A Year in Books/Day 135: Writing Dramatic Nonfiction

  • Title: Writing Dramatic Nonfiction
  • Author: William Noble
  • Year Published: 2000 (Paul S. Eriksson, Publisher)
  • Year Purchased: Probably circa 2000 or 2001
  • Source: Unknown
  • About: It’s nice-and occasionally necessary-to be reminded of the fundamentals. Most of us know that only by understanding the rules are we capable of breaking free of them. After awhile, it is easy to forget the basics; when the basics have been forgotten, it is all too easy to drown in your own hollow virtuosity. Beautiful but empty. It is smart to have instructional books like Writing Dramatic Nonfiction as part of your professional arsenal. Even if  rarely consulted, their very existence on your shelf is helpful. Whenever I look at the reference section in my studio, I am reminded that writing is not all style and instinct; it is a trade, a profession, a chore. It requires labor, skill, stamina. It is hard, technical work. This particular book is middle-of-the-pack. It doesn’t contain revolutionary advice; it will not change your life. You likely won’t find yourself turning to it again and again, until the pages are wrinkled and dirty, but it is solid and workmanlike; it serves the purpose of making you think, logically and clearly, about constructing your nonfiction using the pacing, demands and artistry of fiction. Noble deconstructs some of the most powerful passages from the nonfiction writings of Hemingway, Dillard and Capote, among others. That is what makes it worth the cover price.
  • Motivation: Oh, I’ve no idea. I honestly don’t remember how this book came into my life (which is extremely rare). Whether by accident or design, it doesn’t really matter. I’m a professional writer so it only makes sense that I own books about writing.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page 30: “But the point is this: nonfiction or fiction, we can begin our conflict on the first page, and it will work just fine.”
  • Happiness Scale: 7

A Year in Books/Day 98: The Writer’s Home Companion

  • Title: The Writer’s Home Companion An Anthology of the World’s Best Writing Advice, from Keats to Kunitz
  • Edited and with an Introduction by: Joan Bolker, E D. D.
  • Year Published: 1997 (An Owl Book, Henry Holt and Company)
  • Year Purchased: 2001/2002
  • Source: Unknown
  • About: I revere books, both for what they contain and for what they symbolize. As a result, I can count on the fingers of one hand how many books I have ever highlighted passages in or written notes in the margin of, including textbooks. ‘The Writer’s Home Companion’ is one of the exceptions. Why? It contains so much stellar, spot-on advice for writers by writers. The kind of advice that you will actually heed and apply. The kind of advice that you probably already know, deep-down, but keep pushing away because that is the easy thing to do. The kind of advice that is at once remedial and advanced, that simultaneously disciplines and frees. The kind of advice that we all need to remember as we go about the task and joy that is writing.
  • Motivation: Who could resist practical advice by the likes of John Keats, Bernard Shaw, Ursula Le Guin and Natalie Goldberg all in the same volume? Not this girl.
  • Times Read: Countless
  • Random Excerpt/Page xi: “Writing is a solitary sport, but none of us can do it without good company at crucial moments. Most of the writers I’ve known are pulled and tugged between their wish for the quiet aloneness necessary for their work, and their longings for human connections. We write both to express ourselves and to be heard by others, but first we have to learn how to tolerate ourselves as we work at our writing. The authors of the pieces collected here share honestly, and often humorously, their thoughts and feelings about writing and the writer’s life, and can provide you with the good company you need to get on with your own work.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10

Fuel for My Jetpack, Mead for My Dragon

Doing the impossible is a lot harder than it sounds.

Being a science-fiction or fantasy writer is hard.  Wrestling with the hassle of plot, theme, character, setting, transition, voice, and deeply rooted psycho-sexual subtext is hard enough without having to deal with the added challenge of hanging the threads of your story from the rafters of disbelief in order to satisfy the demands of the genre.  As if these hurdles weren’t high enough, the problem of inspiration when it comes to thinking up a memorable and appropriately science-fictiony or fantastical-without-being-embarrassingly-flamboyant name for characters and exotic lands becomes even more frustrating when writer’s block insists on being a squatter in the house of ideas.

Fortunately, the Internet hosts a series of solutions to this problem in the form of name generators.  Name generators are applications that are programed to combine a number of different elements of vowel sounds, consonant constructions and a slew of other linguistic elements into new configurations that give you just the unearthly quality you need to sound authentic.

One of the first and best experiences I’ve had is with seventhsanctum.com, a website by Steven Savage featuring a particularly robust set of generators.  Not content to focus on names alone, the site enables the visitor to play with a number of different subjects, from character names to planet names, story ideas, character skills and even ideas for when good old cousin Writer’s Block stops in for a few days.

A quick click on Elf Names – described as “Names for both Tolkeinesque elves, Wild Elves, and general fantasy,” – opens up a page that requests the number of names desired (up to 25), a category field offering the choices of High Elves, Wild Elves or Full Names, and a generate button.  A selection of ten High Elf names renders thus:

Aderlusn Hammerfinder
Adsaar Smilefollower
Atagear Firewand
Atleid Lakemaker
Goglaal Prayerstealer
Ilburb Mercyblade
Ilolain Rainvoyager
Lorhaeg Dreamfletcher
Naratg Featherfollower
Otibnadr Hawkbrewer

Somewhere in there is my future pen name.  Or hotel-check-in alias.

           The names don’t always have to be exotic.  Utilizing information from the US Census, seventhsanctum.com’s Quick Name Generator can supply you with garden-variety appellations that can also be frustratingly difficult to come up with without sounding bland. Kristina Scott, Lily Cash, and Stefanie Hatfield would agree – were they real people.

           The site is a blessing for anyone looking for humor or inspiration in writing their story or bringing their role-playing game setting and characters to life.  It was put together with an obvious love for writing and creativity.  Not content to simply kitbash the English language and leave it at that, there are several links to other sites and features meant to aid the artist’s mind in advancing technique and even suggestions as to how to make forays into the world of getting paid to do what you love.

           So the next time you seethe with frustration when you find that somebody else preemptively stole your idea to name the dashing hero Han Solo or Aragorn, head on over to seventhsanctum.com to kick-start your creative slump, and find a doorway into a great community as well.