Back in August I took the first pass at starting a series of posts inspired by the excellent occasional series of interviews that The Guardian newspaper conducts under the title “Books That Made Me.”
In that post I talked about what I was currently reading, and a book that changed my life.
It was a fun exercise to go through, so let’s pick up the challenge again with the next set of questions.
The Book That I Wish I’d Written
I’ve given this one a lot of thought, and it may seem like a cop-out but there isn’t one.
Let me explain. Sure I’ve picked up many books and thought something along the lines of I could have written a pretty good book on that subject, or I had a story idea like that once, or even, Wow that was very cool, I wonder what inspired it; but nothing that provokes what could be called a feeling of regret because I didn’t do it. For one simple reason, they clearly weren’t my books to write.
I believe that writers write the books they are meant to write.
As an example, I recently became fascinated by the story of the lost World War 2 bomber Lady Be Good. I found a couple of books on the subject but the most recent dated back 25 years or more. I started thinking that maybe this was a subject I could write an updated book on. I had even started pulling together a pitch to send to the imprint of a publisher I’ve worked with before that specializes in aviation history. While I was working on the pitch that very same publisher announced a new book on the Lady Be Good. No problem – I guess it just wasn’t my book to write.
The Book That Had The Greatest Influence On My Writing.
I’m taking this one to mean books about the craft of writing. Over the years I’ve studied quite a few of them, and while many passed unremembered there are a definite handful that I would happily cite as having a positive impact.
Just looking at the shelf by my office desk I see well thumbed and bookmarked copies of
- Brian Michael Bendis – Words for Pictures
- Will Eisner – Comics and Sequential Art
- Syd Field – Screenplay
- James N. Frey – How to Write a Damn Good Mystery
- William Goldman – Adventures in the Screen Trade
- Stephen King – On Writing
- Robert McKee – Story
- Alan Moore – Writing for Comics
- Denny O’Neil – The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics
- J. Michael Straczynski – The Complete Book of Scriptwriting
You may notice a pattern in that list. Most revolve around the visual story telling mediums of comics and film, and both heavily influence my prose style. I see all writing as being on a continuum of storytelling, and the lessons leaned for one medium can inform another.
And there is one book I refer to more, and cite more when I’m speaking about writing at conferences. It’s the quintessential examination of graphic storytelling that informs and influences all my writing. Scott McCloud’s masterpiece Understanding Comics.
It doesn’t matter if you have no intention of ever writing a comic, or even have never read a comic – if you are in the business of communicating ideas in any medium you owe it to yourself to read, study, and absorb this work.