SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED


Somebody asked me recently to recommend a good book about writing fiction. I stopped for a moment and realized that most of the writing books on my shelves are actually aimed at screenwriters, not novelists. Why is that?

I love watching movies, sure, but I have no interest in writing one. (Although I did work on a movie set once, in the stale darkness of the condemned Gates factory. That place inspired me to write a very creepy fight sequence and car chase in my next book, Cold Million.) Hollywood is not the place for me. I’d be the guy they always pull over.

So why do I keep coming back to books like Story, Save the Cat, or Crafty TV Writing? I think it has to do with fundamental differences in approach between books about novel writing and books about screenplay writing.

When I write, I like to get physical: shuffle 3 x 5 cards, sharpen pencils, haul out a typewriter and start tapping away. And the same thing is true for me as far as literary theory goes. If I’m struggling with a story issue, I don’t want a book giving me lofty ideas and abstract concepts. Those are fine, but I want tried-and-true, step-by-step answers. I’m a nuts-and-bolts kind of writer. (Or maybe just nuts.) Screenplay books tend to take the latter approach, almost to a fault, structuring story in a solid framework that I can see and understand — and then spread out across my desk and dismantle.

Does that mean it’s superior to the more organic method you typically find in fiction how-to books? Not at all. But it is more visual, more utilitarian, and it’s something I can metaphorically rebuild and retool. It’s heavy duty storytelling.

Hey, works for me.

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