Reading about writing, and books about books

I'm a sucker for a creative writing how-to book. I must have read almost a hundred and I've got dozens on the shelves here. And there's a fat handful that are handy resources to go back to.

I was prompted to write this post because earlier this week I read Shawn Coyle's The Story Grid. Coyle's an editor who's worked with some big names in publishing in the US, so I'm inclined to listen to what he's got to say. Plus he's an associate of Steven Pressfield who's not only a heck of a novelist (read his Thermopylae novel Gates of Fire and you'll see what I mean) but has a sideline in motivational books for writers, of which at least one that I've read - The War of Art - is a stone-cold classic.  


The Story Grid (Coyle's supporting website is here) is very straightforward. It's structuralist as hell, so if you're the kind of person who refers the "this is now it feels to be a writer" kinda book, this may not be for you. If you like the idea of structure, order and guidelines though, this book may well have ideas and inspiration for your work.

Coyle breaks down story into acts and scenes and gives his working methodology (as opposed to his theories) on how he edits from a narrative-flow perspective. Bear in mind that this is someone who does this for a living, and who has done for decades with big-name writers in a range of media, and perhaps there's something worth listening to here. Along the way, Coyle deconstructs Thomas Harris' second Hannibal Lecter novel The Silence of The Lambs as a running case study. I'd advise reading the novel alongside the book to get the most from his approach.   

If you've read a few creative writing books, and particularly those on the structuralist spectrum, then you won't learn anything new here. What is new though is in the method's application. The book's backed up with resources on Coyle's website. 

Part of me's kicking myself for buying the ebook option. This is the kind of work that I'd like a hard copy of, so I'm expecting to end up buying the good ol' paper version at some point soon. 

Think of this as a work that'll sit well alongside these, all of which I've got on my writing shelf (and in no particular order):

Into The Woods by John Yorke - five-act story structure from a TV expert

Monkeys With Typewriters by Scarlett Thomas - plenty of useful structuralist thinking from the novelist and lecturer

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield - the best creative motivational book in the business 

Poetics by Aristotle - the guvnor. If you haven't read this then you're not taking it seriously. Shape up. 

The Writers' Toolkit by Penny Grubb & Danuta Reah - concise but effective practical advice from working writers

Writing A Novel by Nigel Watts - pound-for-pound perhaps the single most useful book of the lot. It's been reissued and amended a few times, so try to get an early edition. I find the earlier ones better than the (still useful) later ones that have input from others. if you want only one book on writing novels, I'd go for this little unpretentious gem.

Coyle's book is focused on narrative drive, and it's well worth a read, even if that's not your prime concern as a writer.  


My novel The Prospect of This City is out now and is available in paperback from me (signed if you like!) and is also available in ebook and paperback via Amazon