Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Favorite Books on Writing

by Annette Lyon

Over the years I've amassed a pretty decent library of books about writing. I've tossed a few to good will along the way, ones that I found less than useful, but I have many that I consider excellent. If anyone comes near these books with dirty fingers or without express permission, they should expect my wrath.

Sometimes if I feel my creativity and motivation sagging, all I have to do is pick up one of these books and reread it. Suddenly my writing self is in overdrive and story elements start clicking into place.

Below are some of those books, plucked from my bookshelf:

The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron
Part inspirational/part how-to, this book is a guide to freeing your creative self, blasting through writer's block, and affirming your abilities. Basically, nurturing your inner artist. Cameron has several other books along the same lines, and they're all excellent. Among them is Walking in this World and The Right to Write.

Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury
Written by one of the best writers of our time, this book is chock-full of wisdom from someone who knows what they're talking about. It also includes history behind some of his books, such as the one he's possibly most famous for, Fahrenheit 451. Funny, poignant, and spot-on, this one has my scribbles in the margins, underlines, and brackets all over the place.

On Writing, by Stephen King
First, I have to admit that I don't read his novels, and there's one simple reason for that: I know I'd scare myself witless in the process and never sleep again. But this is one amazing writing book. The first section is his publishing story (we can thank his wife, Tabby, for rescuing Carrie from the garbage can, which really launched his career), and the second is specific advice about writing, everything from drafting to rewriting to following proper format guidelines. A don't miss.

Sometimes the Magic Works, by Terry Brooks
Subtitled Lessons from a Writing Life, this book explores writing from the man who is arguably the father of the modern fantasy genre. So much of what he says will ring true (do you also get distracted and daydream about your characters and space out what people are saying to you?). He discusses how he gets ideas, the big outline debate, why he writes, and much more.

Writing in Flow, by Susan K. Perry, Ph.D
A great primer on reminding your creative side how to relax and let the story come. Includes exercises to help you get into flow as well as many people's descriptions of their techniques and what it feels like for them to reach that point where the world falls away and it's just you and your story.

20 Master Plots (And How to Build Them), by Ronald B. Tobias
A fascinating journey of exploration where the author describes the basic plot lines found in virtually all literature (among them: quest, adventure, revenge, rivalry, pursuit, sacrifice, transformation, and maturation). As you read, you can't help but pinpoint which one best describes your story. Even better, you can get a better idea of how to focus it and make your work even better.

Scene and Structure, by Jack M. Bickham
This book pretty much blew my mind when I first read it. I had to rethink a lot about the book I was writing at the time, and while some of his techniques are easier applied to a fast-paced adventure book than the slower historicals I write, this book still helps me to get the tension, conflict, and story problems to work better. A previous post mentions some of his basic concepts.

Character and Viewpoint, by Orson Scott Card
Your characters are the lifeblood of your story. Getting to know them yourself and getting your reader to know them are important. Likewise, it's crucial to learn how to use point of view properly and to the greatest effect.

The Writer's Journey, by Christopher Vogler
As I mentioned last week, this is another excellent book that follows tried and true, time-tested patterns that can be mixed up to create an innumerable amount of fresh, wonderful stories. I'm not done with it yet (I'm digesting it nice and slow so I can savor it), but I think it'll be one of my classics I won't ever get rid of.

Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life, Edited by Barnaby Conrad and Monte Schulz
Okay, so who doesn't just love Snoopy and his endless quest to be published? This delightful book includes loads of comic strips chronicling Snoopy's writing, submissions, and rejections. In between, over 30 famous writers (Ed McBain, Danielle Steele, Sue Grafton, Fannie Flagg, Julia Child, Elmore Leonard, Jack Canfield, Clive Cussler, and many more) give their own practical advice.

I have other books about writing, including ones with narrow focuses like life in the 1800s, poisons, and forensic medicine, but the ones above are my favorites for overall writing and inspiration.

What about you? Do you have any favorite books on writing that others should look up?


Heather B. Moore said...

I've been reading Bickham's "38 Fiction Mistakes . . ." and have really enjoyed it. I also loved "On Writing" by Stephen King. I'd recommend "Characters and Viewpoint" by Orson Scott Card.

A.Riley said...

I will have to check the library for some of those books. I love reading those types of books to get me motivated when I'm just not in the mood to write.

I recently read "Writing from the Heart" by Nancy Slonim Aronie. It was really good. It really gave me that feeling of wanting to go out and conquer the world and that I could do anything I set my mind to. Good reading.

Anna Maria Junus said...

Guide to Fiction Writing by Phyllis A. Whitney.

She's written about a hundred books and she's over a hundred years old and still alive.

Her book explains how she writes and gives you step by step directions in outlining and planning a book.

It's not the way I write, but I still found it helpful because she includes chapters on selecting names and keeping track of them and other helpful hints.

Janice LeFevre said...

Thanks for the great suggestions. I haven't read many of those books, so I'll check them out!

I love "Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art" by Judith Barrington. Although this book is directed to writers of memoir, the principles overlay nearly every genre. Here's the title of just a few of the chapters: Finding Form; Scene, Summary, and Musing; Using Your Senses (how to incorporate the five senses); and Moving Around in Time. The chapter of the book has excellent guidance on critique groups. Each chapter ends with writing exercises that can get the creative juices going!