Looking for Books on Writing

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Thread: Looking for Books on Writing

  1. #1

    Looking for Books on Writing

    Hi there.

    As I already wrote in my introductory post, I like writing (crime) short stories. Right now this is just a hobby of mine, but it's a lot of fun. I enjoy it very much though and I'd like to get better. Therefore I'm looking for some good books on writing and how to write. I did some search online browsing the most common websites for classified ads like http://www.for-sale.co.uk/books-writing. But there are so many books on writing for sale, I can't really decide which one to buy. So does anybody can give some good advice which book(s) I should get? So far I have a few on my list:

    Anne Lamott Bird by Bird
    Stephen King On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
    William Zinsser On Writing Well
    Annie Dillard The Writing Life

    So which one is a good start?

    I'm basically interested in a general overview about techniques and style. So does anybody here has some more or different recommendations, especially with regard to short stories?

    Any feedback is highly appreciated. Thank you in advance.

    Last edited by Marsha; March 21st, 2017 at 04:00 AM.

  2. #2
    Bird By Bird is awesome, but you can get the general idea just by reading the chapter "Shitty First Drafts" which floats around the internet in pdf form. Note: you SHOULD ABSOLUTELY read that chapter, at least. I read (and forgot) Stephen King's book, but others seem to like it. I've heard good things about Annie Dillard, but haven't read her work yet. Haven't heard of the other book. A lot of these end up being more like memoirs and talking about inspiration without teaching technique.

    For more technical/style/structure advice, I strongly recommend:

    - How to Tell a Story: The Secrets of Writing Captivating Tales by Peter Rubie and Gary Provost (This thinks a bit much of itself at times, and I disagree with it at times, but it also includes some rather good reminders. My writing has improved while reading it.)

    - The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman (an editor who tells you the methodology by which he rejects stories)

    - Scene & Structure
    by Jack M. Bickham (I read this one some years ago and doing so helped me plan out and write my first novel. I don't remember much except that I liked it and it talks a lot about cause/effect relationships).

    NOTE: The common refrain when people ask this question is usually: "stop reading about writing and just go write." That certainly has some merit (reading books about writing is pointless if you don't also write), but I've learned a lot from the above books. Sometimes I disagree, or sometimes they tell me what I already know, but they've inspired great things in my writing.
    I don't write stories, I lick them out of the ice and let them find their own way.Hidden Content
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  3. #3
    While I can't help you with what you are looking for (having not read a single book on writing 0.o), these might be something you might be interested in for the future though, seems as crime is your thing -


  4. #4
    You might look around in used book stores. I've gotten a ton of books on writing for way less money than new books, or even online. The best advice I can give is to read a bunch of them and use whatever speaks to you and ditch what doesn't.

    "Life is a risk; so is writing. You have to love it." ~ Richard Matheson

  5. #5
    The books I read, I think, targets wanna-be writer (like me) who don't know where to start.
    I don't really know if my suggestions are good. I just try the authors ideas and techniques. Just for fun.
    What would be even funnier is: you select a book with challenges/exercises in it, and you post your solutions somewhere on the forum (if we can).
    I might even buy the same book and do them too.

    I found Stephen King's book: on Writing to be more fun and about what it is to be a writer (and becoming one. Becoming Stephen King in fact...) than actually how to write.

    I like books from James Scott Bell (Plot & Structure, and Conflict & Suspense) those gave me some ideas...


    Planning your Novel from Janice Hardy was fun and her book: Understanding Show, don't tell was instructive for me.


    I tried outlining and if you would like to try, K.M. Weiland as a good book about it: Outlining your novel: Map your way to Success.

    I'm doing Steve Alcorn's online course, and his book helped me some: How to fix your novel.

    In Stephen King's book, he mention one important book:

  6. #6
    Alright. Thanks for all the replies! And don't forget what Stephen King once said:

    “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

    Wish you all a great weekend!

  7. #7
    On Writing was a good one if I remember right. I need to reread it. I have a lot of books on writing. I am currently reading The Positively Procutive Writer and it's been helpful. I find that advice can be good and bad, bad because you might thing it's the right advice but you also need to understand that works for one person may not work for you.
    Lots of articles online too and youtube videos.

  8. #8
    As the librarian of my RWA chapter I had access to over fifty books on writing. Most, I found, took the approach: "Read this chapter of my work and then I'll tell you why it's great."

    Bird by Bird is a good book on the writing life, and I enjoyed it. King's book is okay, but half autobiography and weak on technique. There are many good books, written by agents, publishers, writers and teachers. But Dwight Swain's, Techniques of the Selling Writer is the book. It focuses on the nuts and bolts issues of how and why things work. He leaves issues of style to others, and makes you know what a scene is, and why it is what it is.

    Perhaps I'm biased, but that's because before I read that book I'd written six unsold novels. After I read it I sold the next novel I queried.

    Jack Bickham's, Scene and Structure is another, and very like Swain's book—which makes sense given that they taught together.

    Another, not quite as good because it doeasn't go into as much depth of detail, but an easy warm read, is Debra Dixon's, GMC: Goal Motivation & Conflict. She was one of Swain's students (are you sensing a trend?)

    You might also enjoy, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynn Truss. It's a fun read on the background and history of grammar. It won't teach you punctuation, but you will appreciate it more. And it will make you smile.

    Hope this helps.

  9. #9
    Member Arrakis's Avatar
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    Feb 2015
    The Inner Mind
    In the end, you're going to have to find your own style. That's one of THE hardest parts of becoming a writer; developing a style that works for you and you alone. You can borrow techniques from others, but if you try to copy them completely, you won't get very far.
    "The greatness of evil lies in its awful accuracy.
    Without that deadly talent for being in the right place at the right time, evil must suffer defeat.
    For unlike its opposite, good, evil is allowed no human failings, no miscalculations.
    Evil must be perfect, or depend upon the imperfections of others."

    ~Narrator of The Outer Limits

  10. #10
    As someone who has sold short fiction to various pro and semi-pro markets, my advice is to only read how-to books by authors who've done what you want to do. A good book for short stories is Damon Knight's. (Can't recall the title.) He was a prolific, award-winning writer and his book focuses on practical aspects of fiction writing.

    My second bit of advice: Avoid rigid theories of storytelling. There are a lot of funky theories floating around internet land. Avoid theories from the screenwriting world; they're too formulaic.

    Analyze the fiction you aspire to write. Analyze the plot. Analyze how the plot changes the character. Analyze those bits that bore you, and analyze the bits that inspire you.

    Again, avoid formula. I don't mean that storytelling isn't formulaic. It is. But too much formula is bad. Storytelling has been around forever. Hemingway and Shakespeare didn't think about "plot points" or "killing the cat" or the ten thousand bizarre theories in modern times. Neither should you.

    If, however, you want formula, then the only "formula" I know of is this:

    --A story starts with four things: (1) an interesting character (2) doing something interesting (3) in an interesting place (4) while feeling something interesting.

    --The character has an ultimate desire or motive of some kind, and also a fatal imperfection of some kind (usually a lie that they believe), both of which are related. The imperfection drives the character's actions. (Aristotle called this the character's "hamartia.")

    --Character and plot are yin and yang; they drive each other. As the character acts according to his imperfection, conflict occurs, and this conflict will challenge the character's imperfection, thus creating internal conflict.

    --As the character is shoved through the plot, the internal conflict will grow and grow until both sides seem equally appealing. The emotional climax of the story is when the character is forced to make a decision regarding his internal conflict. This "climactic decision" is really the central focus of a story; everything should lead to it.

    --Oh, and regarding suspense, the only "rule" is this: Always raise questions, and never answer a question without first raising one or two more. For example, if your character is in a pickle, don't let him get out without first putting him into another pickle.

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