Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cora's Picks : Style That Sizzles & Pacing For Power

I recently ordered a "few" books from Amazon. Okay, a lot of books. I cleared out my Kindle and downloaded a ton of horror novels and erotic romances. Swoon, right? I also picked up a couple of new paperbacks. 

Jodie Renner's Style That Sizzles & Pacing For Power has been on my Amazon wishlist for several months. To balance out some of the fiction I've been reading, I finally gave in to temptation and ordered the paperback version. For reference, I greatly prefer print books because - yes - I write notes in the margins. I also figured if this book turned out to be helpful I'd want to add it to my keeper shelf.

Including the author information, the indexes, and the writing resources at the back of the book, Style That Sizzles is 158 pages long. That hits within my preferred reference book length - 120-250 pages. Reference books longer than that are difficult for me to absorb in just one reading. I always feel like I'm going to forget something, or that I'm trying to bite off more information than it's humanly possible to digest. I usually have to read longer reference guides twice to "get everything down". I'm not saying longer reference books aren't helpful - they are. But I like slim reference guides the best, especially when they tell me what I need to know in a no-fuss, concise manner.  

Let me start by saying what I hoped to get out of this book - pacing tips. Not necessarily ways to speed up or slow down the narrative in my own writing, but rather ways to effectively weave in backstory without taking a character off the beaten track within a scene. Or worse, turning the scene into a slog fest. 

Ms. Renner covers the backstory topic in Chapters 8 and 9. There is also an entire section that covers ways to Write Tight (pp. 53-85) and how to fix Flow and Pacing (pp.86-105). Both sections, at least in my opinion, are loosely related to the information I was looking for, and therefore they were helpful.

On the other hand, while the topic of backstory is covered, the material presented wasn't exactly what I was looking for. It was helpful, but it didn't answer my specific writing questions. Or maybe the topic just wasn't covered in the depth I needed to understand what's going on with my own writing. However, I feel like that's my failing, and not necessarily a problem with the book.

With that in mind, Ms. Renner does cover topics such as Expressing Thought-Reactions in Fiction (found in Chapter 26; p. 135-138). That's another section I feel is related to the pacing/backstory problems I'm having. I've highlighted that section so I can refer to it again. I like the way the author has this section divided by types of thought. She also provides examples, and a list of no-nos. This is all written in a very streamlined, nuts and bolts way, which I found to be extremely helpful. There was no wading through unnecessary tidbits to get to the good stuff.

A few of the elements presented in the book have appeared in other reference books, such as R.U.E. (resist the urge to explain) which I first encountered when I read Self Editing for Fiction Writers (by Browne and King). Writers that own a lot of reference guides may find some material in Style That Sizzles that they're already familiar with. 

On the flip side of that, the book features a lot of fresh advice I haven't found anywhere else, such as Ms. Renner's tips for decluttering sentences (p. 65), and what is probably the most simplistic, no-nonsense guide to varying sentences that I've found so far (p. 87-92)

Overall, Style That Sizzles & Pacing For Power is a worthwhile guide chock full of sound tips to help writers of any experience level brush up on basic and advanced writing techniques. It's a compact book, and the information presented is to the point and easy to reference via the table of contents. It's definitely a book for the keeper shelf. 

Afterthought: Christmas is on the way. If you're in the market for a gift to give the budding writer in your life, I recommend pairing Style That Sizzles (Jodie Renner) with a copy of Self-Editing For Fiction Writers (by Browne and King). Together, these books would create a wonderful reference gift set. They would also make a great centerpiece in a writerly-themed gift basket.☺

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