52 books in 52 weeks: Writing Fight Scenes – Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors

I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book nine.

Writing Fight Scenes: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors by Rayne Hall is the first in a series on writers’ craft* from the same author. It can also be found in the book bundle power pack 1.

First, one of my pet niggles: writers’ guides that claim to be on the craft of writing, yet are riddled with basic typos and editing mistakes. This is one of those – and the words “writer’s [sic] craft” are even part of the series title!

(*** personal opinion alert ***) I don’t know if the authors who continue to produce sloppy material are arrogant, ignorant or just plain lazy, or if perhaps I was just taught to have higher standards and basic pride in my own work. But it really, really narks me that if they can’t or won’t do it themselves, these people could at least be bothered to have someone else check over their work, preferably someone competent in basic English grammar.

Pet niggle over, this is actually quite a useful little book for anyone wanting to write fight scenes. It covers the basics in overview, and those who want to can go on to research their own chosen fight method in further detail elsewhere. The book is a good starting point.

There are no exercises, just easy to read, easy to digest snippets on weapons, words to use, blunders to avoid and historical information.

Throughout the book there are links to videos and pictures further illustrating the points made in the relevant chapters. I didn’t follow all of the links as many were no longer live, and as far as I can see from other reviews, this is largely the case (and the author does warn against this in the intro).

However, I found the words and advice were useful without the added support of the  videos.

Writing Fight Scenes: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors by Rayne Hall is available on Kindle for £3.15 (or $3.90) and in paperback for £7.22 (or $8.99).

*I’m using the term “writers” as plural, i.e. craft for writers, guides for writers. Therefore, the possessive apostrophe is also plural.

52 books in 52 weeks: Writing Your First Novel – a 60-minute masterclass

I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book eight.

Writing Your First Novel – a 60-minute masterclass by Shelley Weiner bills itself as the first book in the series, but I’m sure I’ve read and reviewed earlier ones, including one I thought was, in fact, the first in the series. But perhaps that was just my own incorrect assumption.

The book took me around 55 minutes to read from start to finish and, I believe, that this is the correct way to read it, doing the exercises at the end of most chapters as you go along.

These exercises are good in that they start with character, work through dialogue, setting, plot, viewpoint, tense and research, and culminate with the bones of a full novel that the reader can work on. The exercises are practical and they aren’t there for exercise sake, which I love.

Like her other book I read, she uses a lot of literary authors as examples, and I couldn’t help but think I should be so good each time she did. But there’s no saying that someone else’s book won’t be the next great literary novel, so perhaps it’s a nice ambition to strive for. It just doesn’t work for me.

The contents, with exercises, are as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Creating Believable Characters
    1. Exercise 1
  3. Making Your Characters Talk
    1. Exercise 2
  4. The Importance of Setting
    1. Exercise 3
    2. Exercise 4
  5. Finding the Plot: Character, Place, Causality and Time
    1. Exercise 5
  6. Who Tells the Story and How?
    1. Exercise 6
  7. Now Settle Down and Make it Happen
  8. Sustaining Your Momentum

There is the usual “the king died and then the queen died” story, but with an added twist that I haven’t seen in a lot of writers’ guides, and then there are notes and guidance on pretty much everything else you might need to know before settling down to write a novel. It’s another useful book to get you started, but I wish there were more modern examples used than the likes of Hardy and Hemmingway.

Writing your First Novel – a 60-minute masterclass by Shelley Weiner  is only available on Kindle for £2.48 (or $3.04) and is another in a series from the Guardian.

52 books in 52 weeks: A Writer’s Guide to Senior Investigating Police Officers in the UK

07-senior-investigating-police-officers-ukI set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book seven.

A Writer’s Guide to Senior Investigating Police Officers in the UK by Kevin N Robinson took me just under an hour to read from start to finish. This really isn’t the best way to read it as it’s designed to be “dipped into” as and when required. So it’s a quick read, and it’s a good reference guide to keep handy.

The book basically guides the writer through what it takes to be a senior investigating police officer in the UK (SIO), the training s/he is required to do, and how and when s/he gets involved in a crime. In fact, it’s another book that does exactly what it says on the cover.

I particularly liked the suggestions throughout of how to take your story forward, and I even thought some ideas might in fact be story starters.

From the off the author suggests that writers really need to learn a little more about how a SIO works before including one in their work, but perhaps the author would benefit himself from learning a little about basic grammar and consistency.

The book is riddled with grammatical and spelling mistakes and inconsistencies that even a fair copy editor or proofreader would pick up. This sloppy presentation spoiled the book for me because I kept on getting distracted and reaching for my red editing pen.

My other niggle is that throughout the book the author tells you how you can find out more from such-and-such-a-book (also by him) or later in the book/a later chapter. This is annoying because if the information is important enough to hint at, then it’s important enough to include at the same time without expecting the reader to shell out yet more dosh or time.

Once over both of those gripes, however, it really is a good, useful little book and I shall certainly be keeping it to dip into.

A Writer’s Guide to Senior Investigating Police Officers in the UK by Kevin N Robinson is only available on Kindle for £1.99 (or $2.44).

52 books in 52 weeks: Writing Crime Fiction – a 60 minute masterclass

06-historical-fictionI set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book six.

Writing Historical Fiction – a 60 minute masterclass by Katharine McMahon took me just over an hour to read from start to finish. I read it on the PaperWhite, and that struggled at first to calculate the total time the book would take to read, starting at 6 minutes, then 12 minutes, then finally an hour and 12 minutes. But it probably took me just about an hour.

This is another no-nonsense, straightforward book that collates everything you need to know about starting to write historical fiction. It doesn’t tell you how to write the book from start to finish, but it shows you how to get started and then ways to develop your story.

There are exercises in this book, which I loved as not one was about closing your eyes and imagining a waterfall or anything like that. Granted, the first few exercises get you to study your favourite historical novels and try to identify what it is you like about them. But then you start to write down your own ideas.

My favourite exercise was the one that provides two examples from history that you can write-along with. The text links you to two historical documents and it’s up to you which one you go for, starting with why you think you chose that one.

Other aspects I liked include:

  • The author defining the historical novel as “anything that doesn’t happen now or in the future”, particularly as my own “historical” novels are set in living memory – even my own.
  • Her advice not to go down the heavily researched path, coming up with pages and pages of copious notes, as the chances are you won’t use much of it. Better, she says, to conduct research on a need-to-know basis – AND she advises on how to research before starting and when to stop and just write.
  • Why she doesn’t create a Q&A pen-picture of her characters before she starts, preferring instead to let the characters grow by themselves and instill within her a “feeling”, or several.

This is another nice little book that I’ll be holding on to and using in my own work. In fact, I liked it so much, I bought one of the author’s novels, Season of Light, set against the French revolution.

Only available on Kindle for £3.48 (or $4.23), Writing Historical Fiction – a 60 minute masterclass is Book 7 in a series from The Guardian.

52 books in 52 weeks: Writing the Cozy Mystery

05-the-cozy-mysteryI set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 5.

Writing the Cozy Mystery by Nancy J Cohen is another short read, although this one took less than 30 minutes. But I thought that was great as I was able to read it through in one sitting, something I’ll do again, but this time trying out what the author suggests.

There is only one actual exercise in the book, but the rest of the content is step-by-step in the order the author recommends. This suits me very well as I’m not really a beginner and I don’t need great reams of advice telling me how to write or create character, etc. I just need some kind of road map of what to do next.

I really liked the author’s friendly, no-nonsense tone and her succinct style. There’s no waffle, it’s to the point, and the only references she makes to her own works are as examples rather than ramming them down the reader’s throat. Therefore, I was actually more than happy to then go and buy the first in her own cozy mystery series, Permed to Death, so I can readalong with the writers’ guide.

I wouldn’t recommend this book for beginners as it really is very specific to the cosy (UK spelling) mystery and it doesn’t go into the great details others do. But for writers wanting to give the genre a go, then it does all it needs to do, in my opinion.

Writing the Cozy Mystery is available on Kindle for 99p (or $1.24) and in paperback for £4.84 (or $6.99).

52 books in 52 weeks: How to Write Fiction – a Guardian masterclass

04-fictionI set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 4.

How to Write Fiction – a Guardian masterclass is similar to the 60-minute masterclass books in that it takes around 60 minutes to read it from cover to cover. There, however, is where any similarities end.

The book comprises a number of contributions from different “experts”, interspersed with writing exercises lifted from The Writing Book: a practical guide by Kate Grenville. And if you already have this particular writers’ guide, I’d suggest sticking with that (I may review it in the future, if I decide to buy a copy).

The introduction by Geoff Dwyer spends most of the time telling you to forget whatever you read in the introduction … Then the “expert” contributors include the likes of Jill Dawson, Andrew Miller, Rachel Cusk and various others that aren’t familiar to me. Two who are, however, in my opinion, provided the two best chapters, both in “Plot”: Kate Mosse and Mark Billingham. Apart from these two sections, the rest of the book was quite verbose. I often found myself drifting off thinking of something else, glazing over or quite simply skipping great tracts to get the the next point.

Personally, I am often happy to see writing exercises in a book, and this one has borrowed plenty. But once again they’re exercises for exercise sake. I mean, what is the point, really, in writing an entire paragraph omitting the letter “e”? Or describing myself in first person, second person or third person? Exercises like this may exercise the writing muscle and there are plenty of people out there who are happy to do exercises that don’t lead to anything. But I prefer something more practical.

Because there is a different person providing the material for each chapter, and sometimes two people per chapter in some cases, this book felt a little disjointed and a bit waffley. And, as other reviewers have pointed out, there are a lot of unnecessarily long and wordy sentences and paragraphs that simply encourage skipping.

Buy this book only if reading writers’ guides is a hobby. If you want to know how to write fiction, choose another book.

Only available on Kindle for £1.99 (or $2.49), How to Write Fiction – a Guardian masterclass is one of a series from The Guardian.

52 books in 52 weeks: Writing Short Stories – a 60 minute masterclass

03-writing-short-storiesI set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 3.

Writing Short Stories – a 60 minute masterclass by Shelley Weiner took me just under 60 minutes to read. But I was lucky to get through it as the literary comparisons and the lack of practical exercises that build on each other almost stopped me in my tracks.

I’m glad I got over myself, and my own personal prejudices, though, as once you get going, it does actually get better.

It was the references to Chekhov, Poe, Hemingway and Dostoyevsky that blocked me as they came across as quite pretentious in a short 60-minute read. But get over that and you do come to the basics of short story writing – and if literary fiction is your thing, then go for it. It’s just not mine.

The exercises then didn’t really build on each other. They consist of:

  • Studying a selected short story by Checkhov
  • Using “What if”
  • Creating a character from a picture
  • Giving your character a voice
  • Creating a setting from a picture
  • Placing your character into your setting

And that’s it. Apart from the last one, they are simply exercises for exercise-sake. I would have also liked to have seen the exercises listed in the contents, as I may then have chosen a different book to buy instead of this one at this stage.

Following chapters go on to give the same old advice about narrative, viewpoint, presentation, etc. But the author has used the age-old examples of the king dying and then the queen dying (of grief), and Hemingway’s baby shoes for sale.

I would much prefer to see exercises in a writing guide that build on each other to produce a finished, publishable piece of work, or even several. And I also think the author could have come up with some of her own examples to demonstrate those age-old ones cited above. To simply recycle what has already been out there for years and years seems a little … lazy, in my opinion.

Saying that, beginners will find this book quite refreshing, with lots of solid, standard, good advice. Experienced writers may find it a little … prosaic. But get past the odd little niggles and it’s a good introduction to writing the short story.

Only available on Kindle for £2.99 (or $4.07), Writing Short Stories – a 60 minute masterclass is one of a series from The Guardian.

52 books in 52 weeks: Writing Crime Fiction – a 60 minute masterclass

02-crime-writingI set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book two.

Writing Crime Fiction – a 60 minute masterclass by William Ryan & M R Hall took me more than 60 minutes to read. But as I read this one in instalments, I can’t provide an accurate figure.

This book is a no-nonsense, straightforward book that collates everything you need to know about writing crime fiction without all the guff in between. It’s clear and concise and it doesn’t use the same-old same-old stories as examples, although old favourites like Elmore Leonard and Agatha Christie are used.

My only gripe with this book is that there are no exercises – or no easily identified exercises. I do like a writer’s guide that gives step-by-step guidance in a specific order that can be manipulated to suit a writer’s preferred methods. However, each chapter does suggest what to do next. So if you can highlight it as you go through, perhaps the reader could build his/her own writing workshop.

It’s another nice little book that’s useful to keep on the virtual bookshelf.

Only available on Kindle for £1.99 (or $2.53), Writing Crime Fiction – a 60 minute masterclass is Book 1 in a series from The Guardian, and was originally billed as an introduction to writing crime fiction.

52 books in 52 weeks: Feature Writing – a 60 minute masterclass

feature-writingI set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year … and then right in week one was struck down by lurgy. So the first in the series is a little late, but it’s a short enough book.

Feature Writing – a 60 minute masterclass by Rob Orchard does exactly what it says on the cover. It took me just about 60 minutes to read it in one sitting. and the exercises – all five of them – are practical and realistic.

There are no arty-farty write-about-how-the-surface-of-a-stone-feels pointless (in my opinion) exercises that don’t actually help you become a working writer. There is no puff about every step of the author’s own personal journey that don’t actually teach anything really. In fact the writer’s credentials don’t even appear until the end matter.

These exercises start with finding and researching new markets in this digital and global age, through how to come up with features ideas and angles, how to contact ten target publications, pitching your best three ideas to your best three markets, and finishing with tips and advice on obtaining and conducting interviews.

In between the exercises, which are what I read these books for, are chapters filled with who to pitch to, what to pitch,  how a features editor works, how to negotiate commissions, and questions and answers to and from working features writers.

All in all, this is a nice little book that gives you just enough information to actually crack on and DO, rather than sit and dream and read yet another book on the art of writing. The exercises are simple enough to build into a regular working week and the book is short enough to read again and refresh the creative well whenever required.

Only available on Kindle for £2.99 (or $3.67), Feature Writing – a 60 minute masterclass is Book 13 in a series from The Guardian.

New beginnings (*** list alert ***)

The news that yet another short story magazine has closed its doors to all but a privileged few has knocked me sideways somewhat this past week. It’s not a market I’ve had a lot of success with, but it’s a good market to target anyway and at least the result is a completed short story at the end of it.

I had such plans, though. I’d bought a new diary that starts in January and finishes in December instead of sticking with my usual academic diary, and I’d insisted on getting one with appointments so I can stick to my individual time-slots. I’d written out a schedule of work for various drafts of various short stories, to ensure I completed something. And I’d bought recent copies of all of the short story magazines you can buy on any newsstand in the UK.

My short stories generally “do the rounds”. I write them with a specific market in mind and then, if they’re rejected, I’ll work on them to make them suitable for the next market on the list. That list has got shorter and shorter until now there are only three. One favourite market had already temporarily closed its doors before Christmas, and then this other one slammed them shut over the Christmas period.

So I took a step back and spent my first official day back in the office (aka yesterday) having a rethink.

Fortunately, my diary is always written in pencil – apart from anniversaries, birthdays and other un-moveable events. So I can rethink the schedule, rub them out and start all over again.

Fortunately, there are other markets for short stories – I just have to work harder to find them and build up a new routine.

Fortunately, I am not averse to self-publishing collections of my own short stories, and it is these anthologies that have actually worked the hardest for me out of all of my self-published books. (In case you’re interested, you can find all of my current books here.)

I’ve renewed my previously expired subscription to Duotrope. I’m going to buy a writing magazine each month and try and target at least one competition or call for submissions. And I’m following several websites that list opportunities for writers.

Words Worth Writing is also having a bit of a facelift for the new year:

  • Diary of a Freelance Writer  will be updated to the end of 2016 and then it will be finished. A lot of readers do say they enjoy it, but – really – there is only so much that changes from week-to-week that it can get quite … stale. I’m working on a collection of the previous Diary of a Scaredy Cat and this will be followed by a collection for Diary of a Freelance Writer. Both will include extra exercises for readers to try at the end of each section or chapter, and there may be further insights discovered since they were originally written. I was going to complete two volumes of Diary of a Freelance Writer, but I’ve decided now that one should be sufficient.
  • At least once a month I’ll be interviewing writers of all levels about their work and especially if they have books coming out. Please let me know if you’d like to take part, with thanks to those who already have.
  • There will be more “nuts and bolts” posts, ranging from (*** dirty word alert ***) money, including how to set your own minimum rate and how and when to chase payments that are overdue, to working as a freelance writer and all the things that involves.
  • I’m going to try and read, review and attempt the exercises in a writers’ guide each week – 52 Books in 52 Weeks. If you have any suggestions, or any writers’ guides of your own coming out, again let me know, but do bear in mind these MUST include practical exercises that lead to a finished piece. I’m simply incapable of doing writing exercises for exercise-sake.
  • Because it’s been requested, I’ll do an ideas masterclass at least once a month.
  • And there will still always be homework suggestions.

Tales From Baggins Bottom will be changing too. I’ll still have My Fat Year and a walk or a day out as often as we do them. But new features will include Tales From the Farm and the long overdue Wormy’s Kitchen.

Behind the scenes I’ll be working on quite a few things too:

  • I want to get back into feature writing, so will be doing the whole ideas-to-finished-piece myself (watch out for a new book on this …).
  • I’ll still be writing short stories, but they’ll be more market-orientated and will automatically go forward into the self-published anthologies in case they don’t do well elsewhere.
  • I’m finishing Diary of a Scaredy Cat. Watch out for this soon too.
  • I have Catch the Rainbow to fine-tune and polish. I want that to be doing the rounds by mid-year.
  • I’m starting The Beast Within, which is the next Marcie Craig mystery.
  • I’ll be collating Diary of a Freelance Writer and adding in those extra exercises and insights.
  • There should be at least two more volumes of Tales From Baggins Bottom in the pipeline this year.

As a point of note, everything – everything – I write is with a view to it earning its keep and/or getting it published, either via the traditional route or myself. This is the way I roll.

I hope you enjoy the new features. Here is today’s homework:

  1. Spend some quiet time thinking about where you want to go next. What has changed recently to make you rethink plans or your way of work? Jot these thoughts down.
  2. Challenge yourself to come up with at least one thing you’re going to do differently – more if you have them. Give yourself a deadline to do this by. Then do it.
  3. Choose a writers’ guide. Read it from cover to cover. Go back and do the exercises with a view to sending the finished product(s) out. Polish it, find a market, adapt it to suit, and then send it out. Spend the next 6 months looking for another market for each item, in case the market you sent it to doesn’t use it (although they will usually come back quicker than that now if they are going to use it).
  4. Challenge yourself to try something you’ve never tried before – a reader’s letter, a filler, a poem, a short story, a puzzle, a nostalgic article or RTE (Reader’s True Experience). Find a market and send it out in its entirety. Each of these will go out in its own entirety rather than as a query. Do this at least once a month.
  5. If you don’t already, buy at least one writing magazine per month. Read it from cover to cover and look for potential markets to send your work.

Let me know how you get on!