Sunday, February 6, 2011

"Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing" by David Morrell

Published: 2003
Read: 2011
Genre: Non-Fiction
Rating: 4
Review: Goodreads
Author's web site

Found this at the library while looking for The Art of Fiction by John Gardner.  I picked both books up, skimmed through the Gardner book and read this one cover to cover.  A quick and easy read with interesting anecdotes from his life, including experiences in writing his first novel, First Blood and the subsequent translation to the famous Rambo films.

I found this book helpful not only in thinking about the fledgling story in my head about Josh, but in my goal of being a more thoughtful reader.

His thoughts:

  • Write conversations with "alter ego" to flesh out ideas for a story and/or to create character sketches
  • Avoid flashbacks as in his opinion, they move the story backwards.
  • He prefers third person limited over first person. 
  • Description should be multi-sensory.  He tries to use two senses in addition to sight.
  • Read the first sentence, then paragraph of new books at the bookstore once a month.  Take note of the ones that grab my attention verses those that don't and ask why.  
  • Be like Hemingway who practiced stand alone dramatic paragraphs with little to no adjectives or adverbs. 
  • No speech tags except for "said" and "asked".   Will force to write more descriptively. 
"I'll track you down and murder you!" Jill shouted. 
"I'll track you down and murder you!"  Jill's cheeks were as scarlet as her hair.

"I gave that jerk the best three days of my life," Jill said proudly. 
"I gave that jerk the best three days of my life," Jill shoved back her shoulders and stood straigher. 

Memorable quotes:
How characters should control plot and not vice versa.
"In the worse kind of novel, the plot controls the characters, often forcing them to do ridiculous things, because at any narrative cost, the novelist has to strain to reach the big explosion at the climax.....In the opposite and better kind of novel, however, characters control the plot.  Properly motivated, their fears and desires set events in motion and cause the plot to proceed to a satisfying inevitable end."
On plot and conflict
"Without conflict, no plot can be interesting....As far as I'm concerned, in the abstract there's only one plot, and it goes like this: A person or group or entity wants something.  Perhaps it is to survive a blizzard, to get married, to dominate the world, or to save a child trapped in a fire, whatever.  Another person, group, or entity throws up every barrier imaginable to stop that goal from being achieved.
Recommended reading:

  • Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster
  • Lost in the Funhouse by John Barth
  • The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (powerful 1st POV)
  • Huck Finn by Mark Twain (1st POV)
  • Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (3rd POV)
  • Raymond Chandler detective series (1st POV)
  • The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (3rd POV)


  1. Just came across your blog from someone on Twitter. I'm so sorry about your son. What a wonderful way to honor him.

  2. ps-This book sounds great. I love to write and I'm always looking to improve.