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Thread: Favorite books on writing

  1. #51
    Oponionated PastMidnight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kristie911
    On Writing is definitely the best I've read but I also have one called Forest For the Trees: An Editors Advice To Writers by Betsy Lerner. I really enjoyed it...in fact, I've read it three times. She has some really great advice.
    I just started reading this (one that my library DID have!) and am really enjoying it so far.

    I'm glad to see someone else mention Elizabeth George's book. This is one of the few writing books that I own. A lot of her techniques on research and character development really resonate with me.

    Sounds like I am the only one who really didn't like The First Five Pages though! I thought a lot of his advice was simplistic.

  2. #52
    practical experience, FTW Cheryll's Avatar
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    I picked up The First Five Pages, Bird by Bird, and The Forest for the Trees at my local library today.

    I started The First Five Pages. I'm finding a lot of good practical advice so far, especially for someone like myself who is seeking representation for their first manuscript.

    Cheryll
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  3. #53
    Impractical Fantasy Animal sunandshadow's Avatar
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    Perople have recommended a lot of books - Story by McKee is my own favorite besides the ones I recommended myself in the thread I linked to a few posts up. But I wanted to contribute something new to this thread, so I thought I'd list some lousy books to avoid.

    THE STINKERS:
    Freytag's Technique of the Drama - He may have invented the famous Freytag's pyramid, but there nothing else useful in this book.Also parts of the book are swamped with ectreme German Nationalism (it was first published in 1863).
    The Story-Shaped World: Fiction and Metaphysics - Despite the title this book is not about fiction, it is about Christianity.
    Script Magic - Again, not a book about writing technique, but a book about how positive visualization will magically (literally) make you a published writer.
    No Plot, No Problem - This book can be summed up in one sentence: write lots of crap now, edit it into a novel later.
    Last edited by sunandshadow; 03-08-2006 at 01:08 PM.

  4. #54
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Great books on writing for me have been:

    Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott
    The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
    Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
    Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg
    Pen on Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

    I also enjoyed On Writing by Stephen King, similarly, Three Weeks With My Brother shares some of the writing backstory of Nicolas Sparks, which was fun to read.

    There are lots of great books recommended in this thread. Makes me want to go to amazon.com....

  5. #55
    Oponionated PastMidnight's Avatar
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    With all of the recent posts on POV, which books are especially good at explaining and helping with POV?

  6. #56
    wshhhhhshweshhhwwweshh gp101's Avatar
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    I've read so many how-to's since the early nineties it's dizzying. A lot of them either repeated the same general, obvious info, or contradicted each other--probably why I took a few years off from writing anything at all--I was confused as hell.

    But once I could no longer put off writing (or reading how-to's) two books really clicked. One I got in the late 90s, How to Write a Damn Good Novel II by James Frey (no, not the guy who wrote the hokey "memoir"). Breaks down the mainstream novel nicely and tells you why things work and don't work. But the eye-opening read for me occurred two years ago: The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri. Written in the 40s (I think) and geared toward play writing, it's been a blueprint and inspiration for many of today's top screenplay gurus. But I think the basics he presents (a lot of them based on Plato's ideas) helped explain fiction writing in general for me and can be used for novels. It's not a how-to per se; it explains how dramatic fiction in general works, and why. If you read only one book, I'd say read Lajos. Granted, it hasn't helped me get published (yet), but my writing is much more presentable and palatable and interesting (according to my beta readers anyway), and I attribute it all to some principles I learned from that one book.

  7. #57
    practical experience, FTW
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    Quote Originally Posted by Prosthetic Foreheads
    Just wondering what you all think about Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass.
    I liked this book as well. I generally don't read writing books to learn how to write; I read for inspiration and entertainment (hence my enjoyment of Anne Lamott's book). But Maass' discussion of memorable characters was helpful.

  8. #58
    Dragon with a Pen PenDragon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aruna
    Orson Scott Card is great. I read him in a volume called How to Write a Million, which was in three parts. The parts on plot and character were excellent, the part on dialogue mediocre.
    I have How to Write a Million and I agree with your assesment.

    Another vote for Self-Editing for fiction Writers it's a must have.

    I also like James N Frey's How to Write a Damn Good Novel very down to earth practical advice and inspirational too. The chapter on Premise I found really helpful as I'd been struggling to get to grips with that for awhile and Frey explains it in a way that clicked with me straight off.

  9. #59
    practical experience, FTW
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    Quote Originally Posted by PastMidnight
    With all of the recent posts on POV, which books are especially good at explaining and helping with POV?

    Try Orson Scott Card's Characters and Viewpoint.



  10. #60
    Not responsible for bitten fingers Shadow_Ferret's Avatar
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    OK, because of everyone's recommendation, I picked up "On Writing" by Stephen King.


    I'm up to page 25. Does he ever talk about writing? It's like a autobiography.
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  11. #61
    figuring it all out
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    A couple of books that I have found useful - James N Frey: How to Write Damn Good Fiction, and Dianne Doubtfire: Creative Writing. I'm in the middle of Anne Lamotte's Bird By Bird at the moment, which is also useful.

    I think i will pick up a copy of Self Editing... judging b y the amount of people who have recommended it.

  12. #62
    On a wing and a prayer aruna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shadow_Ferret


    I'm up to page 25. Does he ever talk about writing? It's like a autobiography.
    Yep! That's why I wasn't raving either! After a while I skipped forward to where he talks of writing. I think he should have written two books, autobiography and writing. Not everyone is intersted in both.
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  13. #63
    Impractical Fantasy Animal sunandshadow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PastMidnight
    With all of the recent posts on POV, which books are especially good at explaining and helping with POV?
    What exactly are you looking for help with? I mean POV's a pretty simple topic, right? There's only two issues: 1) choosing what viewpoint to tell any given chunk of story from, and 2) using a given viewpoint consistently and appropriately to make the chunk of story read well.

  14. #64
    Oponionated PastMidnight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sunandshadow
    What exactly are you looking for help with? I mean POV's a pretty simple topic, right? There's only two issues: 1) choosing what viewpoint to tell any given chunk of story from, and 2) using a given viewpoint consistently and appropriately to make the chunk of story read well.
    I'm not really looking for help, but with all of the recent questions about POV, I was wondering if it wasn't as clear-cut a topic as I thought.

  15. #65
    On a wing and a prayer aruna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PastMidnight
    I'm not really looking for help, but with all of the recent questions about POV, I was wondering if it wasn't as clear-cut a topic as I thought.
    For wonderful words on POV read the Learn Writing with Uncle Jim thread, and do a search. I'll tray and find the place for you if I have time later today.
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  16. #66
    Uptown Girl BlackCrowesChick's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aruna
    Yep! That's why I wasn't raving either! After a while I skipped forward to where he talks of writing. I think he should have written two books, autobiography and writing. Not everyone is intersted in both.
    No, I suppose not everyone is, but I was, and IMO, the autobiographical parts added a level of depth to the book. They made it emotionally impacting. Some of them showed how writing can get you through difficult times in life.

    I loved the whole book. I liked both the autobiographical parts and the writing ones. I can't praise this book enough!
    "You couldn't not like someone who liked the guitar." - from The Stand, by Stephen King.



  17. #67
    On a wing and a prayer aruna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BlackCrowesChick
    No, I suppose not everyone is, but I was, and IMO, the autobiographical parts added a level of depth to the book. They made it emotionally impacting. Some of them showed how writing can get you through difficult times in life.

    I loved the whole book. I liked both the autobiographical parts and the writing ones. I can't praise this book enough!
    However, I think he should have titled it differently, as "On Writing" is very misleading. In fact, there was very little on writing there that I did not already know; almost half of the book was autobiography! (Writing has already brought me through difficult times in my life, and I learn far more from my own experiences than from that of others...)
    A title such as "A Memoir of the Writing Life" would have been more accurate, and I would not have bought it. Or perhaps I would have, but I would have known what I was getting.
    However, I seem to be in a minority, as most people apparently loved the book; this is the first time I've dared to admit it didn't bowl me over! I do think it is not written for writers, but for Stephen King fans (I am not one - I have not read him).

    By far the book that made the greatest impression on me, as a beginning writer, was Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer. I owe everything to that book; without it I don't think I would ever have started,. It's a true classic.
    Last edited by aruna; 03-11-2006 at 03:37 PM.
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  18. #68
    Impractical Fantasy Animal sunandshadow's Avatar
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    Just got 11 new writing books from the library (and put a hold on one which was missing) so maybe I'll review them here as I read them.

  19. #69
    Impractical Fantasy Animal sunandshadow's Avatar
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    Okay, finished the first book: Structures of Meaning by Thomas John Donahue, 1993. This was not really a book on writing, since the audience was assumed to be actors and directors of plays, but I thought it had some valuable insights. It talked about how characters are agents working in support and opposition of each other to carry out the action of the play, which can be summarized in one infinitive phrase, such as "to decide the future of the cherry orchard", "to acquire the treasure and/or the beautiful woman," "to escape danger", etc.

    So in the spectrum of literary theory books Structures of Meaning fell neatly in between Vector Theory and the Plot Structures of Literature and Drama by Cynthia Joyce Clay, which talks about characters as thematic vectors which support and oppose each other, and Dramatica: A New Theory of Story by Melanie Anne Philips and John Huntley, which talks about an overall concern which all characters in a story are motivated to work toward or against.

    Structures of Meaning also had in common with Dramatica that both feature charts showing how a cast of characters has opposing characteristics distributed among them.

    So in conclusion, I would not recommend reading Structures of Meaning by itself, but would recommend it for anyone who has already read and liked Dramatica and/or Vector Theory.

  20. #70
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    Aruna,
    It didn't bowl me over either but we seem to be in a minority. I enjoyed the autobiographical parts, particularly the post accident section, but felt the actual chapters on writing were more general than specific and certainly didn't provide me with what I was expecting, based upon the Title. I bought his book because I didn't want to buy the adjacent 'How to's'. I was more interested in the 'This is the way others structure and construct scenes and paragraphs etc., and this is why it works' aspect but didn't find much of it in the book.
    I found Jack M Bickham, and Dwight V Swain's books provided more of the answers and technical things that I was looking for. Not to say King's book isn't helpful - it is, but it wasn't what I expected.

    Quote Originally Posted by aruna
    However, I think he should have titled it differently, as "On Writing" is very misleading. In fact, there was very little on writing there that I did not already know; almost half of the book was autobiography! (Writing has already brought me through difficult times in my life, and I learn far more from my own experiences than from that of others...)
    A title such as "A Memoir of the Writing Life" would have been more accurate, and I would not have bought it. Or perhaps I would have, but I would have known what I was getting.
    However, I seem to be in a minority, as most people apparently loved the book; this is the first time I've dared to admit it didn't bowl me over! I do think it is not written for writers, but for Stephen King fans (I am not one - I have not read him).

    By far the book that made the greatest impression on me, as a beginning writer, was Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer. I owe everything to that book; without it I don't think I would ever have started,. It's a true classic.
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  21. #71
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    Zinsser's "On Writing Well" is the only writing book, I felt, was not written to make a buck from those who want to write. It focuses on non-fiction, but it's equally suited for poets and fiction writers. Sue me.

  22. #72
    practical experience, FTW Cheryll's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kristie911
    I also have one called Forest For the Trees: An Editors Advice To Writers by Betsy Lerner. I really enjoyed it...in fact, I've read it three times. She has some really great advice.
    I just finished this one. The analysis of the different kinds of writers was interesting. And she gives a great behind-the-scenes look of the publishing process. I recommend it.

    Cheryll
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  23. #73
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    I don't know if anyone's mentioned it (I didn't scour the entire thread), but I think my overall favorite is a book titled "If You Want to Write", by Brenda Ueland. It was published in 1938, and is currently in print (Graywolf). She was a friend of John Reed and Eugene O'Neill, among others, and after a severely interesting life, died at the age of 93 in 1985. One of the main reasons I like it is that it's so bloody well-written. Anybody who likes Lamott's Bird by Bird ought to love this volume.

    caw.

  24. #74
    Impractical Fantasy Animal sunandshadow's Avatar
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    Just finished the second book, Myth: Its Meanings and Functions In Ancoent and Other Cultures by C. S. Kirk, 1970. This one was a stinker - in addition to being difficult reading it displays a fundamental misunderstanding of what structuralism is.

  25. #75
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird
    "If You Want to Write", by Brenda Ueland.
    I had forgotten about this gem of a book. Well worth reading.

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