Some Good Books on Writing
Note: writing how-to books is a thriving business for a lot of people who have
sold little or no fiction professionally. I'd strongly advise you to look
for books on how to write that are written by working writers who have published
fiction credits--these are the people who are actually doing the work you
want to do, and their advice is going to be the most accurate and useful.
This same advice applies to writing classes and seminars, too: make sure
you know a teacher's professionally published credentials before you sign up!
Here are some writing books I've found to be most useful:
- HOW TO WRITE BESTSELLING FICTION by Dean R. Koontz (Writer's Digest Books, 1981, ISBN 0-89879-045-X) is out of print, unfortunately, but it can still be found at libraries and used bookstores. This is one of the best books I've ever read about writing, from someone who really is a bestselling writer. Koontz offers a great deal of solid advice for fiction writers here, including plotting and characterization.
- WRITING THE NOVEL: FROM PLOT TO PRINT by Lawrence Block (Writer's Digest Books, 1979, ISBN 0-89879-208-8), again, by a well-known novelist, is a short, indispensable book on plotting, structuring and writing novels. Contains excellent advice on developing the discipline to write regularly.
- CREATING SHORT FICTION by Damon Knight (Writer's Digest Books, 1981, ISBN 0-89879-166-9), is also out of print, but can still be found. An excellent guide to concocting short stories. Look for the revised edition.
- THE ART OF FICTION by John Gardner (Vantage/Random House, 1985, ISBN 0-394-72544-1). Literary writer and teacher John Gardner offers a guide to developing your writing skills. Lots of good writing exercises in here.
- ON BECOMING A NOVELIST by John Gardner
(Harper & Row, 1983, ISBN 0-06-014956-6). This book is more inspirational than "nuts and bolts," but
is still full of invaluable advice.
- ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING by Ray Bradbury (Joshua Odell Editions/Capra Press, 1990, ISBN 1-877741-01-9) is another primarily inspirational book by one of the greats of science fiction and fantasy. Some excellent suggestions for generating story ideas here.
- BECOMING A WRITER by Dorothea Brande (J.P. Tarcher/St. Martin's Press, 1981, ISBN 0-874-77164-1), first published in 1934, is an interesting examination of the writing process and the mindset of writers.
- HOW TO WRITE SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY by Orson Scott Card (Writer's Digest Books, 1990, ISBN 0-89879-416-1), by the Nebula- and Hugo-award-winning author, is one of the best guides to writing in these genres. As a rule, this particular how-to series (there are also books on writing mysteries, westerns, horror, etc.) from WD Books is good.
Other Essential Books
- A good dictionary. Most pro writers have more than one. I use THE AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY for quick reference, backed up by WEBSTER'S 7TH COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY and THE COMPACT EDITION OF THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY (which can be found relatively inexpensive, used).
- THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by William Strunk,
Jr. & E.B. White (MacMillan,1979). Known casually as "Strunk and White," this
is an indispensible reference on grammar and usage. Find it, read it and
learn it. Editors will greatly appreciate your effort. Also useful are companion
volumes THE ELEMENTS OF GRAMMAR by Margaret Shertzer and THE ELEMENTS OF EDITING by Arthur Plotnik.
More to come...
I plan to add more books to this list, so check back from time to time.