A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR ABOUT HIS TECHNIQUES
As I am not a teacher, and have no intention of being one, I am merely offering this useful advice on my website in the event aspiring or advanced authors come looking for my information. Some of what I do I wish to keep to myself, although a lot of what I do can be learned by people with the intelligence, ambition, creative understanding, patience, and the hard work that it takes to learn the craft and learn it correctly. It's really not all so difficult if you're passionate and driven to learn. Although there are many people out there who can write, and perhaps write well, I think some people may never have the right kinds of brains for writing a particular type of fiction. I think it takes a certain mindset, perhaps a journalistic sense of engaging with the world, and more than anything, in my case at least, I think a sacrifice of certain choices and choosing not to live a better/more stable or average quality lifestyle has allowed me to wander into worlds different than my own to meet the kinds of characters that make great personalities for fiction, and so these often unique experiences helped me understand life in a deeper, more vivid sense than had I chosen to a live a normal nine to five life like the average corporate Joe. For instance, to know the thoughts and habits of a poet like Charles Bukowski, there is no better way than to surround yourself with similar circumstances, and I think this wisdom is always pretty correct. This does not mean you should go out and drink down a bottle of bourbon and hang around on the corner with the homeless, but I think the point is important. Nothing can compete with authenticity apart from authenticity itself.
Perhaps a fearless ambition to seek out the unseen layers of reality and immerse myself in the harshness of real life, this may also have been what's given me the inspiration, wisdom and creative edge that I aim to capture in my work, but also the ability to be militant with organization and strict about all my routines in life to ensure I have the time to keep going. Really, when it comes to the choices I made during my wild younger years, to put a lot of that decision making in my past, to make the personal changes necessary to get the work done continually, sticking through the thick and the thin and not allowing the dark side of my former less stable life (I was once much less driven and organized and reliable) to come back into my daily routines and take away my foundation for continuing to see each one of my works through to the end, this is equally as crucial and should be something for any aspiring author to think about. Writing requires a certain level of responsibility and the real sacrifice it requires is of one's time, and so having a solid living situation and the time to set aside to not only get the writing done but to know the ins and outs of the business, in its every facet, is a crucial part of the process. As most of us know, time treats us all differently, and books take time, no matter what they give back.
Also to add - as some of you know, I did not complete all of the proper schooling to become an author (I was mainly a film student in fact), and I also do know that there are a great many authors who went to school for many years, and perhaps they become literary masters and grammar curmudgeons, although I think to write great, timeless stories, it takes more than that, although learning the basics to perfection can never hurt. I do see a lot of evidence of well learned authors who have these impressive literary resumes and yet they have nothing interesting to say and therefore lack the ability to write good books. Then there are genre based authors who aren't terrible story tellers and may have decent ideas and some style but lack a more thorough understanding of the craft. The best author's know the precise balance of all of it and perhaps then some. Perhaps also they have something guiding them, or something they are owed. If this is your goal, to write deeper, more creative commercial fiction, or any fiction for that matter, my best advice is to read the authors you like and learn to dissect and even reverse-engineer their work. This requires learning all of their tactics, styles, tricks, and habits. In my opinion nothing is better than something that is self taught and learned by the hands on experience that one must deliver to oneself.
Remember, even with the best teachers in the world, it is in learning, the process of one understanding by coming to knowing from not knowing, something one can only know best by oneself, that is perhaps where all of the great authors have found their very purpose as authors, like a solid a foundation for their works. Most writers are always learning as writing is a process of honing one's techniques and style, I certainly have learned that much.
Below is a list of the works that have influenced me, some reasoning behind them, and a good place to start for anyone looking to master the craft of writing deeper, more conceptual and controversial works of commercial fiction.
And finally, as I stated, I am not a teacher, and although perhaps I could be one, I would like to reiterate that I have a fairly strong desire never to be one, and a very full schedule of writing with likely not enough time in ten lifetimes to complete it all - and so I ask that in the event I become a known writer that my privacy be respected and I not be bothered about my techniques, these are really the best answers I have about them, apart from what can be found in my books. Perhaps one day I will write a book on the art of writing, but until then, this is what I have to give. Will McCoy, December 2019.
WILL MCCOY'S AUTHOR WORKBOOK & GRAMMAR GUIDE RECOMMENDATIONS
The Elements Of Style, by Strunk & White, is perhaps the best and most well known book on styled writing, although it's fairly short and offers some clever advice, and so adding a book like The Only Grammar Book You'll Ever Need by Susan Thurman should be imperative for anyone who's taken to writing books, even for the maestros of grammar and the rules of writing. Take it from someone's who's read the dictionary several times, front to back, these books are key to perfecting the art of authoring, and I am also including the megalithic Chicago Manual Of Style, with over eight hundred pages of rules, this is the definitive and ultimate guide to knowing everything out there on grammar and the more intrinsic components of the craft, including copyright information and all the exact diction, down to the very symbols and meaning used in book printing. Also in the group is Steven King's On Writing, which is likely the best all around book written by an author on the general and more specific sides of being an author, and Paula Munier's three books, mainly on the breakdown of story telling and plot structure. Although there are numerous books out there that delve into these very important facets of story telling that all authors should know, I found her books more organized than many of the similar titles. Also to mention, Francine Prose, an author and former editor at PEN America has written some of the better books on the breakdown of classic novels by the great authors, some of the best I've read on the subject and this can also be a good way to check what you've learned of the craft of storytelling vs what professionals in the industry understand. Another book that has been of value to me as an author is Jeff Herman's Guide To Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents, which is one of the top several books on the subject and is updated yearly. It contains most of the important basics for that side of the business, although I think the agent websites (found in the sections in my compendium) like querytracker.com, can be equally as useful when it comes to finding representation, although this book gives a good overview of the process and has some useful more specific information on the top people in the field. The final book I have linked is The Problems Of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell. I included this, because I think it's an excellent introduction to thinking, and how to think, and I think any serious author is going to run into some serious questions beyond grammar, particularly relating to oneself, how the mind works, why it works the way it does and where all of the creative potential is coming from. As most people know, there are many, many different things happening inside of the human body and brain, as well as around the world, all of the time, however - a good basis for knowing deductive reasoning, philosophy, and even psychology are nearly essential in my opinion, to knowing oneself and how to understand and talk to oneself better about what's going on, with your work in particular - as writing books is sure to change your life around, and anyone that gets serious about it will probably grow hungry for knowledge. It almost comes with the profession - and so, that said, scientific reasoning and mathematics alone will likely not suffice: this book, along with other books on these subjects (by the like of thinkers such as Derrida, Wittgenstein, Ortega Y Gasset, Freud and Jung) I think will help you build a more solid platform of understanding and it will likely only intensify not just your work ethic and habit but your work itself. Of course there really are many more books out there that can help you get more out of your authoring, yet I think these mentioned are some of the best.
WILL MCCOY'S NOVEL RECOMMENDATIONS
Although there are a wide variety of books out there and plenty of great titles not on this list, these are the top 30 that have had the most influence on me as an author. Most are cynical warnings, perhaps even threats and prophecies about life, albeit outright dark statements on the human condition, and many have moral and political undertones that make them powerful, timeless statements, and I would think anyone who reads all of these, aside from being very prepared to know the difference between powerful and marginal fiction, and also acquiring perhaps a much deeper sense of the purpose of life, would have a very hard time returning to lesser quality fiction after fully absorbing these incredible books. But I guess then also, each to their own tastes. You may also have noticed, almost all of these have been made into films, most of them great films - and there is certainly a pattern. The best books make great films for very good reasons and I think finding a movie you like that was based on a book, then reading that book, is a good place to start. My very favorites are toward the top of the list, and I will add some comments below about my opinions on these fantastic and timeless works of art:
Lord Of The Flies by William Golding is perhaps the best, most balanced book I’ve ever read. It’s minimalist in style, and not very particularly styled, although the dark message, great title, the suspense, precise balance of dialogue and action, scene by scene, renders this book an incredible work of art. I think the author's intention was to take the reality of responsibility and the lack of it in the behavior of unsupervised children and compare it to the behavior of adults in our society, and yet where in the book the children are saved at the end by the adults, in reality, there are no adults to come and save us. Midnight Cowboy by James Leo Herlihy, which was made into a great film, is a timeless, moving, deep, and clever look at having to hustle to survive and is certainly one of the best books I’ve ever read. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey is another magnificent and powerful statement about life, being the boss of oneself, knowing what to say and not to say and do and why, and for the creative narration and style, is perhaps one of the greatest books ever written. Oliver Twist, another of the greats, is Dickens' best book, the language is as rich and marvelous as he gets, and the metaphors and messages and timeless circumstances are equally as impressive. A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway has a subtle minimalist style that is so perfect and clean, it almost seems too perfectly written to be real, and has some real subversive messages upon dissection as well. Fight Club by Chuck Palanhiuk, by far his greatest book, is one of the best modern novels I’ve read, the style is almost other worldly, the creativity has no bottom to it’s depths, and it’ a timeless statement about life that can’t be unsaid. Journey To The End Of The Night by Louis Ferdinand Celine was poet Charles Bukowski’s favorite book for a reason, it’s has a power few books do, to warp the mind of the reader and show a level of the revulsion in our world of capitalism that few will dare to speak of these days. Moravagine, by Blaise Cendrars, another French author, is dark, disturbing and has some of the best usage of language I’ve read. It was likely a large inspiration to William S. Burroughs and others of that generation. Death In The Afternoon is the other great Hemingway book, a dark statement about life, and more of a guide book to bull fighting than a novel, although the metaphors and what he’s attempting to do to the reader are top notch examples of creative genius in fiction. Graham Greene’s Quiet American is another great warning about people and governments, superbly written, on many levels, this book may be almost as good as Lord Of The Flies, and was also made into a great controversial film. Watership Down by Richard Adams is the most beautiful and haunting story I’ve ever read, it evokes feelings that are as complex and deep as the more surface level imagery of this dark allegorical tale about rabbits. Running Man, written by Steven King under his pseudonym, is my favorite book of his. It’s fast paced, dark, and makes one of the best statements about our modern society. Ask The Dust by John Fante is a perfect example of a short, solid book. It’s well styled, clever, deep, and will leave anyone haunted at the end. Last Exit To Brooklyn, Hubert Selby Jr’s masterpiece, is another great example of a brutally honest statement about capitalism in America. Selby writes with a particular unconventional style, and the whore who’s gangbanged at the end, is America - everyone’s had their turn and you’re left to go last, this is what he was certainly implying, and this twisted one of a kind story was also made into a great film based on how good it was as a book. The Beach by Alex Garland, who has since become a popular director, is a great example of how to tell a good first person story. It’s dark, has many layers, isn’t the most styled book, but has an authentic edge that turned it into an instant classic. Sanctuary by William Faulkner, is his most commercial story, and in my opinion is his best one. The language is toned down compared to some of his other works, but the balance of dialogue, action, and plot are brilliant, perhaps the best he’s done. Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo is one of the best war stories ever told, also made into a great film. Tales Of Ordinary Madness is a collection of Charles Bukowski’s best short stories. He was best known as a poet that only wrote four more simplistic autobiographical novels, although his short stories are the best I’ve read by any author. Jesus’s Son by Dennis Johnson has a marginal story in my opinion, but some of the best writing and technique of any modern novel which turned this into an instant classic. Child Of God, by master stylist Cormac McCarthy is my favorite book written by our greatest living author. It displays some of his best usage of language balanced with heavy action and suspense, and although the characters are volatile it’s a marvelous work of art on those other points alone. The Grey by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers is a little known novel that became the basis for the film, and it’s well styled, sharp, short, has great action and is well worth the read. Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer is another brilliant modern work of art. The character development and plot is clever and as good as it gets. SE Hinton’s Outsiders, a classic she wrote at age 16, is an impressive statement about life that shows a deep level of her understanding about society and deserves to be mentioned in my list. Night And The City by Gerald Kersh is another book with great characters and a clever plot that was made into a great film noir. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson’s masterpiece, is an original and timeless classic that is easy to read and possesses great narrative technique. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a more classically told story that is minimal and yet not as well styled as something by his contemporary and friend Hemingway, has such a great plot and characters it’s hard not to mention here. Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember It For You Wholesale was the basis for the film Total Recall, and although his writing isn’t my thing, the conceptual element alone which poses quite a trick and paradox to the mind, and the way in which he designed the plot makes it hard to top on a story level. Perfume by Patrick Suskind is another dark, clever, honest statement about life that was turned into a good film. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess is one the best sci-fi novels with great narration that even outmatches the great quality of the film. And finally, Deliverance by James Dickey, also made into a great film, is one of the best survival genres tales of our times.
Another 50 books I can recommend, including some classics like Alice In Wonderland, which has a unique way of warping the perceptions of the mind and can lend valuable insight to any emerging author, and Moby Dick, one of the greatest stories ever told. Also on this list are several more great works by Cormac McCarthy, as well as Ulysses by James Joyce and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, both of which are uniquely magnificent for the writing content, although lack the other key points of well balanced books, like strong plots and heavier dialogue but are good works to check out for author's that have no knowledge of them. Also, you'll notice many of these books have become good films like the ones from the list above. Although I'll make no guarantees, I'd say if you read my top 30, and these 40 as well, you'll certainly know a quality book from a marginal one, and you'd perhaps be more well equipped to write a good story than many authors who sell books.
WILL MCCOY'S FILM RECOMMENDATIONS
90 of the best films I've seen, many are based on the above books or others, and can be used as part of a great learning process to improve your story telling and understanding of the elements that make great fiction. A simple note, films are often much easier to understand than books. They offer quick, usually valid points about life, if they're good films, and with certain films - it's often like reading a book squished into two hours. This certainly makes the cinema a great place to start - once you master the process of understanding what makes great films, their deeper layers, doing the same with the books becomes an easier process, sentence to sentence, word by word.