Books On Writing

From writing courses I find that I have various book recommendations.

Some of these I have actually read.

If I find any that are any good I will include a review at some point.

I suspect that this list will grow with time:

Book Author ISBN
Creative Writing: A Practical Guide

Bookfinder

Creative writing a practical guide

Julia Casterton 1403942633
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Bookfinder

on writing

Stephen King 9781444723250
The Writer’s Block: 786 Ideas To Jump-start Your Imagination

Bookfinder

block1

Jason Rekulak 0762409487
The Writer’s Voice

Bookfinder

The Writer's Voice

Al Alvarez 0747579318
What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers

Bookfinder

what if

Anne Bernays 0062720066
The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative

Bookfinder

situation and story

Vivian Gornick 0374528586
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Bookfinder

writing down the bones

Natalie Goldberg 9781611803082
Grammar Guide – the way the English Language Works

Bookfinder

grammar1

Gordon Jarvie 0747513856
Eats, Shoots and Leaves

Bookfinder

eats shoots leaves

Lynne Truss 1861976127
Writers Handbook

(A different one is published each year)

Writers' Handbook

J. Paul Dyson 1909935131
Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook

(a new version is published each year)

writers and artists

A & C Black Publishers Ltd 9781472935052

Hopefully you will find some of them readable and/or useful.

I welcome suggestions for other books that I have not included.

Beginnings

One of the exercises that I practiced on one of the writing courses was to create beginnings.

The beginning is important to any writing.

There are different styles of beginning this one – the “Third Person Objective.”

The Third Person Objective depends upon a narrator overlooking the proceedings (from outside the story).

This narrator having no interest in any of the characters. He can describe each without bias and has a great insight into the entire proceedings.

This is a style that is hard to do well. In fact I can’t recall reading any fiction written in this style.

One problem is: if the reader is receiving the story via a disinterested messenger it is hard for them to have sympathy for any of the characters. This can result in reduced emotional involvement in the story.

Without any attachment to the story, why keep reading?

My beginnings all involve what was my favourite character for a long time “Dave the Effective Detective”.

Unfortunately whilst I loved the character I couldn’t find a suitable story for him.

Perhaps he’ll pop up as suitable for something in the future.

The Third Person Objective Beginning

There lies our hero, as unlikely a hero as you are likely to meet. Forty, chubby, unadventurous; such is the stuff that the fates have to work with.

Right now he is slumbering, dreamless, drooling a little into his pillow. His equally chubby wife snoring loudly at his side.

But – on awakening, the story of the rest of his life will begin.

Dave Cooper an accountant with Huntchett and Spendler. (An old and quite prestigious firm).

An accountant of some respect among his peers.

Never failing to make taxation savings for his clients. Never-failing to disguise the true extent of earnings using some clever legal loophole. Never-failing to make a healthy salary.

So, how is it that Dave still drives an elderly car? How can it be that Dave has never left this three-bedroomed semi (purchased twenty years ago)?

Why are the suits, hanging in a neat row in his wardrobe, both worn and unfashionable?

Why is it that today, his fortieth birthday, he will see that his whole life has been a waste of the breath that he expended?

How can a man so respectable sit this very afternoon hunched in his car trying to end his own life?

Why should Dave, an accountant (let’s not forget) of little imagination, become a mumbling simpleton of little use to anyone.

More to the point, how does this make him the hero of our story?

 

 

See my next post on beginnings here:

https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/01/09/beginnings-pt2/

Character

Over time I have attended various courses on writing.

These have not had any lasting effect on my ability to actually write anything.

As an after-effect of these different efforts I have various short pieces of work with no home to go to.

I can’t see that any of these will be the foundation of some best seller.

I am gambling that displaying your old work has no deleterious effects on future writing.

On that assumption I will put them out there warts and all.

On the basis that it is possible someone might get some small pleasure from reading them.

From some old writing exercise I have this short piece of writing that did not make the grade.

The idea was to describe a character. But the feedback was that the character was one-dimensional.

In fact the reflection was that he was a little shit and that this made the end satisfying to read.

I was very sympathetic to Mike and I quite liked him. In some aspects I felt an affinity with him. So it is sad that he did not make the grade as a character.

Anger

Mike gripped the Momo steering wheel, his knuckles pale. Petite hands, not like a man’s at all, slender wrists and puny forearms, which are currently in tension. So that the slim muscles are clear.

His acne scarred face reddened with aggression.

Mike barks out “Move you bastard!”

He weaves his lowered Vauxhall Nova towards the right-hand side.

The darkened purple interior vibrates in time to a huge subwoofer behind his left ear – “50 Cent”. Mike adjusts the baseball cap forwards a little and leans forwards. His nose inches from the screen; he revs his engine with a whoosh of the dump valve.

The ash from his fag is forming a scree slope down the front of his T-shirt. His clothes are market-stall “designer”; all sportswear accented with gold jewellery from Argos. Today Mike wants to look cool.

Finally, he has passed his test at the ripe old age of 18, old for a license. He would have to tell them he passed months ago. They couldn’t know he was a new car virgin.

He’d had to be nice to his god-awful parents for a whole week now. He’d finally persuaded his dad to give him the money for this real bitching car. He could tell them it was all his own work – they’d think he was cool then.

His face ape-like in concentration screwed up. With ears stuck out at right angles beneath his close-shaven hair.

He looks for even a minute gap in the traffic “Fuckin’ Wankin’ Granddad, why not fuck off and die”

He edges his lurid green front spoiler close to the boot in front and flashes the four-way headlights. His laceless trainers describe a dance on the “custom” pedals until the unbalanced car slews sideways.

He leers, “Hope that scared the old bastard!”

He wanted to arrive like a star in “2 Fast 2 Furious” in a rush, lights blazing. He wanted to impress (particularly Roz – she looked great in that pink mini skirt last week). But this idiot was holding him up. He felt his heart beat faster – he wanted to kill him in a serious way. He could imagine ripping out his still beating heart. Kicking the gagging corpse around until this feeling ran cold.

He hit the horn hard and then zigzagged out until he was parallel, nothing would stop him now.

What was this? The old guy was accelerating, fucker, he would have him. Mike plants the accelerator hard into the purple carpet. He feels the blood pumping past his calf muscle as he exerts great pressure to keep it there.

Sweat springs from his forehead as he looks ahead at the oncoming bend.

He won’t give way; this git will never take him. Every muscle in his 5’ 7” frame taut he grits his teeth. He will win this or die, the evil fucker.

The Speedo needle crawls upwards, the corner, not past yet, he won’t brake, never. He turns to give the guy the finger as the Volvo truck rounds the bend.

Using Online Tools to Improve Your Writing Pt 2

After Part 1:

https://magic-phil.co.uk/2017/01/23/using-online-tools-to-improve-your-writing/

We are still embarking upon the journey of testing out editing tools based upon the article:

http://nybookeditors.com/2016/02/instantly-improve-your-writing-with-these-11-editing-tools/.

Part one concerned AfterTheDeadline and did not exactly blow my pants off.

This time we are looking at Autocrit. Health warning the NYBookEditors article describes this as a pay for option and if there is no free trial option then I will not be exploring it. (On the basis of being a lifelong cheapskate).

The location is https://www.autocrit.com. (https reassures my IT Security bones – I’m feeling better about this option already).

In addition on browsing to the page I find that it states that you can paste in some text for free

Autocrit page

For those who did not read the last post:

https://magic-phil.co.uk/2017/01/23/using-online-tools-to-improve-your-writing/.

Here is the text that I am analysing – filled with errors which several people have pointed out.

He stopped the car at the style gate.  The handbrake was still a bit dodgy; he gave it a hefty pull and said a silent prayer that it wouldn’t run away down hill.

The “Great Park” spread out before them – old stained post and rail fencing, long grass, the occasional tree dotted randomly.  Zones of poor drainage where the marsh marigold was already showing saffron flower heads.  He felt his heart quicken just slightly – he hadn’t done this sort of thing for years.

Mandy was here for the “rare mushroom” or that’s how he thought of it.  Mandy had tried patiently to remind him that it was a fungus.

“Russula Pseudo-affinis” his ticket to pleasure land.  This boring little brown-capped fungus had only been seen in one other place in the UK.  Derek had found it surprisingly easy to convince her that he had seen some sprouting in the corner of the Great Park.

It’s amazing what a night spent with G.J Keizer’s “Encyclopaedia of Fungi” can result in.

A keen mycologist like Mandy Briggs couldn’t resist, he’d offered to drive, pretended he was as interested as she in the damn mushrooms.

Mandy – she was tall, bookish and appeared totally plain, no one ever saw Mandy in male company.

Derek knew something they didn’t.  It was Mandy’s love of lose pullovers; they hid her body so well no one knew the joy beneath.  That and that lengthy awful brown skirt, the one that was always heavily stained from studying the ink caps and wax caps on hands and knees.

Hands and knees, yes that’s how he’d seen her, examining a “White Spindle” fungus beside the car park; that over large pullover and the absence of underwear – a revelation.

He determined to introduce Mandy to the delights of male company as quickly as he could bring it about and he had no scruples about the use of subterfuge.

He steadied Mandy as she stepped over the style, gaining a glimpse of shapely calf as she did so, this was better and better.

Down the grassy slope, slipping and sliding in the dew-heavy grass his leather shoes unsuited to the terrain; the grass here a darker shade from the constant dampness.  At the base of the slope a tiny copse, mainly ash and hawthorn but with the occasional oak tree.

He had planned for the “use of” a drier area beneath one stately member – it would be ideal for his carnal destiny – a blanket was too obvious for this “field trip”.

She was braced against a tree – back to him.  This would be too easy.

She turned as he approached to indicate a spiny coral fungus.  The contour of that bum beneath the plain cotton so wonderful; he reached forward to run his fingers lightly down the obvious parting of those two cheeks.

The impact was sudden, violent.  He couldn’t believe the pain.  He’d thought it a lie – it surely couldn’t be this painful?  He folded like an emptying balloon cradling his soreness.

I’m hopeful if we keep the text the same that this gives the editing software chance to do its job. In addition it enables accurate comparison between the effectiveness of the tools.

Initially pasting the above into Autocrit caused the entire page to freeze completely (At least in Microsoft Edge). So I killed it and started again.

I tried again but the page didn’t even acknowledge that I had entered text – assume something to do with my choice of browser.

So start again using Internet Explorer.

Sure enough the tool kicked into touch and clicking analyse text took me to a page that asked for my email address (I have a throwaway email address for just such a purpose and I recommend that you do the same).

Once you complete the process it appears that you can keep going back to the same page and select from each of the options available, which are:

options available

However a quick review of the output reveals that it is the same in each case so it is not clear why the options are offered.

(Potentially it is a way to target the marketing of the solution to you via the email address that you supplied – you did use a disposable address didn’t you?)

This is the output that I received:

results 1

results 3

results 4

results 5

results 7

results 8

results 9

results 10

results 11

results 12

Sadly the free version of the report does not actually point out where in the text the problems occur. So it is a case of looking carefully at the text using the prompts given and attempting to identify areas that need work.

This gave me this as an output:

He stopped the car at the style gate.  The handbrake was still a bit dodgy; he gave it a hefty pull and said a silent prayer that it wouldn’t run away downhill.

The “Great Park” spread out before them – old stained post-and-rail fencing, long grass; the occasional tree dotted randomly; zones of poor drainage where the marsh marigold was already showing saffron flower heads.

He felt his heart quicken just slightly. He hadn’t done this sort of thing for years.

Mandy was here for the “rare mushroom”. That’s how he thought of it.  Mandy had tried to remind him it was a fungus.

“Russula Pseudo-affinis” his ticket to pleasure land.  This boring little brown-capped fungus had only been seen in one other place in the UK.  Derek had found it surprisingly easy to convince her he had seen some sprouting in the corner of the Great Park.

It’s amazing what a night spent with G.J Keizer’s “Encyclopaedia of Fungi” can result in.

A keen mycologist like Mandy Briggs couldn’t resist, he’d offered to drive, pretended he was as interested as she in the damn mushrooms.

Mandy – she was tall, bookish and appeared totally plain, no one ever saw Mandy in male company.

Derek knew something they didn’t.  It was Mandy’s love of lose pullovers; they hid her body so well no one knew the joy beneath.  That and the lengthy awful brown skirt the one that was always heavily stained from studying the ink caps on hands and knees.

Hands and knees, yes that’s how he’d seen her, examining a “White Spindle” fungus beside the car park, the over-large pullover and the absence of underwear – a revelation.

He determined to introduce Mandy to the delights of male company as quickly as he could bring it about and he had no scruples about the use of subterfuge.

He steadied Mandy as she stepped over the style, gaining a glimpse of shapely calf as she did so, this was better and better.

Down the grassy slope, slipping and sliding in the dew-heavy grass his leather shoes unsuited to the terrain.

The grass here a darker shade from the constant dampness. At the base of the slope a tiny copse, mainly ash and hawthorn but with the occasional oak tree.

He had planned for the use of a drier area beneath one stately member. It would be ideal for his carnal destiny – a blanket was too obvious for this field trip.

She was braced against a tree – back to him.  This would be too easy.

She turned as he approached to indicate a spiny coral fungus.  The contour of her bum beneath the plain cotton so wonderful; he reached forward to run his fingers lightly down the obvious parting of those two cheeks.

The impact was sudden, violent.  He couldn’t believe the pain.  He’d thought it a lie – it surely couldn’t be this painful?  He folded like an emptying balloon cradling his soreness.

 

 

I am not an editor (that is why I was using a tool) and so this is not going to be sufficient for what I need.

No doubt the paid for version of AutoCrit is ideal in this respect, certainly the feedback is much more detailed than with the After the Deadline tool I evaluated last time.

https://magic-phil.co.uk/2017/01/23/using-online-tools-to-improve-your-writing/

Next time CorrectEnglish:

Gravatar

For some time now I have found my blog decorated with something that detracted from the look of the site.

When I create blog pages I see this in the blog page:

Gravatar

This seemed to me a waste of space and I wanted to get this removed from the page.

I made an enquiry with WordPress technical support.

The feedback was that this was part of the theme design and only a custom design (at some cost) would get rid of it.

On setting up the site I spent a disproportionate amount of time selecting the “theme” (which for me is 2016).

Having spent a long time with the theme choice; I was not keen on a redesign or for the cost of having a custom design done.

If I was stuck with this – could I make better use of it than I have done to date?

It turns out that the icon is a placeholder for a Gravatar:

https://codex.wordpress.org/How_to_Use_Gravatars_in_WordPress.

Gravatar is a Globally Recognised Avatar. Wherever you make a posting an icon will appear identifying that posting as belonging to you.

Given my posting history consists of one blog; this is overkill. But I have an icon on my page which I need to do something about.

The above article states that WordPress.com allows access to the Avatar through the settings part of the site:

site

In fact I access by clicking on the tiny icon at the top of the page:

icon-stroke

Selecting this enables access to my profile and to change my Public ID and picture:

Profile

I reasoned that if I was going to do this then I should put some things about me as well:

my details

After which my blog site now appears like this:

icon-concluded

 

Using Online Tools to Improve Your Writing

photo credit: Seth_Wilson Study via photopin (license)

I came across this article:

http://nybookeditors.com/2016/02/instantly-improve-your-writing-with-these-11-editing-tools/

Any tool which boosts my scrabbly prose is worth having.

Not the least in that some of these tools are free.

I’m going to test out each of the free ones (because I am a cheapskate). You can review how you feel about the results. i.e. if the tool made enough difference to make it worthwhile to use it in your own writing.

I thought I would use a piece I wrote on a writing course some years ago. (This as I recall attracted some acerbic feedback).

This is what it looks like before use of online editors:

He stopped the car at the style gate. The handbrake was still a bit dodgy; he gave it a hefty pull and said a silent prayer that it wouldn’t run away down hill.The “Great Park” spread out before them – old stained post and rail fencing, long grass, the occasional tree dotted randomly. Zones of poor drainage where the marsh marigold was already showing saffron flower heads. He felt his heart quicken just slightly – he hadn’t done this sort of thing for years.

Mandy was here for the “rare mushroom” or that’s how he thought of it. Mandy had tried patiently to remind him that it was a fungus.

“Russula Pseudo-affinis” his ticket to pleasure land. This boring little brown-capped fungus had only been seen in one other place in the UK. Derek had found it surprisingly easy to convince her that he had seen some sprouting in the corner of the Great Park.

It’s amazing what a night spent with G.J Keizer’s “Encyclopaedia of Fungi” can result in.

A keen mycologist like Mandy Briggs couldn’t resist, he’d offered to drive, pretended he was as interested as she in the damn mushrooms.

Mandy – she was tall, bookish and appeared totally plain, no one ever saw Mandy in male company.

Derek knew something they didn’t. It was Mandy’s love of lose pullovers; they hid her body so well no one knew the joy beneath. That and that lengthy awful brown skirt, the one that was always heavily stained from studying the ink caps and wax caps on hands and knees.

Hands and knees, yes that’s how he’d seen her, examining a “White Spindle” fungus beside the car park; that over large pullover and the absence of underwear – a revelation.

He determined to introduce Mandy to the delights of male company as quickly as he could bring it about and he had no scruples about the use of subterfuge.

He steadied Mandy as she stepped over the style, gaining a glimpse of shapely calf as she did so, this was better and better.

Down the grassy slope, slipping and sliding in the dew-heavy grass his leather shoes unsuited to the terrain; the grass here a darker shade from the constant dampness. At the base of the slope a tiny copse, mainly ash and hawthorn but with the occasional oak tree.

He had planned for the “use of” a drier area beneath one stately member – it would be ideal for his carnal destiny – a blanket was too obvious for this “field trip”.

She was braced against a tree – back to him. This would be too easy.

She turned as he approached to indicate a spiny coral fungus. The contour of that bum beneath the plain cotton so wonderful; he reached forward to run his fingers lightly down the obvious parting of those two cheeks.

The impact was sudden, violent. He couldn’t believe the pain. He’d thought it a lie – it surely couldn’t be this painful? He folded like an emptying balloon cradling his soreness.

I thought that the best approach was to be logical. So I will adjust the above article using each of the tools as given in the article.

The first is “After the Deadline”:

It was hard to work out how to use this tool. Given this blog is WordPress based I thought a WordPress version would be the way to go. However I encountered this when going to that part of “After the Deadline”:

wordpress-version

This indicates that this is not the version to use.

I found that an OpenOffice version exists. I realised that I could install this so I went to this part of the site:

open-office-version

This does not seem to be the version to use either.

There is a command line version. In no sense could I find instructions on using it – I concluded it was for use in Linux (I am using Windows).

command line version.jpg

So I looked at the Firefox version:

firefox-version

Written by the kind of people who declare RTFM. (When the M involved is a thousand pages of inscrutable text).

It is a Firefox add in. It looks like you should be able to install it using the standard Firefox extensions search.

Sure enough that works:

firefox-extension

Install it and you get a prompt to restart Firefox (always a pain when you have as many windows open as I have):

firefox-extension-v1

Restart enables the extension:

firefox-extension-v2

The next challenge is how to use this extension now it is in Firefox. The best guess is that the text that you wish to edit should be inside a web page.

The easiest way I can consider of doing this is to set up a blog page with the above text in it.

This gave a context menu that looks like this:

firefox-extension-v3

This is where I get stuck, the add-in appears to do nothing.

I cannot find a way to make it do anything on the page.

I then found a site that purports to use “After the Deadline” as an engine:

http://www.polishmywriting.com/

This is much easier:

polishmywriting

Paste in the relevant text and click the “Check Writing” button, this produces:

polishmywriting-outputv1.jpg

It highlights handbrake as misspelled. I checked this out and discovered that our American chums refer to this as parking brake. The spelling in United Kingdom English is accurate.

It also underlines mycologist. This also turns out to be an accurate spelling for one who works with fungi. Spelled the same both sides of the Atlantic.

Lose pullovers is an accurate spot – it should be loose of course.

Next it highlights “was braced” in the sentence “She was braced against a tree”. This is because it is a passive voice.

I tried “Braced against a tree with her back to him” it does not remove the highlight for some reason. Deleting and retyping the sentence though seemed to have the desired effect. So it looks like a bug in the software.

It points out “indicate” in the sentence “She turned as he approached to indicate a spiny coral fungus”. Stating that it is a complex expression. I tried “point out” here.

And that’s it. The resulting output is as below:

He stopped the car at the style gate. The handbrake was still a bit dodgy; he gave it a hefty pull and said a silent prayer that it wouldn’t run away down hill.

The “Great Park” spread out before them – old stained post and rail fencing, long grass, the occasional tree dotted randomly. Zones of poor drainage where the marsh marigold was already showing saffron flower heads. He felt his heart quicken just slightly – he hadn’t done this sort of thing for years.

Mandy was here for the “rare mushroom” or that’s how he thought of it. Mandy had tried patiently to remind him that it was a fungus.

“Russula Pseudo-affinis” his ticket to pleasure land. This boring little brown-capped fungus had only been seen in one other place in the UK. Derek had found it surprisingly easy to convince her that he had seen some sprouting in the corner of the Great Park.

It’s amazing what a night spent with G.J Keizer’s “Encyclopaedia of Fungi” can result in.

A keen mycologist like Mandy Briggs couldn’t resist, he’d offered to drive, pretended he was as interested as she in the damn mushrooms.

Mandy – she was tall, bookish and appeared totally plain, no one ever saw Mandy in male company.

Derek knew something they didn’t. It was Mandy’s love of loose pullovers; they hid her body so well no one knew the joy beneath. That and that lengthy awful brown skirt, the one that was always heavily stained from studying the ink caps and wax caps on hands and knees.

Hands and knees, yes that’s how he’d seen her, examining a “White Spindle” fungus beside the car park; that over large pullover and the absence of underwear – a revelation.

He determined to introduce Mandy to the delights of male company as quickly as he could bring it about and he had no scruples about the use of subterfuge.

He steadied Mandy as she stepped over the style, gaining a glimpse of shapely calf as she did so, this was better and better.

Down the grassy slope, slipping and sliding in the dew-heavy grass his leather shoes unsuited to the terrain; the grass here a darker shade from the constant dampness. At the base of the slope a tiny copse, mainly ash and hawthorn but with the occasional oak tree.

He had planned for the “use of” a drier area beneath one stately member – it would be ideal for his carnal destiny – a blanket was too obvious for this “field trip”.

Braced against a tree with her back to him. This would be too easy.

She turned as he approached to point out a spiny coral fungus. The contour of that bum beneath the plain cotton so wonderful; he reached forward to run his fingers lightly down the obvious parting of those two cheeks.

The impact was sudden, violent. He couldn’t believe the pain. He’d thought it a lie – it surely couldn’t be this painful? He folded like an emptying balloon cradling his soreness..

I must confess I am a bit disappointed with this one. OK it is free but after the somewhat negative feedback I had over this passage. (In a class about ten years ago now). I was expecting that it would pick up more.

No doubt those people who are reading this will agree!

This is enough text on an editing tool for one visit so I will pick up this editing tool journey in part 2:

https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/01/01/using-online-tools-to-improve-your-writing-pt-2/