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Books on Writing (2 Viewers)

Let's play a game. You pretend you haven't discussed this topic a million times and I won't pretend I'm the first person to bring it up. I've seen this brought up time and again and each time I see a lot of the same responses. Some of them even balk at the idea that you could possibly learn anything about writing from a book. Preposterous, am I right? What I believe a lot of these people don't like is the idea that there exists some edict on the correct way of writing a story.

After all, storytelling is an art and there are no rules in art, right? That's a rhetorical question, by the way and not because I already know the answer but because I'm not sure there is one.

I'll get to my point already. How do you feel about books on writing and do you think they can be a good tool for new writers? Are there any that you would recommend or that have helped you in your own writing?

Personally, I've read a lot of them and the only two titles I keep returning to are A Field Guide to Writing Fiction by A.B. Guthrie, Jr. and the classic The Elements of Style (fourth edition). Field Guide is something I've read and re-read over and over again because it really fits the sort of writing style I'd like to emulate and partly because it's less than a hundred pages and is easy to fly through. It even brings up the dreaded 'show, don't tell' maxim and yet it only spends a page-and-a-half on the topic. Then there is Elements which I only use for the occasional reference. To be honest, I try not to get bogged down by grammar and I do devote some time to editing what I can but when that time comes, I plan on hiring a professional editor.

I'm also a fan of reference guides that focus less on teaching writing and acts more like an encyclopedia of random information and inspiration. Lately, I've been enjoying Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer. The author actually mentions that it is intended to be read from beginning to end but I've found it more helpful by jumping around and reading what seems most interesting and relevant to me at the time.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I've looked at books on writing that are utterly worthless ... a lot of general prattling without enough common-sense discussion and examples to give an aspiring writer what they need. In addition, they have a mandate to FILL A BOOK. That leads to a heinous load of repetitive and otherwise useless filler. Even worse, some of them are written by people who, if you investigate, you can't find one single novel under their name. Many are written by people who have written fewer novels than some of the members in WF. Rarely, you find one written by a SUCCESSFUL career author, which is still no guarantee they can produce non-fiction which seeds their talent into the aspiring writer ... because even those books contain the repetitive filler.

You can get a writing course from Holly Lisle, who has written a LONG LIST of novels, and sadly, I still find to be a very average writer who, in the series I read, completely lost the fun part of her own premise. You WILL find some nuggets in her writing advice ... that's absolutely true. But model my writing on her? No. Steven King wrote a book on writing. Obvious credentials there. I've never found the need to read it, though.

Many books on writing fiction come with academic underpinnings, and most academic underpinnings spell death for attempts to write compelling fiction. How to prove that? Those authors are not successful fiction writers.

I've never found it, but the book aspiring writers need would cover the 20 most important topics in writing fiction, in at most two or three pages per topic. Anything more than that is the repetitive filler I might have mentioned above. ;-) No one wants to write or publish (or probably even believe in to buy) a 50-page book to teach writing. LOL

Here's what I found in more than a decade of investigating aspiring writers as an Amazon Top 500 Reviewer. Most aspiring writers have at least one good, complete plot in them. Where they fail is consistently writing effective sentences. That's why I always recommended:

 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
I am following Lajos Egri's instructions on characterization. He tells you how to plan a character. You have to research psychology, sociology, and physiology. You look at the bone structure. I use wikipedia to find the information. He has a biography called bone structure you must fill out.
He wrote the art of dramatic writing and the art of creative writing. If you buy this get both and not just one. They need to be both read to be understood.
Writing a screenplay in ten weeks is another book written by a screenwriting professor at nyu. However I recommend reading egri's books first and understanding psychology and the other dimensions by using the internet.


Another book I like is the character development workbook triseries. This needs for you to research on the internet psychology etc.

Lastly I did buy a book on how to plan a story but I am not sure on its effectiveness. It's meant to be filled out as a workbook. To be honest it needs to be a pdf. But I like it. I might get a scanner with ocr to scan the pages since the whole book is exercises. I want to fill it out each time. This is for high school creative writing. It must written for that audience but suits other writers imo. This was meant to be completed in a computer. There is no pdf available.


I agree with vranger . I myself bought books to analyze the structure of my sentences. I have that problem. I bought 8 books to deal with my English problems and style.

These are the only books that I plan to use it reuse and I am now focusing on my English writing skills such as how to write good prose.
 
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I've never found it, but the book aspiring writers need would cover the 20 most important topics in writing fiction, in at most two or three pages per topic. Anything more than that is the repetitive filler I might have mentioned above.

If that is true then you might be interested in A Field Guide to Writing Fiction or at least be willing to give it a shot. I first discovered it in a lonely bookstore that had been segregated to its own little nook by a city too large to recall its existence. The book has been out of print for some time but after I lost my first copy, I was able to find another on Amazon easily enough. It runs through 40 topics over 99 pages and the author mentions that he references mostly his own work for examples not because they are inherently superior but because they are readily available.

My favorite chapter is six, named Characters and Compassion. His story of Brother Williams really shed a light on how sometimes my own prejudices could cloud my potential for greater character development.

I've read a free sample of what you posted and have already downloaded it. I need a lot of help in the more 'technical' part of writing and this looks like it can supply that in an entertaining way.

I've spent a lot of years writing in text-based RPGs and while I had a lot of fun and developed a lot of fantastic creative tools, I'm afraid I've developed some bad habits along the way. It's not the same as collaborating on a novel and can sometimes feel more like you're writing a record of events rather than actual storytelling. That's a part of the reason why I've read so many different books on the craft and the main reason why I joined WF so thank you for the recommendation.

I am following Lajos Egri's instructions on characterization. He tells you how to plan a character. You have to research psychology, sociology, and physiology. You look at the bone structure. I use wikipedia to find the information. He has a biography called bone structure you must fill out.
He wrote the art of dramatic writing and the art of creative writing. If you buy this get both and not just one. They need to be both read to be understood.

I will have to look into the two 'art of...' books you mentioned as for some inexplicable reason it popped into my head recently that I need to focus more on my dramatic writing. It is inexplicable because I'm not entirely sure I know what the means. However, I must admit that I will likely skip any requirements that have me filling out forms or lists as I've done so much of this in various online role playing groups that I'm a bit burned out and would only end up feeling like I was going backwards in my current writing pursuits.

Thank you for the recommendations. I am going to give the rest of them a more thorough look-over in the future.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
You can borrow the art of creative writing for free at the internet archive before committing to a purchase. It is the first one. I took notes when I read. If you decide to buy it I can share some notes or a small summary of what I consider vital. Psychology wiki has great information. I found moral code there ( this is from the bone structure or biography to fill out from the book by the Nyu professor. Not Lajos egri). I am sure I can find more information else where such as phobias. A lot of that what is in the psychology section of the bone structure can be researched on the internet. Sociology/environment I haven't gotten yet to research. I do web searches since he advocates the 3 dimensions of writing character are psychology, sociology, and physiology ( I call environment sociology). The bone structure gives you a list of things psychology ( psychology attempts to solve problems besides provide for explanations for human behavior) for instance treats as a subject, or sociology, or physiology. Your learning of human nature's motivations never end if you research. That is what key take away point I took of the last book called dramatic writing. You'll feel like planning characters seems like fun and then you can write from the outline. I haven't because of language difficulties been able to decide on writing a new story with planning as I am bilingual. But as mentioned I ordered some books to fully study the English language.

The other book has its own bone structure ( these are the 3 dimensions you need to know from a character or biography) or things you can research when creating your character ( the one by the nyu Professor). The bibliography mentioned Lajos egri 's book as one of her sources and I see some of his ideas in her book. Check to see if the art of dramatic writing can be read for free.

The whole book is about character development. He talks about conflict but insists you need to know people which his approach as he attempts to explain. He does not like the word plot since he says stories are about characters and not plot. He does not emphasize plot and instead chooses to focus on characters in both books.

You can spend days studying moral code and not finish reading it from the psychology wikipedia section. He argues we need to self -educate ourselves on psychology. I took for example his bone structure and the other writing teacher's bone structure for free. Or if I don't find the information I need maybe I could look for a low cost kindle book to inform me. He talks for example at length of virtues and vices. I research whatever is free or cheap. In this instance I like Lewis Carroll's book on virtues and vices. When a virtue doesn't achieve a good ends. It's considered to be bad behavior. The compulsive trait ( intolerable behavior or trait or vice from what I understand) could be ambition for instance. The want or desire to get ahead of others. I got this info from researching virtues and vices ( Lewis caroll). I am just exploring a lot of Egri's ideas for inspiration.
 
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Terry D

Retired Supervisor
The very best books to read to develop as a writer are books which you enjoy. Why do you enjoy them? What did the writer do that moved you (or that made you think, "That stinks!"). The great thing about our craft is that nothing can be hidden. It's all right there on the page for you to see.

Now, that being said, I have found a number of instruction manuals on writing that were helpful. The afore mentioned Elements of Style, by Strunk and White is one I always recommend and that I reread frequently (and whose advice I unashamedly ignore from time to time). Others include:

The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage
Telling Lies for Fun and Profit
by Lawrence Block (at one time Block wrote a monthly fiction column for Writer's Digest and this book is a collection of those columns. Highly recommended)
Writing the Novel from Plot to Print also by Block
On Writing by Stephen King (definitely not a 'how to' manual, but it's written in a refreshing manner and has some great advice)
 
The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage
Telling Lies for Fun and Profit
by Lawrence Block (at one time Block wrote a monthly fiction column for Writer's Digest and this book is a collection of those columns. Highly recommended)
Writing the Novel from Plot to Print also by Block
On Writing by Stephen King (definitely not a 'how to' manual, but it's written in a refreshing manner and has some great advice)

I've read King's On Writing multiple times and have even listened to him narrate it. Something about it really speaks to me. Funny enough, I'm not even a fan of his books. He does offer some advice but to me it reads more as a light biography of his career rather than a writing guide (which I'm fine with).

I will look into your other recommendations. Thank you.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
Many books on writing fiction come with academic underpinnings, and most academic underpinnings spell death for attempts to write compelling fiction. How to prove that? Those authors are not successful fiction writers.
I would agree with this on the whole. One who is often readable is David Crystal. He is an English Prof. at a Welsh university and has written a lot of books, not directly about writing fiction, and not all as good as each other, but I would recommend "Making a point", which is the story of English punctuation, informative, witty and readable.
I read the Stephen King book, more a memoir than a guide. The one bit of advice that seems to be almost universal is 'write regularly', a regular amount or a regular time each day. It goes with the successful author who was asked "How do you write all those books?", "Well, first I put my bum on the chair."
 
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Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Multiple notebooks can be used to fill out the book that has execrsies. That's currently what I am considering doing to leave it blank. I know that list making can tire out writers. I personally think it helps in the brainstorming process. So for anyone considering that book you would need notebooks and you could complete it one day.
 
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I would agree with this on the whole. One who is often readable is David Crystal. He is an English Prof. at a Welsh university and has written a lot of books, not directly about writing fiction, and not all as good as each other, but I would recommend "Making a point", which is the story of English punctuation, informative, witty and readable.
I read the Stephen King book, more a memoir than a guide. The one bit of advice that seems to be almost universal is 'write regularly', a regular amount or a regular time each day. It goes with the successful author who was asked "How do you write all those books?", "Well, first I put my bum on the chair."
That makes sense about King's book since part of the title is A Memoir of the Craft. I don't know if he intended to write a guide to writing fiction and it just turned into a memoir or if this was his original plan. I know it wasn't what I thought it would be when I first read it but it turned into something of a nice story that I enjoy going back to from time to time. Part of me just enjoys hearing an author's story and struggles to remind myself that even 'the best' had to wade through rejections and that those overnight successes are few and far between.

I've heard of David Crystal from other people but I've yet to read any of his work. I'm pretty sure I've even heard of Making a Point before now so I'm going to go download it now. A lot times I think someone has recommended an author or a book to me only for it turn out that I saw back when I was an employed captive of some big chain bookstore.
 

Terry D

Retired Supervisor
My favorite part of the King book is at the end where he shows a few pages of a manuscript and then shows his revision process. It is a good example of using proof-reading symbols to edit, but, more importantly, it gets the reader inside his mind as he edits. What more can someone looking to learn ask for?
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
My favorite part of the King book is at the end where he shows a few pages of a manuscript and then shows his revision process. It is a good example of using proof-reading symbols to edit, but, more importantly, it gets the reader inside his mind as he edits. What more can someone looking to learn ask for?
I'd love to see that. You are right, that is the best way of learning.
 
My favorite part of the King book is at the end where he shows a few pages of a manuscript and then shows his revision process. It is a good example of using proof-reading symbols to edit, but, more importantly, it gets the reader inside his mind as he edits. What more can someone looking to learn ask for?
That reminds me of a collection of short stories titled Shadows Beneath. There are four short stories and each of the authors offers a sort of behind-the-scenes look at the editing process. What's even better is that these writers are all in a workshop together and they edit each other's stories and show you the workshopping process they go through. I can't believe I forgot to mention it. Granted, all of the stories are within the fantasy genre so that might turn some people off but the lessons you can learn from it are not genre specific.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LDOM8A2/?tag=writingforu06-20
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I went looking for that manuscript but couldn't find it. I did find this quote from the book that I found interesting though:

Writing is refined thinking.

In fiction, the paragraph is less structured — it’s the beat instead of the actual melody.

I would argue that the paragraph, not the sentence, is the basic unit of writing — the place where coherence begins and words stand a chance of becoming more than mere words.

Words have weight…words create sentences; sentences create paragraphs; sometimes paragraphs quicken and begin to breathe.


At its most basic we are only discussing a learned skill…We are talking about tools and carpentry, about words and style.…but as we move along, you’d do well to remember that we are also talking about magic.

and:

Good writing consists of mastering the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, the elements of style) and then filling the third level of your toolbox with the right instruments.

There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter…He lives int he ground…You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I would argue that the paragraph, not the sentence, is the basic unit of writing — the place where coherence begins and words stand a chance of becoming more than mere words.
I wouldn't agree with that, but if it's a debate, it's a debate without a point. One must write sentences anyway, and getting the construction and scope of each sentence right is essential for building mood. A writer MUST be able to write effective sentences before a paragraph has a point. You can never write four bad sentences and have me conclude, "Those sentences suck, but MAN, what a paragraph!" LOL I have applauded great sentences, great chapters, and great books. I have never applauded a paragraph.

However, I feel that at least for me, the sentence is a far more technical element, and the paragraph is more feel. I plan a sentence as a I write it, and I may revise a sentence for clarity, impact, and/or color. I hardly ever plan a paragraph as I write it. I write a sentence and realize "that's the paragraph". Hit [ENTER]. And actually, the same thing happens with a chapter. I know what I want in the chapter, but very often I write a sentence and it's obvious it's the place to end the chapter. The same thing happens when I realize I've just written the last line in the book.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I wouldn't agree with that, but if it's a debate, it's a debate without a point. One must write sentences anyway, and getting the construction and scope of each sentence right is essential for building mood. A writer MUST be able to write effective sentences before a paragraph has a point. You can never write four bad sentences and have me conclude, "Those sentences suck, but MAN, what a paragraph!" LOL I have applauded great sentences, great chapters, and great books. I have never applauded a paragraph.

However, I feel that at least for me, the sentence is a far more technical element, and the paragraph is more feel. I plan a sentence as a I write it, and I may revise a sentence for clarity, impact, and/or color. I hardly ever plan a paragraph as I write it. I write a sentence and realize "that's the paragraph". Hit [ENTER]. And actually, the same thing happens with a chapter. I know what I want in the chapter, but very often I write a sentence and it's obvious it's the place to end the chapter. The same thing happens when I realize I've just written the last line in the book.
That's a snippet and I doubt he means even with bad sentences, the paragraph can shine. He's talking about the paragraph in a similar way to how I talk about paragraphs. Each should be an expression in and of themselves, regardless of the overall context. I see words as notes, sentences as refrains and paragraphs as choruses. Everyone loves a catchy chorus! That would make a scene a musical number and an entire story a Broadway musical.
 

Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
My own:
If all goes as I hope it will, I've almost finished the very best book on flash literature (short-short material-- fiction or nonfiction). My book shows its history and evolution, how flash literature became a world-wide event in the 19th and 20th centuries and then again in the 21st century. I include many essays on writing certain types of flash literature (some of my essays have been previously published in Writer's Digest) and I cover many of its major practitioners (early and late), and many of the major anthologies. I also provide several well-established markets and a useful marketing strategy. Plus I include exercises that help create flash literature and plenty of prompts to try. The publisher is waiting for me to finish polishing the manuscript and the book should be available the end of the year sometime. I tried to create the kind of “how to” book I’d like to read.

For Novels:
Stein on Writing
by Sol Stein. This is a book I love. It’s fascinating reading, for one thing. For another it’s filled with good advice, craft techniques, and strategies. Here are some quotations from that book:

"If there is a common error among inexperienced writers, it's that they say too much, they try to characterize with an excess of detail instead of trying to find the word or phrase that characterizes best."

"Another error of inexperienced writers -- or journalists in a hurry -- is to confine characterization to the obvious physical attributes. For females, facial features, breasts, hips, buttocks, legs. For males, broad shoulders, strong arms, chiseled features, and so on. That's top -of -the -head, thoughtless writing. Such clichés are common in speech. We expect better of our writers."

"People who are exactly like other people probably don't exist. But people who seem like most other people litter our lives, and we don't usually seek their company because they are boring. Readers don't read novels in order to experience the boredom they often experience in life. They want to meet interesting people, extraordinary people, preferably people different from anyone they've met before in or out of fiction."

"In life, speakers answer each other's questions. We compliment a speaker by saying he is direct. Dialogue, to the contrary, is indirect. The key word to understanding the nature of dialogue is that the best dialogue is *oblique."

"Dialogue is a lean language in which every word counts. Counts for what? To characterize, move the story along, to have an impact on the reader's emotions."

For Poetry:
A Little Book on Form: An Exploration into the Formal Imagination of Poetry
by Robert Hass (a former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner). I have many books on writing poetry but this one is by far my favorite. It’s filled with fascinating information. It’s filled with so much I didn’t know about poetry. Kirkus Reviews says: “Erudite, witty, and well-informed, this encyclopedic labor of love will become the go-to book on poetic form for years to come.”

One book I try to avoid is Helene Cixous’s Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing. I try to avoid even mentioning it because it’s so fascinating I know I will get lost in it one more time. Jacques Derrida says this about her: “Helene Cixous is today, in my view, the greatest writer in what I will call my language, the French language if you like. And I am weighing my words as I say that. For a great writer must be a poet-thinker, very much a poet and a very thinking poet.” I love reading Cixous’ words and in this book she explores “the strange science of writing.” She sets up three essential areas for “great” writing: the School of the Dead, The School of Dreams, and The School of Roots. (Now I am drawn to read the book one more time. It’s that good.)

Another book I love is History Matters: Cotemporary Poetry on the Margins of American Culture by Ira Sadoff. I agree with renowned writer Claudia Rankin’s words: “Ira Sadoff’s History Matters passionately draws the complex connections between cultural and poetic practice and with this commitment reshapes the way in which poetry matters as an ongoing, transforming medium that moves us to change. The work in the “On the Margins” chapter is especially brilliant. It teaches us how to read experimental work.”

All great books, books definitely worth reading.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Besides the book posted by vranger, does anyone know any good books on sentence structure for a wide audience such as high school and above? I ordered these two books on sentence structure. I do own that book. But not on kindle which was a mistake.
The art of styling sentences fifth edition.

And this one.

Anything written by David Crystal cover this topic?

For cohesion I bought two books on the topic which are on their way here.
 
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