1. M. B. Wright

    M. B. Wright New Member

    Dec 19, 2013
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    United States

    Best reference books for writers?

    Discussion in 'Discussion of Published Works' started by M. B. Wright, Jan 5, 2014.

    Okay, besides the dictionary, what opinions do you have about the multitude of reference books out there for writers? Which ones are the best and most recommended?

    Just to clarify, I consider "How-To" books as reference as well.
  2. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 19, 2007
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    Massachusetts, USA
    First, I don't settle for one dictionary.Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. Not the ancient online edition, get a current one from the bookstore. Some of the recommendations are controversial, but the advice is a good starting point.
    The Little, Brown Handbook. A good overall grammar and punctuation.
    The Scott Foresman Handbook for Writers. Another good overall grammar and punctuation.
    The Chicago Manual of Style. A grammar and punctuation tome to answer the questions you can't find answers for elsewhere.
    Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Just what it sounds like, excellent resource.
    Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins. Similar to Oxford Quotations, but also includes other phrases that are not direct quotations.
    Any thesaurus. Use it as a paperweight only. Thesauruses have gotten new writers into more trouble than they have solved problems.

    I don't. By the time you can tell the good recommendations from the bad, you don't need the how-to guide at all. They'll only cutter your mind with garbage.
  3. Fitzroy Zeph

    Fitzroy Zeph Contributor Contributor

    Nov 7, 2013
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    The one's I have found the most useful are the ones that discuss the areas I have the most problems grasping. I've recently read a couple on POV, which should be simple enough except I find it not. I just took them out of the library and had a quick read. Scene and Structure by Bickman is worth owning. Techniques of the Selling Writer by Swain is similar but harder to wade through. A book or two on grammar can come in handy. There's always an argument flaring on this forum on the usefuleness of how to books. Just a warning that this thread may go that direction -- again. What @Cogito said has some truth. I find it's easy enough to tell when a book on technique is going to be useful or not. If they are written well, all they do is point out the obvious which wasn't obvious until it was pointed out to you. If they go off on some tangent of mysticism and you can't follow it, then toss them.
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2014
  4. Robert_S

    Robert_S Senior Member

    Aug 25, 2013
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    I have a bunch.

    "Building Great Sentences" by Brooks Landon. He proposes longer sentences, with the caveat that any sentence should provide telling information, not filler. Short sentences work well too, reference Vonnegut's "So it goes." I propose your sentence length should convey the sentiment.
    "The Anatomy of Story: 22 Step to becoming a Master Story Teller" by John Truby.
    "Story: Style, Structure, Substance and the Principles of Screenwriting" by Robert McKee. Engaging.
    "Style: an Anti-Textbook" Richard Lanham. Both Landon and Lanham are professors in composition. This one has long chapters and so far, it seems more a lament of the state of writing.
    I also have a couple books on grammar:
    "The Only Grammar Book You'll Ever Need" Susan Thurman and Larry Shea. Haven't started reading it yet.
    "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" Mignon Fogerty. I like it.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2014
  5. O. Snow

    O. Snow New Member

    Dec 2, 2013
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    "The Nighttime Novelist: Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time" by Joseph bates has been an indispensable addition to my library, with plenty of helpful worksheets and exercises.

    "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White is very inexpensive, short, and readable. It offers simple advice that improves the clarity of most people's writing immensely.

    "Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction" by Jay Lake, Orson Scott Card, and Philip Athans I strongly recommend to any fantasy or science fiction writer. It includes Orson Scott Card's book "How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy" as well as "The Complete Fantasy Writer's Reference". Both are exactly what they sound like and are of great help to me at least.
  6. Krishan

    Krishan Active Member

    Aug 17, 2012
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    I've mixed feelings about Strunk & White. The advice is very good for general writing, but sticking to it religiously wouldn't - I think - improve my fiction.

    I thought On Writing by Stephen King was very good. He's honest about his process and what works for him, and he has practical suggestions that extend to productivity, rather than just how to write on a technical level.

    Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon was similarly helpful - it's not specifically about writing, but it does clearly explain some very useful ideas about producing creative work.
  7. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

    May 20, 2012
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    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    Some books on my shelf that I love -
    Writing Down the Bones - Natalie Goldberg - I enjoyed it, it's more about how to tap your creativity than a manual.

    The Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale - a great mammoth thesaurus.

    The Transitive Vampire - Karen Gordon. Easy to read sentence examples - so it's definitely a plus.

    Word menu - Random house - really good lists of words

    40 000 selected words organized by letter, sound, and syllable - great when you want to incorporate rhythm and poetry into your paragraphs

    The Canadian Handbook of Style - good reference guide.
  8. thirdwind

    thirdwind Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Jul 17, 2008
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    The only book I'd say is worth buying is the Chicago Manual of Style. It contains a ton of useful information, and most publishers use it as their style guide.
  9. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
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    Northeast England
    Everyone suggests The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, so I guess I will too.

    Rediscover Grammar by David Crystal is very good good, I'm not sure you can get it across the pond, but if you are in the UK, get it, it's worth the refresher.

    The Ode Less Traveled by Stephen Fry. Again, this one might be exclusive to the UK, but if you want to learn how to write poetry then this book is indispensable.
  10. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

    Mar 7, 2013
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    I have a current library of 27 books, excluding dictionaries, thesauri, grammar books, etc. (I've got rid of many others over the years which proved less useful than I'd hoped.)

    The three I keep returning to are:

    The Writer's Digest Handbook of Novel Writing - 1992 edition (This is the best overview of all aspects of the craft, in my opinion - many famous authors contributed to this book, so it's not just one person's notion of what makes a novel)

    The Novelist's Guide, by Margret Geraghty (This is for inspiration - her techniques strike a chord with me, and I always go away rejuvenated and ready to tackle the next phase of whatever I'm working on)

    The 28 Biggest Writing Blunders (And How to Avoid Them) by William Noble (This is invaluable for editing. It's humorously written, concise and easy to understand. Love this book!)
  11. vera2014

    vera2014 Member

    Mar 8, 2014
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    My favorite is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing a Novel (Second Edition) by Tom Monteleone.

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