1. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Books On Writing Craft

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Nee, Apr 13, 2013.

    Here is a partial list for those interested, of some of the more interesting books on writing:

    On Writing, by Stephen King

    The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr
    http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Elements_of_Style

    Bird by Bird, by Anne Lemott

    Zen and the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury

    The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner

    Why I write, by George Orwell
    http://orwell.ru/library/essays/wiw/english/e_wiw

    Stein On Writing, by Sol Stein

    Beginnings, Middles & Ends, by Nancy Kress

    The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Cambell

    Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass

    Plot & Structure, by Scott Bell

    On Writing, by Ernest Hemingway

    How to Grow a Novel, by Sol Stein

    Scene and Structure, by Jack M. Brickham

    Steering The Craft, Ursula K. Le Guin

    The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman

    The 38 Most Common Fiction Mistakes, by Jack M. Brickham

    How I Write: secrets of a best-selling author, by Janet Evanovich

    Dynamic Characters, by Nancy Kress

    The Forest For the Trees, by Betsy Lerner

    The Fire in Fiction, by Donald Maass

    How to Write a Damn Good Novel, by James N. Fry

    Solutions For the Novelist, by Sol Stein

    Talking About Detective Fiction, by P. D. James

    Essays in the Art of Writing, by Robert Louis Stevenson
    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/492/492-0.txt

    Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, by Lawrence Block

    Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks

    Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, by Patricia Highsmith

    Working Days: the journals of the Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

    The Language of the Night, by Ursula K. Le Guin

    Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, by Nancy Kress

    How to Write Best Selling Fiction, by Dean Koontz

    Writing From the Inside Out, by Dennis Palumbo

    How to write Science Fiction, by Orson Scott Card

    Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Golberg

    The Art of Dramatic Writing, by Lajos Egri

    About Writing, by Samuel R. Delany

    Aspect of the Novel, by E.M. Foster

    On Literature, by Umberto Eco

    Write Away, by Elizabeth George

    Story, by Robert McKee

    Negotiating with the Dead: Margret Attwood

    Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" by Renni Browne and Dave King

    .
     
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  2. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    Out of those, which do you recommend the most? I have read Writing The Breakout Novel and am wondering if I should get another one from this list.
     
  3. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Reading "how to" books is far less helpful for the novice writer than reading quality writing. There is no one best way to write. There are rules, but if you are good enough, you can break some. There is no way to codify such a process, so the best way to understand it is to see it done.

    As I mentioned in a nearby thread, my own favorite book on writing is Michener's My Lost Mexico, but it does not purport to teach how to write. It is a description of his experience in writing, stopping, misplacing, and, 30 years later, finding and finishing a novel. It is one writer's experience.
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There are some books I'd add to the list and some I'd remove, and many I've never read. But one I'd add is Journal of a Novel: the East of Eden Letters by John Steinbeck. It's basically a diary he kept (written in the form of letters to his editor) during the writing of East of Eden. Ed, if you like My Lost Mexico, I think you'd like Journal of a Novel.
     
  5. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    Wouldn't it be pretty much the same, except a how-to would also answer why it's done?

    I dunno, I've never read a how-to writing book. Perhaps if people have read one or more on the list they could give a quick review of it. Perhaps only a little bit more in depth than minstrel's: How it's structured, what it covers. I'm definitely under-read but from the list, the only authors I've read are Orwell and King, and then only about six of the other authors I've even heard of. Perhaps the list is intended for intermediate novelists who want to improve their writing as opposed to the greens?
     
  6. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    I haven't read that one. I argued with his son a few times about writing :D It was fun.
     
  7. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Well, because you mentioned Writing The Breakout Novel, I'd say:

    Stein On Writing, and How to Grow a Novel, by Sol Stein

    Scene and Structure, by Jack M. Brickham

    Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks

    and Plot & Structure, by Scott Bell.
     
  8. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Some are more philosophical in nature, and other more nuts & bolts. But all of these are ones that have something interesting to contribute.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    amen to that, ed!... it's what i tell all new writers...

    as for books 'about' writing [not 'how-to's], the one i've recommended for decades, to all who 'want to be writers' is language maven james j kilpatrick's classic, 'the writer's art'... don't know why it was overlooked in compiling that long list, as it's the paradigm among books about writing...
     
  10. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    Everybody should read "The Elements of Style."
     
  11. jeepea
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    jeepea Member

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    I think that writing books have their place. Books that promote a step-by-step method for writing a novel probably aren't as helpful as those that give you a higher level view of the writing process. The aforementioned Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forester is an excellent book for understanding how fiction, and novels in particular, work.

    My favorite writing book is Revising Fiction by David Madden. This book is a manual for understanding the nuts and bolts of writing. In particular the author works with several categories including point of view, style, characters, narrative, etc. The outstanding thing about this book is that for each subtopic within the categories, the author provides several examples from classic fiction. An example would be that within the category 'Point of view', under the subtopic 'Have you ineffectively mingled several points of view at once?', Madden explains what he means with this question and then uses examples from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Graham Greene, William Faulkner and Wright Morris. It's been pointed out that reading is the best way to learn writing. Well, this book demonstrates how author's do what they do and then provides question that you can ask yourself about your own writing if you're trying to accomplish the same thing. The book makes good reading and is helpful even if you're not in revision mode. I think that this book is out of print but used copies are available on the internet.
     
  12. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Because I could not find it: wouldn't it be slightly stupid to recommend books to students that they can't find? Isn't it better that they spend their time working on craft, rather than looking for "just the right book."

    And didn't I clearly say that this was a partial list--those were the only ones I could think of at the time I posted this. I gave-up thinking of more after 25 mins.

    And can somebody show me where I have ever said that people shouldn't read great works of the past...? All I have ever said was that you should Read Read Read...!
     
  13. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Ah, there it is.

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/0836279255/?tag=postedlinks04-20

    ...'course it would be on Amazon.

    But I was listing books that people could walk into any book store--even used ones--and see one or more of them, without really trying.

    By the way. One really shouldn't take only a single writer's word for what is good writing, or how they should go about constructing their novel. It is better to get a number of views. And then incorporate what you will from the ones that you can relate to--which is how it has always been in the arts. Take what works and build upon it. That is how the arts evolve.
     
  14. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    I agree that reading quality books helps you more than reading how-to books, but I think how-to books serve an important purpose: To teach you how to read like a writer.

    How-to books give you examples of good writing and gives you reasons why it is good writing. While you can still learn how to read like a writer from reading excellent books, that knowledge still comes easier from how-to books. Therefore, I say how-to books are excellent to read supplementary to quality books.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    depending on who's writing them and whether what they have to say is accurate and really helpful... which, sad to say, is not always the case...
     
  16. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you're reading quality books and writing, I think you'll learn by doing - much more effective than reading about writing, definitely much better than reading how to write. Ever read a repair manual and think you know exactly how to fix something - then you actually start tearing it apart and whoops! Where did that thing come from?

    That said, a couple of good reference works for grammar are good things to have when you have questions as you're writing.
     
  17. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    True.

    Which is why I posted this list.

    While no single one will provide "all that you'd need" to become a great writer, all in this list will provide something of interest to an inquisitive mind. And a few of these have a quite interesting perspective on the art of writing.

    I will post more on this list as I remember them.
     
  18. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Again, I don't think I've heard anyone saying that you shouldn't read and write while you are also reading-up on writers and writing in general--especially from writers who have gone before you--and reading a few "How to books" is certainly not going to retard your growth as a writer.

    And I certainly agree that reading a "how to" book will not make you a great writer, however, reading several hundred will give you a very interesting perspective indeed.
     
  19. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    I write Monday - Friday, I also read how-to and grammar books while in the sauna Monday - Friday, and I read fiction nightly. There is no reason why you shouldn't, or can't do all three.

    And no, I don't agree with everything a how-to books says in it. I take what I want out of it and forget about the rest.
     
  20. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, whether it retards your growth depends on the author, as mammamaia noted. Just look at the various blogs from authors who go on and on about the "rules" of writing - newbies could certainly ascertain from those that the method they used is totally wrong, and they end up trying to write in a way that is totally wrong for them. Or they read one set of 'rules' by one author and another set from another author and end up with nothing but confusion.

    I have read parts of some of the books listed. While I found it gratifying (and a relief) to see that some of the things I had been doing were compatible and even recommended by some, I was also irritated when those same books told me other things I was doing were dooming me to failure.

    I do think these books can be of help if one has been writing for a while and has identified problem areas - then they can offer alternatives to try. I just think, if one knows anything about basic grammar and writing (which one should after going through high school), it's better to just get at it.
     
  21. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I dislike books with titles like How to Write a Bestselling Novel or Twelve Steps to Successful Writing or Seven Rules to Keep Your Writing from Sucking. I just know that books like that will try to reduce an art to an algorithm - follow these simple steps and you, too, will be a millionaire.

    I do like books that encourage creativity and artistic adventure. That's why I like John Gardner's books. It's why I like Steinbeck's Journal of a Novel. It's why I absolutely love the Paris Review interviews with writers. I love the books that, rather than advising you to play it safe, urge you to take chances. The books that say don't just be publishable,m be great. Aim high. These books tend not to list a bunch of dubious rules. They do provide many examples of great writing and they explain why it's great. They teach you how to read - how to recognize quality. When you get the best out of your reading, you'll advance in your writing much faster.
     
  22. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Shadowwalker

    Do you actually believe that someone with a writer's soul would fall into one of those traps you have drawn for us...?

    Would you have fallen into one of those traps?

    And are you aware that you yourself are guilty of doing exactly the same thing that these writers of how to books are doing? Aren't you telling other people how they will do better by ignoring the available knowledge on the subject and to go it alone. Isn't that taking the chance that you might be telling someone to take a course that may be wrong for them...?

    Can't you see that it is your very certainty of what is right for you that keeps you from falling for things that would be wrong for you? And isn't arrogance to suggest that others do not have the same sureness in what is right for them, that has done you so well...?
     
  23. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    The books I like most are not the 'how to' technically, covering rules and regulations and grammar and plot devices, but the 'how to' philosophically, covering the approach to writing. That's why, for me, Annie Dillard's The Writing Life gets the top prize. Such is her advice:

     
  24. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't believe in "a writer's soul" - people want to write or they don't. And yes, I've seen plenty of people fall into those traps - I see them every day on these and other forums.

    And no, I'm not 'guilty' of telling people how to do things - I offer advice as to what works for me. In fact, I have often told people that if they're doing one thing and it's not working, to try something else. This is whether they're doing things 'my way' or some other. I don't think anyone on a forum should (or does) accept any other forum member to the definitive expert.

    I also don't believe it's arrogance to offer advice when someone asks for it. There might be some arrogance in expecting everyone to agree with what one posts, however, and getting angry when they don't.

    I don't believe in reading how-to books because they often contradict each other. Very often contradict each other. How does the new writer reconcile that? By writing themselves and finding out what works for them. Which they could very easily do without reading those books.
     
  25. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    I get your point. But at the same time, everyone's prose is different. So reading numerous fiction novels instead of reading "how-to" books is contradictory as well. So what is the difference?

    Whether or not a new writer learns their way through contradictory prose, or contradictory "how-to" books, or a combination of both, there will always be a period of learning--before said new writer can aptly discern for himself/herself what is worth taking away from either novel or "how-to" book.

    I really don't think reading something like, "The Elements of Style," or, "Bird by Bird," would stump a new writers growth in the slightest.
     

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