1. mcook
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    mcook New Member

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    Books to learn about writing?

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by mcook, Oct 23, 2008.

    What books do you suggest to learn about writing?

    I know absolutely nothing about writing other than I want to write some stories and possibly a novel.

    The books/series that seems pretty good to me were:

    Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway
    Write Great Fiction Series
    Elements of Writing Fiction Series

    I really want which ever book or series I learn from to have as wide of range of topics covered as possible.

    Thanks for any suggestions!

    Matthew
     
  2. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Writing books are really quite limited in the help they can give.

    Personally, I'd suggest you don't waste your money. You should read lots and lots of fiction, as much as you possibly can, and look at how other writers do it. It's also better to read across genres, rather than limiting yourself to the one you intend to write, as that way you'll pick up a greater variety of litterary skills.

    The other side, of course, is writing. It doesn't really matter what you're writing, so long as you're writing. Just see what feels right to you, and try to play in some of the things you've learned from reading. Writing is very much a "go by feel" thing.

    The only way in which any of that kind of books would be particularly useful, is books on grammar and punctuation, if you don't already have a decent grasp on them. Otherwise, I personally would say don't bother.
     
  3. Lucy E.
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    Lucy E. Contributing Member

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    I agree that writing and reading fiction are the first two steps in becoming a great writer. On the other hand, I found Your First Novel by Laura Whitcomb and Ann Rittenberg extremely helpful and would recommend it to anyone.
     
  4. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have seen Strunk's Manual of Style recommended several times on this site and agree this may be of use to you. It is short, inexpensive and offers timeless advice with regards to writing well. It offers clarity on punctuation as well as general stylistics that improve the overall quality of one's writing.
     
  5. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Actually, I partially recant what I said before, to agree with Gannon. Strunk is a useful read, but it's more geared towards general writing, rather than purely fiction.

    Take a look if you like, but remember that it is American English, rather than British.
     
  6. Ennui
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    Ennui Member

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    mcook ,reading continually is what I perceive the sole remedy.You read and read,compel and compel,for compelling is what makes you toil perpetually.Learn what you can from basic writing guides,the crux of it is to ask your teacher,acquaintances too for critiques and teachings.

    On the vast Internet,you might use Google seach and under the evident category Books and search for writing guides.Be it constructive or not,you opt out the befitting one,the initiative is yours.Good luck.
     
  7. Only Sissies Write
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    Only Sissies Write Member

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    There are some good guides to writing out there. A lot of people might tell you that you lose individuality by listening to another's advice for writing, but a lot of writing books are there to help you find you own style and use it effectively. They may also give you tips on how to get your book published (or publish it yourself). The Idiot's Guide to Writing by Tom Monteleone is good. I haven't really gotten into any other books for writing. I would recommend it if anyone asked me about such books. It's not boring to read, and gives good tips towards making good plots, characters, settings, etc., and how to actually go about writing a novel. For instance, if you write three pages a day five days a week, you'll have a respectible first draft in about six months. I haven't started taking that advice yet, but it's great advice for someone like me who would end up writing five pages a day for one day and maybe another page later before trashing the whole thing.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The problem with books about writing is that you have to already be a pretty decent writer to distinguish sage advice from horrible advice.

    I think the best start is to read and reread good books. These are not necessarily the books that are on the bestseller list, but they are the ones that move you profoundly, especially the ones that you find yourself appreciating even though they aren't in your usual search pattern in the bookstore.

    Let the first reading be purely for the rnjoyment of the book. But in the rereading, notice parts of the book that grab your attention, or hold your emotions hostage. Try to see how the author accomplished it.

    You won't see much the first time, but keep at it and you will begin to recognize patterns to the writing.

    Writing guides like Strunk and White are valuable, especially for looking up the rules for what really is right or wrong, such as grammar and punctuation rules. By all means, invest in AT LEAST one good dictionary (I regularly use three hardcopy and one online on a regular basis).

    But most of writing is not about the right and wrong. Most of it is developing a voice that is uniquely yours, and that readers can relate to. It's a matter of style. There are books that can give you some ideas, but the best way is to write and write, receive feedback, and then writing some more. It's a journey with no treasure at the end, but many riches to be found along the way.
     
  9. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    Look here, books don't write themselves so someone must write them. The first person to write books didn't have a book to teach him/her how to write. Through the actual writing, failures, and rewrites will you truely learn to write.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    NONE!... that is, if you mean only 'how-to' books... the only books i think should be read by those who want to be good writers are the best works by the best writers of whatever they want to write...

    the only exception would be for aspiring screenwriters/playwrights, where one does need to learn the format and idiosyncratic writing style mandated by the craft and a good how-to is necessary, imo...

    i'd been a writing consultant paid up to $150/hr by clients, a freelancer for decades, and have been mentoring writers of all breeds for years, w/o ever having consulted a single how-to on anything but screenwriting and for song lyrics... but i have been a voracious reader of all i could get my hands on, ever since i learned how to read... i rest my case...
     
  11. Palimpsest
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    Palimpsest Senior Member

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    If you have a favorite author... quite a few authors have written how-to-write books that give a new insight into how they craft their own words. I prefer these to most other "workshop guide" books by people whose fiction books I haven't read, because in all these how-to's the authors maintain their voice, for the reader to inculcate (I hope) at the intellectual as well as subconscious level.

    I remember reading Roald Dahl's essay on writing, that was kind of disappointing because all the advice he had for making a scene come alive in a reader's mind was, "this is a skill you either have or you don't." He's very sensible, at least, in writing as a profession.

    My favorite so far is Gail Carson Levine's Writing Magic, with her specialty in humor and fairy-tale retellings, but for a book so thin she covers so much more: how to shut up the heckler within, how to get into description, how to execute plot-related descriptions, writing a hook, setting, voice, characterization, conflict, all the way up to getting published. There are several prompts in every chapter-- even in the introduction, when the book doesn't actually give any how-to's yet.
    My only criticism is that with the book geared towards children... and I don't like her children's books for this reason... she really dumbs it down. Still, she writes with a lot of heart and there's more illuminating content here than I've gotten from most how-to-write books geared towards adults.

    My English teacher's favorite to recommend, Stephen King's On Writing, I didn't find particularly illuminating or memorable-- but then, I'm not a big fan.

    Ayn Rand's philosophy, I think, makes her a better how-to explainer than (say) Dahl. She loathes inspiration treated as mysticism, dismisses writer's block as simply a contradiction within of philosophical values, and is big on making descriptive prose very concrete. Her Art of Fiction contains comparative descriptions of romance, nature, and New York-- these excerpts by other famous authors, dissected line-by-line, and she is harsh.
     
  12. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott was a treasure to read. Maybe it's because I've read 2 other books by her and really like her as a person. She has this extremely holistic and nurturing way of talking about writing. It's hard to explain, but...just go read it and you'll see.

    I didn't enjoy Ayn Rand's The Art of Fiction anywhere near as much, and her philosophy on life really comes through in this book. She scares me; I'll just say that.
     
  13. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    The best way to learn about writing is to write.

    Then read what you wrote, and rewrite it again.
     
  14. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Between the Lines

    How to Write a Damn Good Novel I and II

    On Writing

    Writing Popular Fiction: Dean Koontz

    I was able to put all these on hold at my library, and they shipped them to my local library.

    The one by Koontz gives a lot of helpful information about writing different genres and what publishers are looking for.

    Reading such books I think can help writers not make so many mistakes when they first start out. Mistakes that I am trying to bleed out of my work. After reading many peoples writings on writing forums I see their writing is littered with the mistakes these books teach how to avoid.

    All good writers use the different techniques taught in these books, and avoid the mistakes these books point out. Therefore I have no idea why someone would not read them.
     
  15. AndrewAdam
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    AndrewAdam New Member

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    I bought 'Collins Good Writing Guide' the other month. It's useful, particularly for the understanding of cases, common mistakes and new vocab.. It's a good read as well - I would reccommend tis book to everyone.
     
  16. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    To be completely honest, is it really worth buying a book on it? I mean, with access to the internet, you get access to so many resources for free: on this site alone you have the expertise of experienced writers such as mammamaia, and I've already provided a link to the free text of Strunk. If you're desperate for guidance, you could even google "fiction writing articles" and find a whole collection of resources.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i've said it before and have to say it again... imo, you'll learn a lot more that's truly useful and save time you could use better for writing, by just reading/studying the best work of the best writers of the kind of stuff you want to write, instead of looking for how-to's that'll supposedly make it easy for you...
     
  18. Scarecrow28
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    Scarecrow28 Contributing Member

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    My best advice would just be to write frequently and read a lot. Like some of the other members mentioned, read across all genres to gain a better understanding of the writing process. You may want to go as far as to record notes on how certain authors write so you can learn the tricks of the trade.
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, indeedy, scarecrow!... reading all kinds of the best writing is best, if you want to be a top-level writer and not just an okay one in your favorite genre... thanks for adding what i neglected to... hugs, m
     
  20. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I agree with you 1000% mom! For me, since I'm writing space opera/ military fiction, then people like David Weber are great reads to learn from. What someone needs to do to be a great writer is read,read,read,read and read some more. Then learn how to write in your style. Mine: I tend to like to use one sentence at the very beginning to create a hook, write in the present for the first chapter, jump back in time to write up to that point, and then onwards to finish..but then that's my style of writing...everyone's is different.

    as for who to red, it depends on your genre. If you're writing horror/thriller, then Koontz's older works, King's older works, Straub and Barker are good reads to learn from. So are Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, the creator's of "The Relic." LEE CHILD the author of the JACK REACHER series is avery good one to learn from too.
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's also instructive to read not-so-good writing, and to analyze where it falls apart.
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    true... but that only works after you've been so solidly grounded in the good stuff, you can tell the diff...
     

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