Thursday, January 28, 2016

Book: Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel, by Lawrence Block (2016)

The first edition of Lawrence Block’s book was simply called Writing the Novel from Plot to Print. 1978, the year of its publication, was a different era; watch the Johnny Carson reruns now airing on Antenna TV for a taste of those bygone days. (The other night, Carson reeled off a list of do’s and don’ts for singles bars. Talk about your time capsules.)

Block’s book served as this nascent novelist’s first Bible. I read it over and over, primarily because I responded to his crisply professional approach. WNPP wasn’t full of inspirational, follow-your-bliss advice. It treated writing as a job, which made sense given’s Block background in the paperback trade of the 1950s and 1960s, and was resolutely practical. He suggested subjecting several novels in your chosen genre to detailed outlining, and I broke down more than one of Block’s own books to study the mechanics of story.

It’s no surprise Block updated his book for the modern age, given the forward-thinking approach he’s had for his entire career. He was ahead of the curve on audiobooks, embraced e-books early, and of late has self-published several titles including this one and the most recent entry in his Burglar series.

That breadth of experience is brought to bear on the new and improved WNPPP. What surprises is how little revision the first fourteen chapters required. For all the technological innovations, the nuts and bolts of writing haven’t changed. Block’s counsel has weathered well, and he smartly peppers the text with interjections updating the content. Plenty of material that has served me in good stead for decades remains intact, like Block telling the story of how novelist John D. MacDonald made use of a chance meeting with a friend’s father: “By the time the evening was done, my father didn’t know too much about John D. MacDonald, but MacDonald sure learned a lot about hotel management.” I still hope to work a reference to a “tobbo shop” in somewhere. In the chapter on outlining, Block is finally able to quote an uproarious example from Donald E. Westlake’s Adios, Scheherazade that he’d previously only left to the imagination. Thanks to an assist from Duane Swierczynski a while back, I was able to read Westlake’s original, but reprinted in this context, it’s even funnier.

As for the book’s Pixel portion, Block wisely observes that the field is changing so fast the best he can do is offer tips on where to find the most current information. But focus your energy on what precedes it. Writing a good book is always your best first step, and Block will put you on the road to accomplishing that.