, 1992.
I’ll bet you’re saying, “1992!! That book is too old to do me any good.” I disagree.
I first read The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes in 2005. I was brand new to writing for publication. I’d been at it about a year and wasn’t having much success. You see, I made a FEW of the mistakes Bickham talks about in this book.
As promised, Bickham BRIEFLY covers the top mistakes new writers make. For me it was a goldmine. Though I didn’t understand a lot of the material in the book at that time, it gave me a foundation – a reference point – for the skills I would need to develop. For me that was great.
I really like to know not only where I’m headed, but how I am going to get there.
The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes gave me a glimpse of my destination as a writer and the steps I would need to take in order to get there.
Now that I’ve been writing for publication twelve – yes, that’s 12 – years I know a little more than I did in 2005. I still have LOTS to learn. So, I find The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes helps me brush up, gives me a quick review of the skills I’m working on. This sort of kick-starts my memories of the stuff I’ve been learning from other books, conferences, workshops, courses, critiques, and reading books in my genre.
This little book will have a place ON MY SHELF for years to come.
I give it five highlighters.
By Tameka Fryer Brown. Illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb.
Published by Abrams in 2010.
Tameka Fryer Brown was one of my fellow-Mudskippers. We were jubilant to celebrate her first published picture book with her, Around Our Way on Neighbors’ Day.
I love the happy rhythm of the poetry in this book, and that the illustrations complement it beautifully with bright colors, bold strokes and lots of movement.
Around Our Way on Neighbors’ Day celebrates family and friendship in a noisy, busy urban neighborhood. The neighbors share games, music, friendly debates in the barber shop and a variety of ethnic dishes on Neighbor’s Day. It’s a bouncy, upbeat book that kindergartners and first graders love.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print
By Renni Browne and Dave King, Illustrated by George Booth
Published by Quill: Harper Collins in 1993.
In 2004, I was in an amazing critique group called the Mudskippers (For a 5 minute video about nature’s mudskippers click here.) As a group we Mudskippers read together and discussed a little book that has proven to be an invaluable resource for me year after year. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print.
At only 200 pocket-sized pages it seems slight. But every line of every page is packed with useful information.
I give this book 5 out of 5 highlighters.
Browne and King’s twelve chapters cover with clarity and precision key areas that every fiction writer needs to hone.
Incredible techniques for writing and critiquing fill every chapter.
Reading and re-reading Self-Editing made me aware of subtle characteristics that make writing great instead of good, and how to both identify and use those characteristics to elevate my writing to a higher level – a publishable level.
Probably the most useful thing I absorbed from Browne and King’s Self-Editing is something I use every time I write, revise, re-write or critique.
RESIST THE URGE TO EXPLAIN.
Assume that your reader is intelligent and can figure some things out for her/himself.
I have a long way to go as a writer. But Self-Editing has brought me a long way from my first attempts. I believe that putting into practice the fundamentals in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers has transformed much of my writing from ordinary to something special.
And that something special is what agents, editors and readers are looking for.
As I write picture book manuscripts I keep in mind that I want to create opportunities for young children and the adults who love them to snuggle up in a comfy chair, at a picnic table, in a car during a long trip, or under a quilt at bedtime to read and experience the story together. I know that publishers design picture books to appeal to both young children and adults.
Some picture books appeal more to children, I think. Those seem to be the ones that they beg us to read aloud again and again until the covers fall off and pages go missing.
However, some of the picture books I cherish, in my opinion, appeal more to the adult than the child. When I find a book like that I simply MUST buy it and read it again and again to my grandchildren, and to myself. Those that I own all seem to be based on a deeply personal experience in the author’s life.
In my opinion they are also books that authors have earned the right to have published. How? I think through long careers of writing successful books, and by having consistent sales figures over those long careers. I also suspect they are the books that come from deep in the authors’ hearts.
I’ve collected a few of those books. We may come back to visit each one later. Meanwhile, I’ll list them below so that you might read them and learn from them. Study them. Dissect them. Figure out why they appeal to readers of all ages.
At this time ON MY SHELF I have the following cherished books.
The Christmas Tree Ship by Carol Crane. Illustrated by Chris Ellison. Published by Sleeping Bear Press in 2011.
Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. Illustrated by Sheila McGraw. Published by Firefly Books in 1986 and again for 59 printings. My copy was published in 1999.
Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Published by Candlewick Press in 2007.
The Old Woman Who Named Things written by Cynthia Rylant. Illustrated by Kathryn Brown. Published by Voyager Books (Harcourt) in 1996.
Loon Summer written by Barbara Santucci. Illustrated by Andrea Shine. Published by Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers in 2001.
Papa’s Gift written by Kathleen Long Bostrom. Illustrated by Guy Porfirio. Published by ZonderKids in 2007.
Firefly Mountain written by Patricia Thomas. Illustrated by Peter Sylvada. Published by Peachtree Publishers in 2007.
Crow Call written by Lois Lowry. Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Published by Scholastic Press in 2009.
I hope you’ll enjoy them, too. If you read any of them, PLEASE come back and comment here about the reasons you did or didn’t like the book.
Creating Characters Kids Will Love by Elaine Marie Alphin (http://elainealphin.blogspot.com/)
Published by Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio. 2000.
“Kids read because a magical closeness springs up between them and the characters in books and stories…They read because a writer has brought a character to life on the page for them.” (Introduction to Creating Characters Kids Will Love)
This book makes a promise to inform me with specifics and techniques of creating characters I want my readers to identify with. And it DELIVERS!
I give it 5 out of 5 highlighters!
Each section of each chapter of each unit contains numerous recommendations for me to “Read the Pros” who have succeeded in using the principle or technique Alphin explained in that section. Reading just a few of the recommended books kept my library card white hot for months.
Each section also contains several writing exercises (dubbed “Try it Yourself”) specific to that principle or technique. I actually DID some of them and they helped.
Alphin divides her book into four sections:
I believe that ug what I learned in Creating Characters has elevated my skills at creating, developing and revealing memorable characters.
Two big things that I have applied to my writing are:
Though I am nowhere near perfecting these two skills, Creating Characters explained and detailed them in a way that I could put them to work in my own manuscripts.
In my home office I have a book case. Or two. Or three. Every shelf is crammed full of books. Paperbacks. Hardbacks. Picture books. YAs. Novels. And loads of nonfiction titles.
It’s probably a familiar sight for you readers and writers.
On the top shelf of the tallest book case are my books about writing and creativity. It’s bulging. Books stand upright, lay on their sides, lean into each other. And they are two-deep.
Every time I attend a writers conference I purchase at least one book about and/or for writers. It may take me a year to get around to reading it, but I keep buying them.
Writers are readers, we all know.
I want to share some of those books with you. My plan for “On My Shelf” is to post every Tuesday and Friday. On Tuesdays I’ll summarize one of my books for writers, and share with you how I use it, or how it impacted me as a writer.
On Fridays I’ll share with you my love of picture books and board books. I have stacks of them all over my house. Again, I’ll share what I love about each particular book and, hopefully, how it helps me to become a better writer of picture books. IF YOU HAVE A PICTURE BOOK YOU WOULD LIKE FOR ME TO FEATURE, PLEASE EMAIL ME AT email@example.com.
I hope the posts will enlighten and encourage you so that you’ll share them with your friends and associates.
See you soon!
That’s all it takes to get a blog up and running — IF you’re as technologically challenged as I am!