Posted On March 4, 2015 by Print This Post

Ditch the Craft Books and Write by Corrina Lawson

Please welcome back Corrina Lawson!

You don’t need a single craft book to learn writing.

It’s entirely possible to write a compelling story without ever picking up a book that teaches the craft of writing.

All that’s needed is to have read great books. Period.

I know, those who have gained so much by using craft books are looking at me sideways right now. I don’t wish to take those books from those who are helped by them.

But not all writers learn the same way.

Some writers learn by osmosis rather than craft advice. These writers learn by reading books they love over and over again. They read books with similar storytelling methods or they watch movies or television shows and subconsciously absorb that three act structure. The trick comes in applying that knowledge consciously.

For example, take flashbacks.

I have an unusual story structure in my new novel, Phoenix Inheritance. (Link: http://amzn.to/1vXdik9) I weave a reunion story in the present day with a flashback story detailing how my hero and heroine first fell in love. For the first two-thirds of the book, the story jumps between falling in love in the past and the problems in the present.

When I decided to use this structure, I didn’t read any advice on how to write flashbacks, though I did see a lot of advice that Corrina Lawsonflashbacks were the wrong way to write a story.

Instead, I re-read a book I loved that told a reunion story in the same manner, Donovan’s Promise by Dallas Schulze. (A great book, sweet and wonderful, with an older couple on the brink of divorce. Go read! Link: ( http://amzn.to/1Ep4gM4 )

I also watched several television showed that used flashbacks in a way I loved. This included the first season of Arrow, the first season of Lost, and all the seasons of Person of Interest. What I learned when studying these flashbacks is that even when the flashback scenes didn’t have a direct parallel to the present-day scenes, they had a thematic parallel.

The entire first season of Arrow in the present is about Oliver rediscovering his life and coming out of PTSD. The flashbacks show how young, naïve Oliver turned into the taciturn, dangerous and haunted man who showed up after missing for three years. At the end of the season, present-day Ollie has learned to live again, while past Ollie has begun his descent into darkness.

The flashback episode that deals with Locke’s past in the first season of Lost is perhaps one of the best hours of television ever. Scenes with Locke in the past as a loser are interspersed with present-day Locke, a leader among the crash survivors. We see past Locke try to change his life by taking a journey, only at the end to be let down hard because it’s not possible. Why? The reveal in the past is that this man savors life is confined to a wheelchair. In the present, we see a cured Locke, renewed, invigorated, as the camera pans to reveal his broken wheelchair. The two stories meld and connect to form a great whole.

And in Person of Interest, the flashbacks serve to give the Machine a narrative voice that it would otherwise lack. Sure, the flashbacks show the pasts of Finch, Reese and others but as the show builds to the brilliance of this year, it’s also clear that the flashbacks are the Machine’s story and without understanding that, the present day events make less sense.

I didn’t need a book to come to these conclusions and apply them to Daz and Renee’s story in Phoenix Inheritance. All I needed was the ability to ask why the flashbacks worked and sort out how I could use the same methods in my own work. I concluded that I needed scenes in my flashbacks that related thematically to the present day scenes. I also needed flashbacks that, at some point, would connect to make a whole with the present day story. And I needed hints of yet another story being told underneath it all, like the one featuring the Machine.

I also learned what not to do from watching bad flashbacks. The current season of Arrow only uses flashbacks to fill it bits and pieces of backstory that are missing. That makes them boring and without resonance.

Try it yourself. For example, say you want to learn the craft of writing romantic suspense.

Put the craft books down and read a pile of successful romantic suspense novels instead. Pick out the ones you love. Sort out what they have in common: is it characters? Pacing? Worldbuilding? How do they handle description? Fight scenes? Take them apart sentence by sentence and figure out why they work, if that’s what it takes.

When you’re done, you’ll have learned by osmosis how to write. Craft books need not apply.

What books/movies/shows have influenced your writing?

***

Phoenix InheritancePHOENIX INHERITANCE – To save their son, they might have to sacrifice their love—and their lives.

Phoenix Institute, Book 4

Ex-Navy SEAL Daz Montoya and rescue dog handler Renee Black have made a career out of saving people. But when their whirlwind affair resulted in pregnancy, Daz’s verbal fumble tore their budding relationship apart.

It’s been a tough eight years for Renee, raising Charlie alone with his autism-fueled impulsiveness, but she’s managed—until now. When she has to chase him to the edge of a cliff in a snowstorm, seeing the face of their rescuer is just the rotten cherry on top of an already rough day.

In the close confines of a snowbound cabin, Renee and Daz rediscover the heat still simmering between them. But while Renee welcomes Daz’s renewed determination to help Charlie however he can, she’s reluctant to trust him with her heart.

With the Phoenix Institute’s help, Renee and Daz discover their son’s gift for animal telepathy is real. And that to save him from old enemies that would kill to control him, they must join forces—and risk losing everything they’ve ever loved.

Warning: This novel contains explicit reunion sex and characters used to mixing a little danger in with their romance.

***

Bio: Corrina Lawson is a former newspaper reporter with a degree in journalism from Boston University. A mom of four, she now works from home writing romance novels with a geeky twist and as the Content Director and co-founder of GeekMom.com.

Her novels include The Curse of the Brimstone Contract, a romantic steampunk mystery; the alternate history Seneca series: Freya’s Gift, Dinah of Seneca and Eagle of Seneca; and the superhero romance Phoenix Institute series: Phoenix Rising, Luminous, Phoenix Legacy and the upcoming Ghost Phoenix, Ghosts of Christmas Past, and Phoenix Inheritance.

She’s also is the co-writer of GeekMom Book: Projects, Tips and Adventures for Moms and Their 21st Century Families.

To learn more about Corrina, visit her website or connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

***

What’s next? Author Christina Hollis joins us on Friday, March 6th.

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11 Responses to “Ditch the Craft Books and Write by Corrina Lawson”

  1. Excellent advice! I wrote fan fiction for most of my teens, just drawing from the mountains of adventure books and literature I had read. Then I started working toward publication, and read craft books. Threw me for a loop, made me afraid to write. Then slowly I realized that I already knew this stuff. This was confirmed when I wrote urban fantasy, and consumed the entire Dresden series by Butcher. I learned more about craft than I ever had from craft books.

    To each their own learning style, of course. But learning by example is easier for me than learning by theory. 🙂

    Posted by Kessie | March 4, 2015, 7:43 am
  2. Morning Corrina!

    I adore craft books..they decorate a ton of my shelves. Unfortunately, I rarely read them, assuming all the material inside is coming into my brain by osmosis. =)

    Not so much.

    I do feel I’ve learned a lot by reading other authors, but I always have to read the book once or twice for pleasure before I can start to dissect it. One of my favorite movies to watch is Romancing the Stone…a true classic for the romance novel layout!

    thanks for a great post!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | March 4, 2015, 8:36 am
  3. Thanks for the kind words, Carrie, Kessie!

    I have a love/hate relationship with craft books. I like sitting in class learning. For instance, I loved Michael Hague’s workshop at National a couple of years ago. But I never bought his book and I once tried “Story” and it completely froze my writing brain.

    Whatever works to keep writing, do that. Whatever freezes you and prevents words on the page, chuck that.

    I wrote this because, so often, we writers seems to think we need the craft books and some writers just don’t. There’s a scene in one of my favorite books, A Civil Campaign, and when my writing group discussed it, someone pointed out that the subplots were separate until that moment, and after that scene, they were all connected to the main plot. Whoa. Neat authorial trick. I had a chance to ask Bujold about that and she basically hadn’t noticed–she’d set the plotting up instinctively.

    Writers, it’s totally okay to trust your instincts! 🙂

    Posted by Corrina | March 4, 2015, 9:56 am
  4. You’ve echoed my own experience, Corrina. I wrote my first novel without having read a single craft book. My story flowed in a three-act structure that seemed to come naturally to me. But then, I’m an avid reader; have been all my life. Subconsciously, I’d absorbed the best aspects of writing from all the wonderful books I’d read. Then when I started attending writers conferences we were encouraged to study the craft first, and only after begin to write. Yet what those books stressed, I was already doing. And like Kessie’s comment above, they confused me and badly affected my confidence. I decided to follow my instincts instead and ditched them. Occasionally I will peruse a few writing articles (like Romance University, which is brilliant), but nothing replaces learning from the best – a damn good book.

    Posted by Tima Maria Lacoba | March 4, 2015, 5:29 pm
    • The first romance writer I met online never read any craft books. Another, Jenny Crusie, taught craft off the top of her head.

      It all depends on your process. But I feel awful for people who have an instinctive grasp of some things being thrown when they’re told “study craft.”

      Well, they have already! 🙂

      Posted by Corrina | March 19, 2015, 10:30 am
  5. Sorry I’m late to the party. Just got home after a busy day…

    I didn’t pick up a craft book when I frist started writing. I used what I loved in books written by my favourite authors.

    Unfortunately, my formula broke all the rules of romance I found out much later, such as cheating, h/h jumping into bed with others after they’d gotten together, smoking pot, snorting cocaine, an dother unadmirable traits. 🙁

    So maybe craft books do help? Or maybe it was just my terrible writing that got me rejected time after time LOL.

    I do find online writing workshops did help me, but sometimes they “block” my writing. I’m so busy thinking of all the “rules” that the fun I had when I first began writing vanishes.

    Any advice would help.

    Posted by Mercy | March 4, 2015, 8:03 pm
    • I don’t think craft books will teach you what plot elements seem acceptable to a particular genre audience. Only reading lots of books like the one you want to write might give you an idea what those readers look for.

      However, it’s okay to use craft books and take classes! I just finished Angela James’ BeforeYouHitSend class and loved her practical approach to fixing a lot of common writing mistakes–some of which I still make.

      I tend to write in layers. First draft, get the character arcs, plot down. Second draft, flesh that out. Third draft, start micro-editing, etc. That helps me finish without getting stuck.

      Posted by Corrina | March 19, 2015, 10:33 am
  6. Hi Corrina,

    I own quite a few craft books, but you’re right about following your own instincts. My writer brain is always on, so I can’t just watch a movie or a tv show without mentally deconstructing every scene. The Gilmore Girls helped with snappy dialogue and series like Downton Abbey and The House of Cards are great examples of pacing and weaving multiple story lines.

    Thanks for blogging with us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | March 4, 2015, 9:25 pm
  7. I use both methods of writing but my latest short story is based on a movie, Autumn Leaves. The story is different from the movie but the gist of it remains.

    I’ve used mostly article found online but recently downloaded a craft book published in 1915.

    Posted by Annette Taylor | March 6, 2015, 11:50 am
  8. Oh man, does this ever hit home with me! Great post – I bookmarked it. Sorry I’m late commenting! I had company this week and wasn’t online much.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | March 8, 2015, 11:30 pm

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