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I thought I'd start a list of recommendations on the craft of writing. Feel free to add suggestions of your own.

 

The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall.

 

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. A classic work on mythology. Said to have been the inspiration for Star Wars.

 

The Writer's Journey, Second Edition: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. A nice distillation of Campbell's work with some new thoughts on structure and character archetypes.

 

The Weekend Novelist by Robert J Ray. Ray lays out a plan for writing a novel over the course of 52 weekends. Buy the first edition if you can find it.

 

Creating Unforgettable Characters by Linda Seger.

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I rather like The Writer's Digest Handbook of Novel Writing by the editors of Writer's Digest.

Also consider Writing The Novel by Lawrence Block.

 

Fowler's Modern English Usage by R.W. Burchfield is an excellent reference book but for quick lookups for basic questions few references can beat the good old Harbrace College Handbook.

 

If you're writing a period piece and want to avoid anachronisms, or just want to know the appropriate usage of "ods bodkins," consider The Penquin Dictionary of Historical Slang by Eric Partridge (not affiliated with the Partridge Family :) ).

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I rather like The Writer's Digest Handbook of Novel Writing by the editors of Writer's Digest.

Also consider Writing The Novel by Lawrence Block.

 

Fowler's Modern English Usage by R.W. Burchfield is an excellent reference book but for quick lookups for basic questions few references can beat the good old Harbrace College Handbook.

 

If you're writing a period piece and want to avoid anachronisms, or just want to know the appropriate usage of "ods bodkins," consider The Penquin Dictionary of Historical Slang by Eric Partridge (not affiliated with the Partridge Family :) ).

 

My favorite all-around guide is Oakley Hall, "The Art and Craft of Novel Writing." He gives wonderful examples that put flesh on the principles he's espousing.

 

On characters, in addition to Linda Seger's book mentioned by Steve, I like Orson Scott Card's "Characters and Viewpoint." Very practical, clear suggestions.

 

A fun book to look at is Howard Schatz, "In Character: Actors Acting." Great photos of facial expressions that you can use as research. I also have Francine Prose, "Reading Like a Writer," but I haven't read it yet, so don't know how good it is.

 

And for the business side of writing, there's Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook, "Give 'Em What They Want: The Right Way to Pitch Your Novel to Editors and Agents," which includes--in addition to a list of small presses you might not otherwise know about (and that don't require agents)--useful examples of good query letters, synopses, etc.

 

Glad to know about the historical slang dictionary! I'd never heard of such a thing!

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Marguerite - you (and possibly others) might also be interested in The Dictionary Of Contemporary Slang by Tony Thorne. It was written in 1990 so I don't know exactly how "contemporary" it still is. But I've seen no other reference that collects "modern" slang from the entire english-speaking world (e.g., America, Great Britain, Australia, the Caribbean, etcetera).

 

Note also that in a pinch there is also OneLook.com. The site is free and is often able to identify the most recent slang as well as the etymology of many words, citing source and date of origin.

 

And while we're on the subject of words (a novelist's very building blocks) please consider the following from the Berkley Reference Collection:

 

The Oxford Essential Dictionary of Word Histories;

The Oxford Essential Dictionary of New Words;

The Oxford Essential Dictionary of the U.S. Military (it's like they speak another language);

The Oxford Essential Desk Reference.

 

Since we seem to have expanded this section beyond "How To Write" books to include word reference books, I'm wondering if we should include esoteric research references? E.g., life aboard a pirate ship, astronaut training, how to murder your wife/husband/editor with the proper poison. Or does this require a new topic? Steve?

 

Just trying to be helpful.

-Thoth the Well-Read.

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Marguerite - you (and possibly others) might also be interested in The Dictionary Of Contemporary Slang by Tony Thorne. It was written in 1990 so I don't know exactly how "contemporary" it still is. But I've seen no other reference that collects "modern" slang from the entire english-speaking world (e.g., America, Great Britain, Australia, the Caribbean, etcetera).

 

Note also that in a pinch there is also OneLook.com. The site is free and is often able to identify the most recent slang as well as the etymology of many words, citing source and date of origin.

 

And while we're on the subject of words (a novelist's very building blocks) please consider the following from the Berkley Reference Collection:

 

The Oxford Essential Dictionary of Word Histories;

The Oxford Essential Dictionary of New Words;

The Oxford Essential Dictionary of the U.S. Military (it's like they speak another language);

The Oxford Essential Desk Reference.

 

Since we seem to have expanded this section beyond "How To Write" books to include word reference books, I'm wondering if we should include esoteric research references? E.g., life aboard a pirate ship, astronaut training, how to murder your wife/husband/editor with the proper poison. Or does this require a new topic? Steve?

 

Just trying to be helpful.

-Thoth the Well-Read.

 

For up-to-the-minute slang, I like http://www.urbandictionary.com/.

 

As for adding references, etc... I you think they are worth reading, go ahead. At some point, I'll probably cull the recommendations and pin a categorized list where folks can see it.

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I like urbandictionary.com too but it has some strange holes. For example, it has "loligoth" but not the more common "gothloli". Both can be found at OneLook (which refers you to Wikipedia, oddly enough).

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  • 1 month later...

For inspiration: Zen in the Art of Writing -- Ray Bradbury

For no-nonsense craft: Immediate Fiction -- Jerry Cleaver

For a fun pulp template - Lester Dent Pulp Fiction Master Plot -- LINK

Screenplays - The Screenwriter's Workbook - Syd Field

Editing - Self Editing for Fiction Writers - Browne and King

Line by Line (How to Edit your Own Writing) -- Claire Kehrwald Cook

Mysteries - How to Write a Mystery - Larry Beinhardt

Overall View (old, first published in 1933) Trial and Error - A key to the Secret of Writing & Selling - Jack Woodford

 

When I'm down I usually read Zen by Bradbury and then Immediate Fiction. And the Lester Dent outline seems to fit so easily into so much fiction I've read (especially the Alex Cross novels). Maybe the Lester Dent Outline could be used in Storyist? I wonder if it's copyrighted or has some other restriction?

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  • 1 month later...
For inspiration: Zen in the Art of Writing -- Ray Bradbury

For no-nonsense craft: Immediate Fiction -- Jerry Cleaver

For a fun pulp template - Lester Dent Pulp Fiction Master Plot -- LINK

Screenplays - The Screenwriter's Workbook - Syd Field

Editing - Self Editing for Fiction Writers - Browne and King

Line by Line (How to Edit your Own Writing) -- Claire Kehrwald Cook

Mysteries - How to Write a Mystery - Larry Beinhardt

Overall View (old, first published in 1933) Trial and Error - A key to the Secret of Writing & Selling - Jack Woodford

 

When I'm down I usually read Zen by Bradbury and then Immediate Fiction. And the Lester Dent outline seems to fit so easily into so much fiction I've read (especially the Alex Cross novels). Maybe the Lester Dent Outline could be used in Storyist? I wonder if it's copyrighted or has some other restriction?

 

I'm currently reading Michael Hauge's Writing Screenplays That Sell. It's a really good introduction to story creation, character development, and theme even if you're not writing screenplays. If you are, it also goes over basics like how to format a screenplay, how long your screenplay should be, how to find an agent and break into Hollywood, etc.

 

Lots of examples from no-longer-current films and Hauge's light touch and clear, no-nonsense style are the highlights. If you prefer watching to reading, much of the material is also on Hauge's DVD, which I listed in another post. The book has neat summaries of each chapter's most important points, though, so it makes for great cheat sheets.

Best,

Marguerite

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  • 1 month later...

Stein on Writing - by Sol Stein / Very practical advice from a veteran editor. He also uses John Grisham several times as examples of bad writing.

 

Structuring Your Novel - Robert C. Meredith and John D. Fitzgerald / This one covers the gamut on every conceivable part of the writing process. It's bad side is there are a dozen or more principles in every chapter, very hard to hold down. Also the example books that you are supposed to read are very boring (IMHO). Steinbeck's The Pearl and Grapes of Wrath are two.

 

The Art of Fiction - Ayn Rand / Condensed book version of workshops. Very easy to understand, and covers the fundamentals fundamentally.

 

Writing and Thinking - Norman Foerster and J.M. Steadman, Jr / Not a book on creative writing per se. It is from 1923 and teaches writing (and grammar) from the viewpoint that writing is the product of thinking.

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  • 5 weeks later...
Stein on Writing - by Sol Stein / Very practical advice from a veteran editor. He also uses John Grisham several times as examples of bad writing.

 

Structuring Your Novel - Robert C. Meredith and John D. Fitzgerald / This one covers the gamut on every conceivable part of the writing process. It's bad side is there are a dozen or more principles in every chapter, very hard to hold down. Also the example books that you are supposed to read are very boring (IMHO). Steinbeck's The Pearl and Grapes of Wrath are two.

 

The Art of Fiction - Ayn Rand / Condensed book version of workshops. Very easy to understand, and covers the fundamentals fundamentally.

 

Writing and Thinking - Norman Foerster and J.M. Steadman, Jr / Not a book on creative writing per se. It is from 1923 and teaches writing (and grammar) from the viewpoint that writing is the product of thinking.

My latest favorite: Peter Dunne, Emotional Structure: Creating the Story Beneath the Plot. A Guide for Screenwriters (but immensely useful for novelists, too). With Dunne's help, I am (finally) figuring out why Acts II and III of my novel work, whereas Act I has been driving me totally nuts for a year....

 

Also, someone else recommended Browne and King, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, but I found that one very disappointing. The authors include so many qualifications for every suggestion that in the end they convinced me that what works, works--which I pretty much knew already. What I want to know is how to turn something that doesn't work into something that does--and frankly, I don't think avoiding all adverbs is the key!

 

Next is A History of Dueling, by Barbara somebody, which should be interesting if rather--how you say?--bloody.

Marguerite

 

P.S. That's Gentleman's Blood: A History of Dueling by Barbara Holland. Oh, well, two out of four ain't bad. :lol:

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I'd like to recommend How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard as a writing resource. Strictly speaking, it's meant to be a reading resource but it's entertaining, insightful, and speaks eloquently about how many people, including book critics (especially book critics) actually read books. This, in turn, provides insight into how to write them. Devious, I know.

 

-Thoth.

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  • 2 weeks later...
I'd like to recommend How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard as a writing resource. Strictly speaking, it's meant to be a reading resource but it's entertaining, insightful, and speaks eloquently about how many people, including book critics (especially book critics) actually read books. This, in turn, provides insight into how to write them. Devious, I know.

 

-Thoth.

A few more titles:

 

Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile.

Not really about the first five pages, despite the title, but one agent's guide to what he looks for in assessing a manuscript. Good if sobering insights into the realities of publishing--most notably Lukeman's initial assertion that the agent/editor wants to find a reason to reject your submission, so s/he can move on to the next 400 in the pile, so you have to do everything you can not to give him/her a reason to do just that.

 

Nancy Kress, Beginnings, Middles, and Ends.

One of the best books on writing I've ever read, by an author who leads workshops and teaches writing. It assumes everyone will have problems with some part of the book and makes useful, practical suggestions on how to overcome them. After reading it, I finally figured out what half-a-dozen people had been trying to tell me about introducing my main character, and while I can't guarantee any of them will like the results, I'm now happy! :lol:

 

John Truby, The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller.

Haven't read this one yet, but it looks quite interesting. Dramatica without the peculiar character charts and the incomprehensible terminology. To be continued.

Marguerite

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I'd like to point everyone's attention to Dwight V Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer, a book that left me absolutely awestruck after reading. Swain was a science-fiction writer and lecturer who penned an impressive amount of words over time. After reading this book I went back to some earlier stories I'd written and applied the techniques, and it's improved my fiction no end. Swain really gets to the heart of what a story is, and how it should be approached, and he's not overly enamored of the 'plot everything beforehand' method either.

 

If you can't find the book there is an equally impressive, and far more accessible version of the method on Jim Butcher's (Harry Dresden fame) live journal account, here:

http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/

 

The only problem with Swain's book is that it is overly dense in places and uses some antiquated examples. If you're looking for the great fundamentals it teaches I recommend reading all through Butcher's post's on his live journal account.

 

PJ

 

PS. Ordered the Lukeman book on your recommendation, Marguerrite and after a quick scan on Amazon.com, looks great. Thanks for the recommendation.

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Thanks for the link, pj. Jim Butcher is both funny and informative. I never read any of his Harry Dresden books but I did see The Dresden Files on the Sci-Fi channel. I liked the show but I thought Cast A Deadly Spell did it better (where the detective was normal and everybody else used magic). Mixing Lovecraft's mythos with film noir is tricky. Now I'll have to check out Swain.

 

Thanks again.

-Thoth.

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Thanks for the link, pj. Jim Butcher is both funny and informative. I never read any of his Harry Dresden books but I did see The Dresden Files on the Sci-Fi channel. I liked the show but I thought Cast A Deadly Spell did it better (where the detective was normal and everybody else used magic). Mixing Lovecraft's mythos with film noir is tricky. Now I'll have to check out Swain.

 

Thanks again.

-Thoth.

 

Cast a Deadly Spell is one of my favorite movies. I'm a big detecto/film noir fan anyway, and adding in the Lovecraftion/horror angle was a load of fun. For years after watching that film I couldn't remember the title, but recently managed to acquire a copy. The Dresden books are a lot different than the series, significantly so, but they do stick to the spirit of the old hardboiled detective series. Well worth the read.

 

PJ

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I'd like to point everyone's attention to Dwight V Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer, a book that left me absolutely awestruck after reading. Swain was a science-fiction writer and lecturer who penned an impressive amount of words over time. After reading this book I went back to some earlier stories I'd written and applied the techniques, and it's improved my fiction no end. Swain really gets to the heart of what a story is, and how it should be approached, and he's not overly enamored of the 'plot everything beforehand' method either.

 

If you can't find the book there is an equally impressive, and far more accessible version of the method on Jim Butcher's (Harry Dresden fame) live journal account, here:

http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/

 

The only problem with Swain's book is that it is overly dense in places and uses some antiquated examples. If you're looking for the great fundamentals it teaches I recommend reading all through Butcher's post's on his live journal account.

 

PJ

 

PS. Ordered the Lukeman book on your recommendation, Marguerrite and after a quick scan on Amazon.com, looks great. Thanks for the recommendation.

Yes, this LiveJournal site looks quite helpful. I also ordered Swain, which seemed pretty interesting based on the Amazon.com excerpt. Thanks, PJ.

Marguerite

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  • 2 years later...

Here's one y'all can skip: William Noble, Conflict, Action, and Suspense (part of the otherwise useful "Elements of Fiction Writing" series from Writers' Digest). 185 pages that boils down to "keep your readers guessing, and they will want to find out more, but don't keep them guessing too much, or they will lose patience and go away."

 

There, now you know. And I bet you never realized that a suspense novel was one that kept you, as the reader, in suspense over the outcome!

 

My public service announcement for the day. :)

Marguerite

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My public service announcement for the day. :)

Marguerite

Much thanks.

 

Now you have me thinking about posting the names of writing-resource books that were an utter waste of my time, to warn others off. The problem with that is that the lessons that may be painfully obvious to me and you might be a revelation to others. ("Suspense in a suspense novel! Of course! What was I thinking? Giving away who-done-it at the very beginning!" - Would-Be-Creator of the Columbo TV series, 1971. :) )

 

-Thoth.

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Well, in three years you'd think I'd have read some useful books on the craft of writing. There are a few that I mentioned in the "What Are You Reading?" thread or elsewhere, such as The Dreaded Synopsis, The Virgin's Promise, Write Away, and The Anatomy of Story, but I have to say that relative to the number of dollars I've invested, the return in the form of genuinely informative craft books is pretty small. Indeed, I sometimes think that my own road to success, if I can't convince the world that Lynx is the bestseller I naturally think it is, would be to write a "wannabe novelist's art of writing" book. :)

 

I could call it How Not to Write a Novel, except that a book by that title already exists!

 

And I see that I still have not finished Reading Like a Writer, which I began three years ago—although that one I actually like. It's just more descriptive than instructive, which is the problem with a lot of these books, I find.

 

Perhaps the sad truth is that the only way to learn to write is by writing—and rewriting. But I'm always happy to find a new title that proves me wrong.

 

Slogging along until Storyist 4 arrives and writes the whole book for me, :)

M

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... Indeed, I sometimes think that my own road to success, if I can't convince the world that Lynx is the bestseller I naturally think it is, would be to write a "wannabe novelist's art of writing" book. :)

He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.

- Man and Superman (1903) "Maxims for Revolutionists" by George Bernard Shaw.

 

I could call it How Not to Write a Novel, except that a book by that title already exists!

I'm going to call mine, How To Become A Billionaire By Writing Seven Children's Books About A School For Magical Children.

HTBABBWSCBAASFMC for short. Rolls trippingly off the tongue, does it not?

 

Perhaps the sad truth is that the only way to learn to write is by writing—and rewriting.

That's what I always thought. But there's more money in telling others how to do it.

 

Slogging along until Storyist 4 arrives and writes the whole book for me, :)

But then, why would publishers even need writers? All they'd need is Storyist 4.

"Beware the savage shore of the All New Storyist 4!"

- Thoth

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He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.

- Man and Superman (1903) "Maxims for Revolutionists" by George Bernard Shaw.

Ah, but it's not true. They are quite separate skills. Some can do and teach; some can neither do nor teach; and some can do one or the other but not both. :)

 

I'm going to call mine, How To Become A Billionaire By Writing Seven Children's Books About A School For Magical Children.

HTBABBWSCBAASFMC for short. Rolls trippingly off the tongue, does it not?

Have you been attending the Klingon Language Institute? That's even more of a tongue-twister than Tatar. :) Ka'pla!

 

That's what I always thought. But there's more money in telling others how to do it.

Sad to say, that appears to be so.

 

But then, why would publishers even need writers? All they'd need is Storyist 4.

"Beware the savage shore of the All New Storyist 4!"

- Thoth

Bad Storyist 4. Stop that! Just put down my novel and step away from the Applications Folder, and no one will get hurt. :)

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Ah, but it's not true. They are quite separate skills. Some can do and teach; some can neither do nor teach; and some can do one or the other but not both. :)

I think Georgie Boy was just playing the averages there.

 

Bad Storyist 4. Stop that! Just put down my novel and step away from the Applications Folder, and no one will get hurt. :)

Oh! You are so strict!

 

Have you been attending the Klingon Language Institute? That's even more of a tongue-twister than Tatar. :) Ka'pla!

"Heghlu'meH QaQ jajvam"*

-Thoth.

 

*According to The Klingon Language Institute -- A writing resource. :)

I was going to go with Na'vi but their language seemed too complicated to be worth the effort. Besides, it's not like I'm ever going to bump into one of those big blue guys. Klingons are another matter entirely.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Here is a book I didn't expect to be as useful as it has been: Becky Levine, The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide. Despite the title, you don't need to be in a writers' group to benefit: it teaches how to identify the weak spots in other people's plot, characterization, dialogue, setting, etc., and therefore in one's own. And Levine does this by presenting a sample text that, frankly, didn't seem at all bad to me and going through it step by step to show what the problems are as she sees them. It's very specific, which I find more helpful than general comments about "use X but not too often" (how often is too often?).

 

And if you are in a writers' group, Levine also includes a chapter on troubleshooting group dynamics (the reason I bought the book in the first place).

 

The link above is to the paperback edition. The book is not yet available on Kindle (and I assume not on the iBookstore, although I haven't checked). But it is one of those books that would be difficult to make full use of on the Kindle, although it would probably be okay on the color-enabled, more flexible iPad.

Best,

Marguerite

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Here is a book I didn't expect to be as useful as it has been: Becky Levine, The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide.

Thanks. I'll look into it.

 

It's very specific, which I find more helpful than general comments about "use X but not too often" (how often is too often?).

In my experience, "too often" is once it starts to bore or become annoying. This can take several readings if it's your own work. I once read a story (can't remember the name of it) where "as a baby's arm" was used as a comparative phrase about 50 times. :) In a long book the limit should still be once. Maybe twice, but that's pushing.

 

I'll teach that Critique Group to criticize me!

- Thoth

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