Wake up, Polly Parrot.


A Writer's Bookshelf
by Brian Plante

Uh, oh. Another month is drawing to a close, and I realize I haven't written a new Plain Banter column yet. I look around my writing room and scratch my head for an idea, but all I see are these piles of books everywhere....

A writer needs books. Sounds pretty obvious, doesn't it, but I've been workshopping stories with a new bunch of folks lately, and I've noticed some of the writers seem to not know things I consider pretty basic, like proper manuscript formatting. You'd think that aspiring writers would know all this stuff, right? Isn't checking out a few how-to books the first thing you do before setting upon something new like writing? Well, that's how I did it, but others apparently take a different road.

So, what books do I recommend for starting writers? Well, I won't necessarily call these "recommendations" but just list what I've got in front of me now, piled up on every horizontal surface:

Loads of science fiction, fantasy, and horror best-of-the-year and historical retrospective anthologies. I read a lot of novels too, but I rarely hold on to them like I do the better anthologies. Editors whose names appear often in this collection: Gardner Dozois, David Hartwell, Groff Conklin, Ellen Datlow & Terry Windling, Isaac Asimov, James Gunn, Judith Merril, Terry Carr, Donald Wollheim, Karl Edward Wagner, Robert Silverberg, and lots more. Lots. Want to read the hot SF stories from 1954? Yeah, I got that.

Some historical stuff on the field:

  • The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction by John Clute & Peter Nichols (both print editions plus the software version)
  • Science Fiction The Illustrated Encyclopedia by John Clute
  • The Ultimate Guide To Science Fiction by David Pringle

Reference books of all sorts:

  • New York Public Library Guide to Style & Usage
  • Harbrace College Handbook 7th edition (which dates me, I think)
  • Words Into Type, 3rd edition
  • Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (but I rely on the software American Heritage Dictionary)
  • Timetables of History by Bernard Grun
  • Timetables of Technology by Bryan Bunch & Alexander Hellemans
  • Borderlands Of Science by Charles Sheffield
  • New York Public Library Desk Reference
  • Barnes & Noble Encyclopedia (a budget single-volume book, but I rely on Microsoft's Encarta on CD, and Wikipedia online).
  • The Almanac of Science & Technology by Golub & Brus
  • Asimov's New Guide To Science
  • The Melting Pot Book of Baby Names
  • The Elements Of Style by Strunk & White

Books specifically on genre fiction writing:

  • Fiction Writer's Brainstormer by James V Smith
  • Writing The Modern Mystery by Barbara Norville
  • Writing Science Fiction by Christopher Evans
  • Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy by the Editors of Analog & Asimov's
  • How To Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction by J. N. Williamson
  • Science Fiction Writer's Market Place (1994, outdated now)
  • How To Write Short Stories by Sharon Sorenson
  • Aliens & Alien Societies by Stanley Schmidt
  • From Pen To Print by Ellen M Kozak
  • Self-Editing For Fiction Writers by Browne & King
  • The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells by Ben Bova
  • How To Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
  • The Writer's Complete Crime Reference by Martin Roth
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Of America Handbook
  • Space Travel by Ben Bova
  • Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
  • World Building by Stephen L Gillett
  • Novel & Short Story Writer's Market (the last one I bought is the 1994 edition; I get market info online these days)
  • Dare To Be A Great Writer by Leonard Bishop
  • The Fiction Writer's Silent Partner by Martin Roth
  • The Writer's Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe by Ochoa & Osier
  • Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman
  • Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
  • Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
  • Beginnings, Middles & Ends by Nancy Kress
  • Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Rico
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
  • How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey
  • Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight
  • Worlds of Wonder by David Gerrold
  • The 10% Solution by Ken Rand

I probably have another ten or twenty books about writing scattered about the house, and maybe a couple hundred other books of all sorts in boxes in the garage and attic. I have many more books than I have the space for on the shelves.

Did I miss an important book on writing, or a particular favorite of yours? Odds are I've read it. I've borrowed many more books about writing than the ones I own from the public library (Dewey Decimal category 808.3 is burned into my brain). I usually read them and write down the few important points that I haven't already read a hundred times before on a page or two of notes. My wife always rolls her eyes when I cruise the Writer's Reference section at the bookstore and says, "Do you really need another book on writing? Don't you know it all by now?" Well, no, but she does have a point. After reading a bunch of these, you see the same info over and over. Eventually, it starts to sink in. Even when you know what you should do, the trick is to actually do it. Or break the rules, if you really think you know what you're doing (but you'd probably be wrong).

Not all of these books are absolute gems. I have one really oddball title: The Romance Writers' Phrase Book by Jack Kent & Candace Shelton which is just a listing of colorful wordings to spice up various literary situations (e.g. "her anguish peaked to shatter the last shreds of her control"). Some of these books, I've only perused, and never read all the way through. But I mean to read them all, cover to cover, one day. Really I do.

But you can't spend all your time reading about writing. Or writing about writing. You just gotta go do it. That's the best way to learn.

I have to go learn now. Bye.

Copyright © 2004 Brian Plante Count=5325

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