Monday, April 17, 2006

Books with Writing Exercises

Catatonic in Culver City writes in....

I have been out in LA trying to be a
screenwriter for the last five years. I've had some luck with things
going into "development" but nothing's actually panned out. I want
very much to get my MFA in fiction writing (also looking quite a lot
at creative nonfiction). I'm very poor and can't afford any writing
classes out here and so I was wondering if you knew of any sources
that would have writing exercises that can get me started on my
portfolio. I have written fiction before, it's just that I don't
currently have any structure. Also, my other concern going into the
application process is that these schools will see I have my BFA in
Writing for Film and Television. Do you think this might work against
me? Any help is appreciated...

CiCC, first of all, your BFA won't work against you at all.

Second, a few books that come to mind for writing exercises:

-- The Writer's Block
-- The Portable MFA in Creative Writing
-- Writing Fiction, by Janet Burroway

Also, two books on every Fiction writer's shelf: Novel and Short Story Writer's Market, and especially Jerome Stern's Making Shapely Fiction.

I'd apprecite other comments about writing books for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or other genres. Thanks. Good luck, CiCC.


Erika D. said...

Three more book suggestions:

The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises That Transform Your Fiction, by Brian Kiteley

Creating Fiction: Instructions and Insights from Teachers of the Associated Writing Programs, edited by Julie Checkoway

Creating Fiction: A Writer's Companion, by Fred Leebron and Andrew Levy (I think this one is currently out of print, so try to find a used copy.)

Both "Creating Fiction" titles include exercises to complement the "instruction." Kiteley's book, as the title suggests, is much more exercise-intensive.

Hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

there is a book called "rules of thumb," edited by michael martone, that offers both earnest and tongue-in-cheek advice on the process of writing and writing itself, from established (but not necessarily famous) writers ... it's really good.

Anonymous said...

John Gardner's The Art of Fiction is the only one everyone agrees on. It's also the best.

Anonymous said...

Your background in film will only help you. I started out as a screenwriter too, and I am doing well as a fiction writer. With your film background, you will be way ahead of other writers in terms of knowing the spine of things, knowing what's important.

First, read voraciously. The film world tends to make you lose reading habits, usually... check yourself there. Given your film background, it's a good idea to start with short stories. (Hitchcock said a short story is the closest thing to a film in form and structure.) For that, even more than books about fiction, what will help you is good short stories. Do yourself a favor and pick up these two books first:

1. The story and its writer: An introduction to short fiction. Edited by Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford St. Martins.

2. The Essential Tales of Chekhov: Selected by Richard Ford.

Whatever else you do, these two books will prove invaluable. "Story and its writer" cos it's got every must-know fiction writer... tons of great, great stories, tons of writers, tons of commentaries...

And Chekhov because, as you know, he is the father of the modern short story...

The world of fiction is fairer to you as a writer than the world of film... just work hard, you will do well.

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