1. ashurbanipal
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    ashurbanipal Member

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    Best books on writing?

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by ashurbanipal, Sep 4, 2016.

    Hello,

    I am looking for some recommendations on books about (fiction) writing. Ideally, I am looking for 'serious' books that detail certain mechanics of writing with good examples from literature. I am fine with the use grammatical/specific terminology which means I'm probably looking for more academic-style books than simple guides. I would also like to know of any books that include useful writing exercises which exercise a specific technical aspect of writing, e.g. providing character motivation, descriptions, making the writing more active, etc.

    I recently read 'Techniques of the Selling Writer' which provided some useful insights, but I disliked the amount of padding the author threw in and I would have appreciated some examples from a wider range of literature to illustrate the points. Any recommendations along these lines would be very welcome.

    Thanks!
     
  2. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I looked for years to find such books, but never found any that really got down to brass tacks in these areas. Eventually, I also realized that even if I had found something with technical exercises, without access to the author to look over my work and tell me if I 'did it right,' the exercises were kind of moot anyway.

    Yes, I agree. I was frustrated by how he'd lay out a technique, give one rather flimsy example, and then move on.

    However, this is still the only book I've ever found on the mechanics of motivation-reaction and scene-sequel or any other word-by-word, paragraph-by-paragraph and chapter-level techniques. So, what I did was reread it, make my own annotations, write up notes based on those annotations and I ended up with an abbreviated version that could be skimmed for specifics when I needed them. From there, I also made charts for the various techniques so I'd have easy references, something I could check my work against as I was writing.

    That may sound like overkill, but as I said, it's the only book of its kind so I wanted to make sure I truly understood what he was talking about. And it's paid off for me.

    But if you didn't connect with it and you don't think you ever will, far be it from me to try to convince you otherwise. Some other books I've found helpful (in no particular order) are:
    • Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card (it promotes a good understanding of when to use first or third person and how to do it effectively; his character stuff I didn't care for [I actually use Swain's methods for that]),
    • the Save the Cat! series by Blake Snyder (wonderful for understanding overall plot flow; but make sure you dig into his 5-Step Finale as well),
    • The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (a good overall approach to creativity),
    • How to Write a Book Now by Glen C. Strathy (which talks about Dramatica Theory),
    • various others, but nothing worth listing here.
    I've read dozens of books on writing and frankly, I may have gleaned a tidbit here and there from each of them, but these are the ones I feel contributed most to my understanding of the craft and how to approach it.
     
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  3. KJRid
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    KJRid New Member

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    I'm interested in the responses people post here myself.

    I think, as with most things in life, it's normal to look for some kind of direction or general technique to help develop a talent. That being said, for every person that I've seen recommend a book on writing, there's been another saying reading fiction books is just as good- which I can appreciate. A lot of what I learn about writing I pick up from reading fiction, however I won't go as far as to say I'm not interested in a good book that, in a way, tells me what to do.

    Stephen King's "On Writing" is the only book that I've read in that regard. I'm not a huge Stephen King fan by any means, but I found the section where he talks about the mechanics of writing to be helpful, if even encouraging considering a lot of what he had written was already known by me. Then of course, I see everyone and their mother recommend William Strunk and E.B. White's "The Elements of Style", which I haven't gotten around to reading yet so I can't for certain say whether it is helpful or not. I agree with Sack-a-Doo! as well, there is likely something to be picked up from each book on writing you read. Given the large variation in writing style of the many great artists, I doubt there would be one book that encompasses all you wish to know.

    If you are looking for something more academic, may I suggest Googling "free university courses"? There's usually a good list or two that you can find, and more often than not, there will be a free class (archive or in progress) for writing/creative writing/literature.

    Best of luck!
     
  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I wholeheartedly endorse Steven James' "Story Trumps Structure". I recently attended a writer's conference at which he spoke and had a chance to chat with him after his presentation. The book is comprehensive and his style is very engaging. It doesn't read like an academic tome.
     
  5. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    Techniques of a Selling Writer was a good one!

    I have just begun to read: The Anatomy of Story by John Truby and I must say that so far it's helpful. It explains things very clearly, breaks down different kinds of stories both from film and book, and then gives you exercises at the end of the chapters.

    However, this is the first writing book that I am reading while working on a novel-length project and I must say that my mind is fully geared towards my story while I go through this book. I am finding it helpful precisely because I am working on something that I can apply the advice directly, and discard that which I don't need.

    There are a bunch of great 'inspirational' books that don't have any technical advice. Let me know if you'd like those, too!
     
  6. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    If you want an actual TEXTbook, like one they would make you buy for a course, then Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway is a good one. It's an actual textbook so it's crammed full of exercises, examples, and complete short stories to illustrate specific points the author makes at the end of each chapter. I've found it really useful as a reference. Maybe not something I'd read from cover to cover like Stephen King's On Writing or William Zinsser's On Writing Well (both wonderful books) but it is certainly packed full of helpful information.

    Just remember that you can read craft books until your eyes bleed but the only way you can learn to intuitively know what your story needs is practice.

    Some people say craft books are pointless and I strongly disagree. They offer insight on opaque topics. Just remember that nothing you read is set in stone. The books are wonderful starting points, though.
     
  7. ashurbanipal
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    ashurbanipal Member

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    Thanks - I will check some of these out.

    While practice is the best method, I find it is useful to have a reference which I can dip into to help make my writing tighter. I especially appreciate books which are not padded out with a lot of fluff and are not scared of 'scaring the reader away'.Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft sounds like something I would probably enjoy! I have only read Techniques of a Selling Writer, but I can see how it would be easy to fall into the trap of reading too many books on writing, instead of actually writing!
     
  8. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    And I'm grateful they do!

    If not for craft books, I'd still be reading novels and trying to figure out what it is I'm supposed to be trying to figure out. I'm a real dummy when it comes to picking things up from other people's work. I mean, sure, I might eventually figure out that—oh!—that's a metaphor or—holy crap!—that's a simile, but there's no way I could have caught on to things like Swain's scene and sequel concepts without him pointing them out. And that's just one example.
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    My beef with "craft books" is that so many are either formulaic or too general to be of much use. That's why I liked James' book so much. It was neither. However, the value of any book on writing is not so much in what it tells you (I didn't read anything in James' book I didn't already know) as in the fact that it gets you thinking about writing in a different way, giving you a fresh perspective.
     
  10. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    This is exactly it. It keeps your mind active and focused on the craft, even when you're not writing, and allows you to think about your project while 'off the clock', so to speak.
     

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