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Author Topic: Books about Writing
redux
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I am curious to know, what books about writing have you found to be the most useful?

My personal favorite is "The Lively Art of Writing: Effecting Style" by Lucile Vaughan Payne. "Lively Art" has been a wonderful resource for me. I first stumbled upon it in high school when I dreaded writing essays for English class. Since then I have referred back to it numerous times. The book is not so much about advice on how to write, but rather a compilation of writing tools and techniques that can make one a better communicator. To me it has been a wonderful resource for both non-fiction and fiction writing alike.

So what book about writing is your favorite?


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Foste
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On Writing A Memoir on the Craft by Stephen King
A great book that also servers as King's autobiography. It isn't as focused on the nitty-gritty of sentence structure or grammar, but it is more of a book about story telling in general and inspiration.


William Strunk Jr. The Elements of Style
A tad imperative at times, but has sound advice on grammar and sentence structure. Wouldn't make it my bible though.


Orson Scott Card Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy & Character and Viewpoint
A must reader for us fictioneers. (in my humble opinion... )
Covers a broad spectrum of topics.

On Writing Sol Stein
Granted, I felt that the man was prejudiced against genre fiction (you'll find "hackwork" and "Science Fiction" often in the same paragraph. Coincidence? Hardly.), but I liked it.

Holy Lisle Mugging the Muse
Definitely worth to check out because the author lists some mistakes you would do well to avoid once you get published. I liked the business related chapters most.

How to Write a Damn Good Novel I and II
Got some great advice on characters. Overall a damn good book.

Those spring to mind initially...




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rich
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I despise writing books. Well, most of 'em, anyway. But Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande, is great. Does the one thing that a lot of books don't do: give you confidence.

It's online, too, so won't cost you anything.


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Smaug
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One I like is Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight. That being said, many times I have read suggestions for fantastic books on writing and once I have read those books I wondered what the person recommending it saw in it.

[This message has been edited by Smaug (edited January 11, 2011).]


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LDWriter2
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I have two books on writing, well three if you count Terry Brooks' "Sometimes The Magic Works".

But the other two are Stephen King's "On Writing" and "Self-Editing For Fiction Writers" by Renni Browne and Dave King---second edition.

I would like to get Card's book and Knight's would probably be good also even though I haven't seen either one. Probably should look at Barnes and Noble next time I go there.

[This message has been edited by LDWriter2 (edited January 12, 2011).]


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J. N. Khoury
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OSC's Sci Fi and Fantasy Book.

James Scott Bell's books like "Revision and Self-Editing."

The Dorothea Brande book is also excellent, I agree.


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philocinemas
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Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy

Written and edited by Stanley Schmidt and Sheila Williams, including articles by Robert A. Heinlein, Gardner Dozois, Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson, and others.


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KayTi
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Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott (it taught me that writers are/can be neurotic, and that was oddly reassuring.)

Also second On Writing (King) and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

Another fantastic and amazing book is STORY, by Robert McKee. He's a screenwriter/instructor but the way he boils down the elements of a story is really compelling (and uses movies to illustrate, which is a different way of looking at stories than just books.)

OSC's Characters and Viewpoints is a book I go back to over and over and over again (particularly with writer's group friends re. POV.)

I also have and have enjoyed The First Five Pages, and Writing The Breakout Novel (really interesting for the ideas of a larger-than-life character and other flow-related points.)

I'm currently reading 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them, as plotting is my Achilles heel. It was a Christmas gift from my husband.


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Reziac
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Not to pimp for our host <g> but the one that I find most useful is OSC's How to Write SF/F. It probably takes the most simplified approach of any I've read, and it pretty much does nothing but illustrate the obvious (or what should be obvious to even the casual reader of SF/F), but it's all the kind of 'obvious' stuff that it's good to be regularly reminded of. Every so often I haul it out and read bits at random, because I think it does a good job of reinforcing the basics that can be so easily forgotten or overwhelmed by the rush of words.
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lostdog
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In addition to many of the above selections:

Donald Maass,

The Workbook for Writing The Breakout Novel

It has some terrific exercises in it to strengthen and deepen characters, plot, and more.


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mfreivald
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For getting started, I recommend Elizabeth George's "Write Away." It can help bootstrap those nascent ideas into something bigger.

For Plot and Structure, Snyder's "Save the Cat" and Alexandra Sokoloff's blog have a lot of good insights, though both are oriented to screenwriting. Very applicable to novels, all the same. I also like Linda Seger's screenwriting books.

For scene writing, I liked "The Scene Book," by Sandra Scofield. Lots and lots of good stuff.

I found a number of miscellaneous good things in Laura Whitman's "Novel Shortcuts." Great dialog discussion.

Nancy Kress's "Beginnings, Middles, and Ends," is quite good.

Honorable mentions to E.M. Forster's "Aspects of the Novel," Adam Sexton's "Master Class in Fiction Writing," and David Lodge's "The Art of Fiction."


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mfreivald
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Interesting quote by Robert McKee: "Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules; rebellious, unschooled writers break rules; an artist masters the form."
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Osiris
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I've read the following and found all of them to be useful, whether they taught me something new or reinforced something I knew already:

-The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells
(Ben Bova)

-Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (Truss, Lynne)

-Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose
(Hale, Constance)

-Write Good or Die
(Nichols, et. al.)

-Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction
(Park, Darin, Law, Dave A.)

I'm currently reading Elements of Fiction Writing - Characters & Viewpoint by OSC. I'm hoping it gets into the finer points of POV, so far I've read up through the topic on how to make deep lively characters. I'm hoping it covers those sneaky technical aspects of maintaining POV that sometimes trip me up.


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tchernabyelo
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When I moved from England to the US, I shipped over hundreds of books.

Most of the books on writing were left behind. I have generally found writing books to be less helpful than reading successful novels, in terms of learning from them, and reading novels is usually more fun. I've yet to find any writing book that shows you how to plot; that has even mentioned the concept of foreshadowing; that understands that what characters do and say is what readers see, not some background checklist of their family life and personal hobbies[ and so on and so forth.


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mfreivald
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quote:
I have generally found writing books to be less helpful than reading successful novels, . . .
Given a choice, only one option, that's the way I'd go. But because of the books on writing I've gone through, I am much more in tune to novels and movies than I would have been.

After reading Save the Cat, I have had many discussions examining the structural and plot beats of a given story that I wouldn't have had.

Ever since I read Novel Shortcuts, I've started collecting pithy lines of dialog that I wouldn't have noted before. It also provided a way of thinking and a method that has been effective for tightening and improving my dialog writing.

Linda Seger's discussions of theme and Snyder's pointers on working theme into major beats of the story have been invaluable to me.

One little article in Lodge's book changed my understanding for writing suspense, and Sandra Scofield's look at story tension was one of the more enlightening things I've read to affect my writing.

Before reading this stuff, my writing was barely mediocre. I can say, with confidence, that they elevated it firmly into mediocrity, and if I ever exceed mediocrity, it will be largely thanks to these books.


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EVOC
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I read Orson Scott Card's Character and Viewpoint and How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I also read Plot by Ansel Dibell

I found all three of those really helpful.

I have also read If you can talk you can write by Joel Saltzman I found it was a good jumping off point early into my writing.


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LDWriter2
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Finally bought some more books on writing.


"The Secret Miracle" despite the funny title it includes advise from various pros.

"Painless Grammar" one, according to a certain pro editor my biggest, writing problem. So another book to help.

And "Character And Viewpoints" not what I wanted so much but it was by someone we all love and here at least our favorite writer.


There was another one stated specifically for writing Science Fiction and Fantasy but it seemed too basic. I like to think I have learned something about writing in the last five plus years.

Of course maybe I should start over. As one famous couch, whose name I forget, was suppose to say when his players were doing bad. He would think it was time to start again with the basics so he would hold up a football and say "This is a football".


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akeenedesign
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I agree with above posters who put Bird by Bird and Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Ones I haven't seen mentioned yet are:

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
http://www.amazon.com/Plot-Structure-Techniques-Exercises-Crafting/dp/158297294X
This book was the first book I read on how to write (after absorbing all I could from OSC's writing tips here on Hatrack). It was amazing. Understanding plot should be the first step of any writer, and Bell makes so much sense. He caters to action/thriller more than literary books, but his techniques still make sense, even for low-action books. He uses examples from movies as well as books, which is great for beginners like I was.

Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver
http://www.amazon.com/Immediate-Fiction-Complete-Writing-Course/dp/0312302762
This is a great book to get you motivated to Just Do It. It takes the mystery and intrigue out of writing and gives you a hard kick in the bum to get your hands dirty and get it done. Filled with basics, it has a great tone for getting you excited about your own story, and being efficient with the creative process.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
There was another one stated specifically for writing Science Fiction and Fantasy but it seemed too basic. I like to think I have learned something about writing in the last five plus years.

If that is OSC's book, then you missed a good bet. It really isn't all that basic, and for one thing, I like the way he applies his M.I.C.E. categories (he discusses story structure for each category) much better than how he does it in CHARACTER AND VIEWPOINT (though that is useful, too).

If it's someone else's book, you may be right.


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Reziac
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I've just read two:

Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel
This could have been summed up in 3 words: Don't Be Boring. Tho the message became somewhat suspect when I realised how many books he held up as shining examples ... that I'd found, well, boring.

Ben Bova, The Craft of Writing SF That Sells
This could sum up as: Extrapolate. He does make a very interesting point: An interesting antagonist is not a villain; he believes he's in the right, and to put my own extension on that concept, that the story is about -- the antagonist!


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Interest inference from Bova's book, Reziac, though it could be argued that if the story is about the antagonist, then the antagonist would be the protagonist.

May I offer an amendment? Perhaps the story is about the effect of the antagonist on the protagonist and vice versa, and how those effects are resolved?


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Reziac
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That's a good observation...
quote:
if the story is about the antagonist, then the antagonist would be the protagonist.

...and it can happen: Darth Vader as case in point.

quote:
Perhaps the story is about the effect of the antagonist on the protagonist and vice versa, and how those effects are resolved?

Works for me.

In my SF Epic, I have several characters and two major political camps (and some minor ones) that are at odds in various ways, and they all think they're in the right and that the opposition is either cannon fodder or deluded... and to some degree, each IS in the right. So while there's a reasonably clearcut protagonist (because it's mostly his story), my antagonists certainly *believe* they ought to be protagonists too.


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JenniferHicks
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Mostly I've read books already mentioned here: OSC's "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy" and "Character and Viewpoint"; Nancy Kress' "Beginnings, Middles and Ends"; Stephen King's "On Writing."

One book I apply to every story I write (and I haven't seen mentioned here yet) is Ken Rand's "The 10% Solution." This is a fantastic tool for eliminating unnecessary words.


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LDWriter2
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Kathleen, I believe the book I saw included instruction form various writers. But I looked at quite a few and now I'm not sure, it had a similar title as the one you mentioned and a dragon on the cover. Next time I go I will double check.
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BenM
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One thing I've noticed over the last few years is there is a big market in writing aids. There are a lot of real experts offering expert how-to books, there are a lot of new novelists writing you-can-too books, and conventions are sold out with attendees wanting to make connections in the publishing world or learn something to give themselves an edge; conventions which also occasionally feature new authors speaking on the journey to publication.

Now, I have a few favourite writing books, sure. Parts of both Card's Character & Viewpoint and Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer helped me when I needed it, so I'll throw them out there.

But I think once you get beyond the basics it's important to step back from the trees and take in the whole forest - and realise that there are a lot of aspiring authors out there. Including many aspiring authors who are reading the same material and who will never publish.

So I'm just throwing this in there because I think there is a trap here. It's a temptation to not always look at our existing work and find ways to improve it, to not resubmit elsewhere when we get rejected at the first venue, to not keep writing and be a producer, but instead to become a consumer, looking for a quick fix and a magic bullet.

I don't think anyone who's posted here is in this boat, but I know people who are, and sometimes I think these advice books need health warnings on them a little like cigarette packets.

2c


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LDWriter2
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quote:
There was another one stated specifically for writing Science Fiction and Fantasy but it seemed too basic. I like to think I have learned something about writing in the last five plus years.

If that is OSC's book, then you missed a good bet. It really isn't all that basic, and for one thing, I like the way he applies his M.I.C.E. categories (he discusses story structure for each category) much better than how he does it in CHARACTER AND VIEWPOINT (though that is useful, too)


I found the book again and it's by a guy with a last name of something along the lines of Athean.

[This message has been edited by LDWriter2 (edited February 28, 2011).]


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JBShearer
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I've read the majority of the books posted here (it can be loney on a ship in the middle of the ocean), but the one glaring omission I've seen is Writing Popular Fiction by Dean Koontz. I know it's out of print (can get used on Amazon for $15), but I've never seen a better book on the practical aspects of the craft. He talks a lot about getting your perspective straight (a professional writer writes for money first and art second), breaking in, daily habits, plotting a novel, etc.

For the advanced student of the subject, Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury has a lot of helpful musings.


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Robert Nowall
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An old favorite. I'm not over-fond of Koontz or his writing, but Koontz's book on writing influenced me no end. (Never had a copy of my own...took it out of the public library half a dozen times before someone, who was not me, made it disappear from the stacks...)
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UncleDerek
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I have to say that I've read too many books on writing fiction. Looking back, I wonder how much further along I'd be if I'd spent that time practicing my craft rather than merely reading about it. At the same time, reading great books about writing can be a great source of motivation/inspiration, so long as it doesn't keep you from writing every day (<:

That said, here are a few of my favs:

The Rhetoric of Fiction, by Wayne Booth: out of print, but OSC recommended this one in one of his blogs. It reads rather academic, but it is packed (over 400 pages) with story telling insights. When I'm really struggling with a technique, I dive into this one.

The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner: Dives into common errors, plotting, and provides some excellent writing exercises.

The making of a Story, by Alice LaPlante: also packed (600+ pages) with excellent insights across all of the major techniques employed by fiction writers. Her writing is not only succinct, but fun to read. Also includes an impressive list of writing prompts.

On Writing Short Stories, Edited by Tom Bailey: my current read and fav...because I'm losing myself in the art of the short story and this book offers great insights by some of our best writers, including Joyce Carol Oates, Andre Dubus, and the Atlantic Monthly's senior editor, C. Michael Curtis

And now, back to writing...


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johnbrown
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Hands down, the most helpful books I've read are:

1.Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain. This book has been in print far longer than almost any other book on writing stories for a reason: it’s incredibly insightful and helpful. He covers everything–following the feeling, structure, character, problem, setting, the creative process. If I could only have one book, this would be the one.

2.Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. Incredible insights into character. If I could only have two books, this would be one of them.

3.Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham. Plot was the hardest thing for me in the beginning. I read this book and immediately wrote a short story that went on to earn me $2,000. That was my first published story, and I owe it to the concepts in this book. I still find it useful to review Bickham’s ideas.

You can see my full list here: http://johndbrown.com/writers/learning-with-pros/

It's true that some folks can forever read and never produce. But I've found it very useful to create a model of how story works. It's made me MORE productive. An important part of creating that model is seeing the models other people have come up with.

For me there are four activities that have helped me learn. I detail them here: http://johndbrown.com/writers/how-to-learn-this-art/


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Reziac
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A slightly frightening title I just saw at the library:

Writing Romance Novels for Dummies.

Yes, it's a real book!!

(Actually, it looks like a pretty decent intro-howto, akin to most of the Dummies series.)


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