Thursday, December 09, 2010

Third Vacation Golden Oldie: Writing "How To" Books

Here's my third golden oldie post while I'm on vacation, from July 13, 2009:

Writing "How To" Books I Recommend

Today I want to discuss books about writing that have been useful to me in my career and may be useful to other fiction writers. Here's my list:

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott - This book gave me the encouragement and motivation I needed to write my first novel-length manuscript page-by-page. If you need some inspiration, this is the book for you.

How to Write a Damn Good Mystery by James Frey - An easy to read explanation of the basic elements of plot, character, setting, clues and red herrings, and all the other building blocks that make up a damn good mystery.

The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler - This book teaches the basic structure of stories, from campfire tales and oral legends to movies and modern fiction. It is based on Joseph Campbell's theory of myth and how human brains are wired to understand a certain story structure.

Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain - This is the "Bible" many fiction writers swear by and can be as ponderous and difficult to understand sometimes as the actual Bible. However, it's chock full of useful advice, especially regarding the structuring of scenes, so I highly recommend it as an advanced text to gradually work your way through after you've been dabbling with fiction for awhile.

Writing the Fiction Synopsis by Pam McCutcheon - You can't sell your novel manuscript without being able to write a synopsis of the whole story in a few pages. This is usually the most difficult task fiction writers tackle, and we all grumble about it. Pam's book gives clear guidelines for how to write this essential sales document, and I re-read it every time I need to write one.

10 Steps to Creating Memorable Characters by Viders, Storey, Gorman and Martinez - This workbook contains forms, checklists, and exercises that help you dig deep to define three-dimensional characters that readers can fall in love with while reading your fiction.

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass - A companion to this literary agent's book of the same title, this workbook shows the experienced fiction writer how to "kick it up a notch" with worksheets and forms to make sure your novel contains all the elements of best-selling fiction.

An update:

Quite a few fellow writers plugged their own favorite writing "how to" books in the comments on that post, so if you're looking for some writing craft books, you may want to go back and read those comments. I still find these books useful, but the best training for writing is to sit down and do it, then show it to other writers in a critique groups and discuss how to improve it.

There's no substitute for "hands-on" practice. There's an old saying that you have to write a million bad words before the good ones start coming out. I don't know if it has to be exactly that amount for everyone, but you do need to write a lot, and you have to be willing to throw away that "practice writing" and start on something new. So, get writing!


Unknown said...

I agree there is no substitute for practice but I love some of those books. I own many of them.

Donna Volkenannt said...

Many of the books on your list are on my bookshelves. And I agree that to get better, you have to practice.
Donna v.

Tea said...

Just making a visit. Haven't been here in a long while. It is one of my favorite mystery site because Beth is so welcoming and such a good writer herself.

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi folks,
I just returned from my 2.5 week "temple photo safari" to Cambodia and Myanmar today. What an amazing trip! I'll blog about it and post some photos here, but probably not until after the holidays. I've got to get back on US time now, catch up on my mail/email backlog and prepare for Christmas.

Thanks for continuing to read my blog and post comments while I've been away! Tea, thanks so much for the compliment. It's much appreciated.