Monday, 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.


L. Diane Wolfe said...

My favorite for character-building is "Personality Plus" by Florence Littauer. It's a relationship book, but it outlines the four basic personality types in great detail. I use it in the characterization sessions I do in classrooms, too.

L. Diane Wolfe

jenny milchman said...

I love all of these too, Beth! I would add Albert Zuckerman's WRITING THE BLOCKBUSTER NOVEL. It's not specifically targeted to mysteries (as many of your recs aren't) but it's an excellent examination of some big commercial books--which have become icons--and how they accomplished what they did, broken down into a really interesting analysis.

Thanks for this--great topic!

Robert W. Walker said...

my own favorites are David Morrell's book on writing, Dean R. Koontz's book on writing (out of print - try your library), Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern, and coincidentally just put up my own how to on Kindle Store for Kindle reader, Ipod, and Iphone download and selling myself cheap.
My how to is entitled DEAD ON WRITING.

great blog, Beth!
rob walker

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Thanks for the tips, Beth. I've read the first 2, but will have to check out some of the others.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Karen Hall said...

My favorite -- though it's not specifically about mysteries -- is SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Brown and Dave King. It's a gem of a paperback, and every time I read it I learn something new. I agree with you, Beth, about THE WRITERS JOURNEY, and with Rob on MAKING SHAPELY FICTION, too. Both are great resources.

Anonymous said...

Bob Spiller and I were talking about good craft books. These are great. Beth. One of my favorites is "Manuscript Makeover"--revision techniques no fiction writer can afford to be without.

Thanks for sharing...Great topic!


BrendaGurung said...

Great, Beth - thank you.

One of my faves is Christina Katz's Get Known Before the Book Deal, about building platform.

Other hot picks from a few writing conferences include many of Elizabeth Lyon's books.

Sheila Deeth said...

I go through phases - read lots of "how to" books, read lots of reading books, then try to write some more. Thanks for the recommendations.

Anonymous said...

Love BIRD BY BIRD. I use her "write about your elementary school lunch" exercise when I teach writing and it is SO good for getting young writers to really focus on visceral details.

Camille Minichino said...

Thanks Beth; there are a couple here I'll have to check out. I love the Vogler book, which is also helpful for screenwriting.

I'd add Hallie Ephron's "Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel" which has great exercises for beginners on up!

Patricia Stoltey said...

I still go back and reread Bird by Bird from time to time. Another great one on craft in general is Stein on Writing by Sol Stein. Highly recommended.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your book recommendations, Beth! I'll have to point all the writers I know in your blog's direction for this list!

cttiger said...

Bird by Bird is a perennial favourite, but I just finished Donald Maass' The Fire in Fiction and it was excellent.

Helen Ginger said...

Vogler's book is a favorite of mine. I also like two by Les Edgerton: Hooked and Finding Your Voice.

Straight From Hel