Block, Lawrence. Writing the Novel from Plot to Print.

Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1979.

Lawrence Block has now been writing and selling fiction for close to sixty years. He started off with gimmicky short stories for the pulps, spent some time cranking out sex novels (which were practically PG by today’s standards), moved gradually into westerns, and then shifted into crime and detective fiction. It’s for the latter that he is now best known, of course, especially the gritty Matt Scudder stories, the droll “Burglar” series starring Bernie Rhodenbarr, and the adventures of Keller the hit man.

The thing is, Block knew he wanted to be a writer even as an adolescent. That was always his goal. But throughout his career, though he has read and appreciated an enormous amount of literary fiction, he has never attempted to produce any. He’s a genre author, a professional creator of books that appeal to the average reader, not the literary elite. And he’s very good at it. Writing novels for a living is hard work, though. Many young novice authors have a sort of mystical attitude toward writing, but while Block understands inspiration, he believes more strongly in sitting down at the keyboard every day and putting the words on the paper — or the computer screen, these days. After he had been writing and successfully selling novels for a couple of decades, he decided to write a book for those wannabes who weren’t sure how to get started, or how to organize their ideas, or how to find the discipline to write a novel. And a quarter-century later, it’s still an excellent “how-to” book. You can read John Gardner or David Lodge for literary theory and analysis, but Block will help you figure out how to actually experience the act of creation.

Block organizes what he has to say under the obvious topics of interest to the beginner: Why write a novel? What kind? How to read like a writer, how to develop ideas for a plot, and how to develop your characters. Should you outline or not? Adapting your own experiences, how to start the damned thing, and how stick with it and finish it. How long should it be? How do you rewrite – or even should you? The basics of grammar, diction, and style. Getting yourself published, and publicizing your work — and then doing it all over again. And throughout, by way of anecdotes taken from his own extensive experience, much of what the author recommends boils down to “what’s right is whatever works for you.” He doesn’t pretend to know a magic formula, he doesn’t claim that any particular method for doing something is the only way to do it. This isn’t a cop-out, it’s simply the only reasonable conclusion. But he outlines what he believes your best options are in each case and how to work out which is probably right for you.

Don’t think of this as a writing class, or as a set of instructions. Think of it as sitting around in the back yard with a beer, with Block and a few other experienced writers, and some other aspiring young writers, too. And the old pros are sincerely interested in helping you and your fellow neos learn how to do this stuff.

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Published in: on 19 May 2014 at 5:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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