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Author Topic: Recommended Readings--Writing books
ethersong
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Looking for a good book to read to improve my writing. Anyone have a good book about writing that helped them a lot. The only one i've really heard mentioned on here is OSC's Character and Viewpoint. Any others?
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autumnmuse
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There are a lot of threads already on this topic; you may want to do a search.

The other OSC writing book: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, is also great.

Nancy Kress's Beginnings, Middles and Ends

Immediate Fiction: A Complete Writing Course by Jerry Cleaver

There are tons more. I like those but I also like others.


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AndrewR
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The one I'm currently working through a second time (I'm putting together a "grading sheet" for my stories) is Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel.

Donald's premise is that "breakout novels" are simply very well written novels, which means his advice should apply to any novel or story. What I also noticed is that he lists different criteria that make a novel great, since different people look to novels for different things. What this means is that some novels are strong in some aspects (such as description or depth of characterization) while others are strong in others (like plot or symphathetic characters). So the "grading sheet," which would rate how well the story does in each aspect. Stories don't have to have all aspects, but they need at least a few strong ones. And adding some that are missing can't hurt.


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dckafka
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Highly recommend Le Guin's "The Language of the Night". A book of essays by Ursula Le Guin, but gives a lot of insight into her approach to writing. Some very nice insights into the evolution of books like 'The Dispossessed' and "The Left Hand of Darkness". Not a how-to book, but a valuable resource nonetheless.
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Elan
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I recommend Gloria Kempton's book "Dialog". Excellent work. I also found a lot of value in reading Stephen King's book "On Writing."
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Smaug
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The Book On Writing by Paula LaRocque is a really good book on the fundamentals of good writing.
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KatFeete
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I second the recommendation for LeGuin's <i>Language of the Night</i>, and would also highly recommend her book <i>Steering the Craft</i>, which is more of a how-to book complete with exercises on everything from comma use to infodumping. Excellent stuff.
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Spaceman
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These are some of the more notable books that have helped me.

OSC's Characters and Viewpoints and How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, as already mentioned. Probably two of the most complete and accessible writing books in print.

David Gerrold, Worlds of Wonder Covers some areas that are not covered in other books, including metric prose and e-prime, as well as some items that he learned from Theodore Sturgeon. For the more advanced writer.

Ben Bova, the Craft of Writing Science Fiction that Sells A little different take on some of the same things that OSC discusses, but uses three of his stories to illustrate his points, discussing them in good detail.

Reginald Bretnor (ed), The Craft of Science Fiction A very good collection of essays from some of the biggest names in the field, including Harlan Ellison, Larry Niven, Frederik Pohl, Jack Williamson, Theodore Sturgeon, and many others.

Jon Franklin, Writing for Story A good general book on writing.

Gardner Dozois, Tina Lee, Stanley Schmidt, Ian Randal Strock, and Sheila Williams (eds), Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy Another collection of writing essays.

Jack M. Bickham, The 38 Most Common Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them) A good one-sitting writing book.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well A classic.

Damon Knight, Creating Short Fiction An excellent book that captures a number of topics not covered anywhere else.

Cory Doctorow and Karl Schroeder, The Complete Idiots Guide to Publishing Science Fiction Takes on the task of describing what kinds of challenges a neo-pro can expect and what traps to avoid.

Anne Lammot, Bird by Bird Another classic. Largely about one writer's trials and tribulations. It didn't add much value for me, but that is going to be a personal thing, and it might be great for you.

Meg Deder, Jack Heffron (eds), The complete Handbook of Novel Writing. A collection of essays by big name authors from all genres. good instruction on novels in general.


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CoriSCapnSkip
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The works of Dean R. Koontz, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Robert Newton Peck helped me a lot.
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ChrisOwens
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Self Editing For Fiction Writers
The First Five Pages

Of course, after reading the latter, you might start second guessing ever other word.


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thayerds
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All those sudjestions are great. If you want a book that really gets down to the sentence, the syntax and how to describe a setting useing action, how to use exciting anglo saxson based verbs in stead of boring latin based verbs, then this is your book. John Gardener's "The Art of Fiction". Warning: this guy was a very famous teacher of Creative Writing at a well known university. He had no respect for the self taught writer, or anyone who would dare to waste their time on any kind of Genre Fiction. (Especially SF) You won't like some his statements. But the 2nd half of the book especially is beyond measure in it value. It also has some of the best writing excersises and drills I ever encountered.
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Spaceman
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Ohhh...the temptation, but no, I hold my tongue.
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Garp
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Thank God John Gardner is no longer alive to hear how you characterized him, thayerds.

Virtually nothing you said about John Gardner is true. This is a man who loved the fiction of both Stephen King and Isaac Asimov. In his book ON BECOMING A NOVELIST he recommends the work of Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Walter Miller, Samuel Delaney, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Robert Heinlein, Algis J. Budry, and Stanislaw Lem as SF writers who write good, serious fiction.

Further, John Gardner says no such thing about self-taught writers. If I understand him correctly, he doubts they even exist. All writers have mentors of some kind or another. Even Hemingway, who said the only thing a writer needs to do is to go away somewhere and write, sat at the feet of Gertrude Stein during his early years. Anyone who reads a book on how to write is no longer "self-taught."

Finally, Gardner doesn't disparage so-called "genre" fiction. He disparages trash. Unfortunately, one can find a lot of trash in the fields of SF, fantasy, horror, mystery, etc. But I think John Gardner would also say you can find a lot of trash in the so-called field of "literary" fiction. Read the first few pages of THE ART OF FICTION where he puts the smack down on John Steinbeck's THE GRAPES OF WRATH for the unfair depiction he makes of the California ranchers; also, read ON MORAL FICTION where he lacerates much of contemporary "serious" fiction for its nihilism and glibness.

The only point John Gardner insists upon is this --- There is a real and fundamental distinction between trash and art. We can quibble about what constitutes "art," of course. But it seems to me that any apprentice writer worth the paper he's printing his stories on should be devoted to writing the best kind of fiction he knows how to write.

By the way . . . I'd highly recommend all three of John Gardner's books on writing: ON BECOMING A NOVELIST, THE ART OF FICTION, and, for those interested in aesthetical philosophy, ON MORAL FICTION.

[This message has been edited by Garp (edited February 25, 2006).]


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Kickle
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"Storyteller: writing lessons and more from 27 years of the Clarion Writer's Workshop" by Kate Wilhelm. This book was published recently. Its is easy to understand, to the point and made me laugh at the mistakes that are common to most new writers. Slaps your knuckles and points you in the right direction.

[This message has been edited by Kickle (edited February 25, 2006).]


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TL 601
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quote:
The one I'm currently working through a second time (I'm putting together a "grading sheet" for my stories) is Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel.

I will go ahead and recommend this book also. I have not, in fact, *written* the breakout novel... But when I imagine writing the breakout novel, I think about basing the work on this book.

There's only one thing he missed: A chapter on the Zeitgeist.

So what I did is, using the power of my imagination, I pretended that there was such a chapter --

and this became the perfect book about novel-writing.


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TL 601
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quote:
Meg Deder, Jack Heffron (eds), The complete Handbook of Novel Writing. A collection of essays by big name authors from all genres. good instruction on novels in general.

That book is a horrible waste of time.


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Spaceman
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I don't agree. I've read it twice and came away better for it each time. You just need to recognize that the rules in speculative fiction are somewhat different, and you can get an awareness of those difference in the other books.

Note that I said I didn't get anything from Bird by Bird, yet many writers hold it over their heads and wave it around as a must-read. Not everything works for every writer, and that's why it's a good idea to read a lot of different sources.

[This message has been edited by Spaceman (edited February 26, 2006).]


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Kickle
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Glad you posted that Spaceman, now I don't feel alone. I found "Bird by Bird" entertaining, but far less useful than many other writing books.
Has anyone mentioned "Revising Fiction, a handbook for writers" by David Madden? That's one I use quite often.

[This message has been edited by Kickle (edited February 26, 2006).]


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arriki
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I found George Dove's SUSPENSE IN THE FORMULA STORY useful. He got into some story details that all those "other" writing books never mention.
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Leaf II
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!!!!!!!!!!??????????????

Stephen King - On Writing....

seriously... no one mentioned this yet (that I saw on a quick glance-through...)
This book is fantastic. Seriously, and informative, in my opinion. I also found OSC's character and viewpoint book to be very useful, and his fantasy/sci fi one at well. There is a good list going, and I will have to check out some of them.
Good topic....

-leaf


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Spaceman
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You should be aware that OSC disagrees with a lot of what Stephen King gives as writing tips, and made that known at bootcamp last year.

The biographical portion is fascinating, though.

[This message has been edited by Spaceman (edited February 26, 2006).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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The best how-to-write books are the ones that you put down unfinished because as you were reading them you started getting ideas about what you could do with one of your works in progress, and you put the book down so you could get back to writing.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Also, I'd suggest waiting until after you have finished a story before reading a how-to-write book, and use the how-to-write book for guidelines on how to rewrite/edit the story.

Do the writing first.


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Elan
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*Ahem* ... I made mention of Stephen King's "On Writing" way back at the beginning of this thread. I read "On Writing" before reading "Dialog." I found it highly amusing that Gloria Kempton illustrated several of her points by using examples of Stephen King's work, several of which violated King's own recommendations on what NOT to do in writing.

Books on writing are like cookbooks. They can give you a useful formula, but it's your own unique presentation of the ingredients that makes the final masterpiece.


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Smaug
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Let me take a moment to recommend a new writing book, in which a chapter of mine is included. The Muse On Writing Book is just out in e-book and hard copy forms. This is a compilation project that included 18 different writers writing on a variety of subjects. Here's the link: http://www.freewebs.com/themuseonwriting/aboutthebook.htm

Of course, I'm a bit prejudiced toward the book, and especially the chapter on conflict.

Shane


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thexmedic
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Someone already mentioned 'Self-editing for fiction writers' but that things priceless so I want to second that.

I also find a lot of help in screenwriting books. There's a lot about structure in them, which I personally find helpful. So I'd also recommend:

'Story' by Robert McKee. Just a great overview of stories in general and all the bits and pieces but also a great introduction to 3-Act Structure.

'The Writer's Journey: Mythic structure for Writers' by Christopher Vogler. Relatively prescriptive (3-Act structure broken down into 12 steps) but I found it phenomenally helpful.

Also, if you're writing fantasy I just got myself a copy of 'A Tough Guide to FantasyLand' by Diane Wynne Jones. It's a must read. Not only is it very funny but its a good guide to every cliche in a genre ridden with cliches.


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Aalanya
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I agree with ChrisOwens- The First Five Pages is excellent.

It's written by a literary agent who is very familiar with the errors writers make that keep them from being published. If you want to know how an agent or publisher feels, read this. Anyone could learn from this book.


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Smaug
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Ken Rand's 10% Solution has been quite helpful to me, as has The Science Fiction Writer's Workshop. There's one that's hard to find now, by Dean Koontz. I'm not sure of the title--something like Writing Popular Fiction...very good book if you can locate it.
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musestower
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On Writing By Stephen King. And OSC's books are a must.
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Robert Nowall
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As I recall, Koontz wrote two versions of his writing book---or maybe two separate books---one in the early seventies called "Writing Popular Fiction," (more or less), and another in the early eighties called "How to Write Best Selling Fiction" (also more or less). I read the latter, a library copy, and enjoyed it immensely, but was never able to locate a copy for my own. Somehow, this enjoyment did not extend to Koontz's fiction---why, I can't say.
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Silver3
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I hate "Self-Editing Fiction for Writers". It gives lots of good advice, but without nuancing it. Just my opinion, and I can be pretty cranky at times


OSC's books. And Le Guin "Steering the Craft". And I agree with autumnmuse on Kress's "Beginnings, Middles and Ends".

I read books on writing between stories. I can't read them as I'm writing, or I start undoing everything, and wondering as I write down each word.


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Ted Galacci
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I first started writing back in the late 80's when I was between careers. Poverty and desperation are great motivators. I went to the public libary and went through the writing magazines in the publications section. I think I learned more from Nancy Kress's column in Writer's Digest than I did from any writing book I've bought since.

Writing books can become an addiction. It's a heck of a lot easier to read a new writing book than to actually sit down and write.


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autumnmuse
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I just read "The First Five Pages" the other day. I'd been meaning to for a couple years but hadn't gotten to it for some reason. Anyway, it is now going to be a sort of writing bible for me personally. I really felt that the author said great stuff. His examples were all so over-the-top-obvious that it was irritating, though. I would have liked something a little more subtle. But despite that, it was great and I feel inspired in my novel.

Another one I'd recommend without reservation tells you all kinds of fascinating stuff about contracts and the process after you get a contract. Some of you may not be at the stage where you care yet, but in case it is of use, let me recommend Richard Curtis's "How to be Your Own Literary Agent" which is interesting whether you plan to get an agent or no.


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keldon02
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For some really serious advice try:

Zen in the Art of Writing
by Ray Bradbury

Becoming a Writer
by Dorothea Brande

Both of these are not so much about technique but about getting your head together so that you can write. There are a couple of others but these are a pretty good start.

For fun you might try:

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland
by Diana Wynne Jones



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pjp
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"You should be aware that OSC disagrees with a lot of what Stephen King gives as writing tips, and made that known at bootcamp last year." --Spaceman

A rhetorical question: And that matters, because? Seriously though, a successful writer is a successful writer.


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Spaceman
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It matters for a couple of reasons. First, this is OSC's web site, so his opinion should be voiced here. Second, both books were recommended and might have contradictory advice. It's posted as a notice that SK and OSC do not agree on how to do their craft, particularly when OSC mentions that SK doesn't necessarily follow his own advice.
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ethersong
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How bout that word rhetorical :P. j/k.

I've never seen OSC around on the forum. It may be from his website but we seem to talk about him the same as any writer. At least that's the impression i get.

Anyways, thanks for all the book suggestions. Have a long list of things to look at. Of course, hopefully I'll get something published before I finish even half of the books you all suggested.

Thanks though.


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Survivor
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Card has never posted on this particular forum to my knowledge. That is mainly because his advice to writers is available through his books and classes, including Uncle Orson's Writing Class. It may also be that he wishes to avoid becoming a disruptive presence here, either by being incontravertable or attracting his personal enemies to this forum. In any case, he's never posted on this forum, and he has on all of the others (though some of those other forums only say official announcements and the like).

I'm pretty sure he knows we're down here, but who knows


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