December 08, 2012

Purple Crayon People

Purple-crayonWho doesn’t appreciate people who come along with a purple crayon and draw a door in the wall you’ve been beating your head against? Or points out the image you hadn’t noticed in the clouds overhead? Mentors wield purple crayons for us as they help us stretch and grow and see the world in fresh, new ways, and that’s especially valuable to writers.

Kathleen Pooler celebrated her third blogaversary with a post on The Magic of Mentors. The post includes a short video in which she interviews three of her own mentors, and I’m honored to be included, along with Linda Joy Myers and Jerry Waxler. Kathleen’s post includes a transcript of the highlights of the video.

One of the points I made in the interview is that many of the mentors who have had the most profound influence on the way I view the world and the way I write are people I’ve met only between the covers of an endless parade of books. I’d like to celebrate a few recent finds:

Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi take top billing with their amazing volume, The  Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression. These brilliant women convincingly demonstrate that emotions play a crucial role in moving a story along and fleshing out characters. After covering basic concepts and tools, they explore 75 leading emotions in exhaustive detail, explaining how people experiencing each one looks, feels, behaves, moves, and more. Even if you never write a word, this book will increase your awareness of emotion in yourself and others.

 Lisa Cron lights my brain with findings in her recent volume, Wired for Story: the Writer’s Guide to Using Neuroscience to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. Although Cron cites second party reports more often than technical ones, her findings seem intuitively obvious, reinforcing the importance of Story as the operating system of the human brain. Even without the neuroscience label, her thoughts on story structure ring true and inspire a few reaches and edits.

In Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing, Constance Hale does for verbs what Ackerman and Puglisi do for emotions. You don’t have to be a writer to appreciate this book. Hale includes a linguistic survey of the history of language and how English in the USA came to its present form. You don’t need to read this book in order, or all at once to enjoy its benefits. You don’t need to read all of it. Skip the academic portions if they seem ponderous and stick with the milk of her simpler explanations and exercises.

Roger Rosenblatt is my latest mentor, and he covers two bases in Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing. In this remarkable volume he uses the memoir form to take readers inside his mind as he teaches an class (actually a composite from his experience), pointing out to the class what makes a story vital and compelling. As both a writer and a teacher myself, I derived double benefit from the book.

Perhaps most interesting is the fact that although Rosenblatt’s writing in the first chapter is definitely substandard (what are “French eyes?”), the value of subsequent material redeemed the weak beginning, and reviews show that at least some readers are willing to make allowances. Still, the fact that the intro wasn’t smoothed out makes me wonder if perhaps HarperCollins can no longer afford editors and shows that even renowned veteran writers need them.

I’ve often pointed out that reading the work of other writers can make your own stronger. While it’s important to read memoir and novels, it’s doubly valuable to include inspiring instruction such as that provided by these gifted and insightful mentors-in-print who wield mighty purple crayons and show you how to use your own.

Write now: leave a comment to tell us about one or more of your favorite mentors-in-print. This doesn’t have to be an instructional book such as ones above. I could have included Janet Fitch’s remarkable novel, White Oleander. Fitch continues to serves an an inspiration and example of remarkable writing for both voice and structure.

8 comments :

Linda said...

Ooooh, those books look like must-haves. I'll add them to my list. Thanks for those recommendations.

I always come back to Zinsser's "On Writing Well," and have gotten a lot of use out of an old book, probably out of print: "The Craft of Revision" by Donald M. Murray. One of my new favorites is "The Writer's Portable Mentor" by Priscilla Long, and then there's your book, Sharon, "The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing." All excellent resources.

Thanks for your inspiring post, Sharon.

Linda

Sharon Lippincott said...

You can't go wrong with Zinsser. IMO, he's the father of the modern memoir revolution, having offered the first classes in it at Yale all those years ago. Thanks for your other mentions too.

Charlotte Rains Dixon said...

I love The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler. It's really written for screenwriters but there's so much of value in that book for any writer. He deconstructs the hero's journey in highly usable form.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Thank you fro that recommendation Charlotte. That book had not come across my rader. It's now on my list.

SuziCate said...

Wired for Story is excellent.Another is Make a Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfield. One of my favorite prompt books is A Writer's Book of Day's by Judy Reeves. And Sharon, I always find you inspiring!

Sharon Lippincott said...

SuziCate, glad you also like Wired. I also have Jordan's book, and agree with that recommendation, for memoir writers as well as fiction. I keep hearing about Judy Reeves' book. Will have to check it out. Thanks for the recommendation.

kathleen pooler said...

Thanks for the link to our celebratory interview, Sharon! it was a lot of fun.
I wholeheartedly agree with your praise of The Emotion Thesaurus and Wired for Story as I have used them both. Hale's and Rosenblatt's books sound very intriguing as well and I will be checking them out. As you said in the interview, many mentors are found within the pages of a book and these are great examples. Thanks for sharing!

Sharon Lippincott said...

You'll love the other two Kathleen. Thanks for stopping by.

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