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angelmarlo

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What are the best and most helpful books you have read for learning to write? Also what online classes have you taken that you have felt helped you the best and found the teacher to know what they are talking about?
I have trouble with description and the dreaded show vs tell so books on that would be helpful but I am a beginner writer so any books on any topic of writing will help big time!
Thanks in Advance!!:)
 

Woollybear

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"How not to write a novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them--A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide" is my go-to suggestion for new writers. It is a great read, and also helpful. You might see your errors highlighted in the 200 examples of rookie mistakes, but if you do, you will see those errors shared humorously and largely painlessly. Here are a few opening comments, to give you an idea:

Typically the plot of a good novel begins by introducing a sympathetic character to wrestle with a thorny problem. As the plot thickens the character strains every resource to solve the problem while shocking development and startling new information help or hinder her on the way.

The plot of a typical UNPUBLISHED novel introduces a protagonist, then introduces her mother, father, three brothers, and her cat, giving each a long scene in which they exhibit their typical behaviors one after another.

More resources:

"Writing Deep Scenes" is useful for structure and thinking about stories in new ways.

Brandon Sanderson's free you-tube series is especially helpful for thinking about how to construct a world and structure a narrative. SFF.

I like the websites for scene and sequel and for the snowflake method, both by the same guy.

There are a lot of great books for intermediate level writers including most craft books by Donald Maass and Ursula LeGuin.

Also, take notes as you read your favorite books. You'll absorb some of the tricks that way.
 

Maryn

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FWIW--and I'm aware this is a me-thing, not an everybody-thing--I never found a book to be of much help except a detailed grammar and usage book where I could look up whatever arose.

There are people who benefit greatly from books that inspire, that help them spot their mistakes, that gently or humorously teach them grammar or punctuation, that get them writing daily, that help them edit or create structure, that show them good character development, and lots more, but don't assume you're in that number.

I bought and borrowed a lot of those books before I realized I wasn't getting much, if anything, from them.

What helped me was learning by doing, not by reading, studying, or taking classes. I was in an active critique group where we all submitted work and we all critiqued the work of others on a regular basis, usually every two weeks, over a period of years. Doing literally hundreds of critiques and receiving dozens really hones your skills in spotting and fixing your own weaknesses as a writer.

While my critique group was in person, you can get the same thing here at the appropriate SYW board, or by forming critique partnerships that take it private rather than posting publicly. (Although I'm a fan of public, because others can learn from it that way.)

I'm sure you'll get some great suggestions here from people who have found books on the craft enormously helpful. Get one or two and see if they serve you well before investing in more.

Maryn, who donated quite a few when she moved
 

Paul Lamb

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I have to agree about how-to books not doing much to help me learn how to write fiction. They may work for others, but my brain just can't do the input.

I did benefit from some community college writing classes and being in several writing groups, but the biggest learning tool I found was to read good fiction. Read lots of it. Read all kinds of fiction. And read it critically. Why did the writer phrase the sentence that way? How would I have written that? Did this plot order make sense? If not, is there something I am missing?

And then write and keep writing. Put your writing aside and come back to it in a couple of months. See if it still reads well or if you can improve it. Keep writing. Even your misfires will have lessons for you.

I wish you success!
 

lorna_w

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For beginners, Gary Provost's two books: Make Every Word Count and Beyond Style.

Orson Scott Card's Characters and Viewpoint will help you not make mistakes with limited POV.

That's enough to start.

And then take your favorite two novels in your genre as paperback books, and re-read them slowly and make notes on them in these areas, both in the margins, and in reflecting after you've finished a section of the book.

Character: when was this character introduced, and how? In dialog? Description? Was there conflict or was it a calmer scene? Was the sense of that person you came away with upon their introduction proven out in the rest of the book?

Description: how much is described? If a scene is set, count sentences in the description. If a character is, note what exactly and how many words are used.

Dialog: how can you tell who is speaking? What kinds of dialog tags does the author use? How often do they use no tags but some other way to designate who is speaking? Do characters always respond to exactly what the other person said, or do they sometimes change topics?

Chapters: how many pages? How do they begin and end?

(Highlight things that seem a good lesson in all of this, and you might have to read a chapter once for dialog, once for description,a third time for action beats, etc.)

Point of View: if more than one, how does the author signify when s/he is changing POV? How do we know we're in that character's point of view? Is there any point at which a POV character is misinterpreting reality, and how does the author pull that off?

Structure: what is the inciting incident, and where does it come in the book? If you had to pick the four most important moments of the book, what are they and where do they fall? How does it start? How long does it go on after the climactic moment?

Action: how does the author keep straight who is doing what? How long are the sentences? Does the dialog change? If so, how? Circle the verbs in an action scene and see if you can come to any general "rule" of writing (all rules are guidelines).

Contratextual: look at the cover, summary, and quotes/reviews. Do they reflect what's in the book? Do you think they had any sway over why you bought it in the first place? Do you think they had sway over other readers?

Write down everything you learned from the first book, and then write down everything you learned from the second book.

Do that for two books, seriously, taking 1-2 months on each book, a little bit of work and study every day, and in four months you'll know a whole lot more about writing than you know today. It's a far better way to learn than popping into a writer's group and asking "how do I paragraph dialog and action together?" "Can I use 'said' for a whole page?" You'll already know the answers because you did the work of learning on your own, and those lessons will stick with you forever.
 

gothicangel

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Anything by Donald Maass. As a beginner, I would focus on anything about plot, structure and characterisation. I recommend looking at The Heroes Journey and Blake Snyder's Save The Cat. Don't ask me why, but reading books on screenwriting has helped me nail structure. Also, Youtube has a lot of good resources (a favourite blogger of mine is YA thriller writer Alexa Donne).
 
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Jazz Club

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I liked Save the Cat but I wouldn't force myself to follow it too strictly. It's very rigid re genre but it does give you good idea of the basic structure of many of your fave books/movies. Into the Woods by John Yorke is pretty good too, but if I remember correctly, it was a little more analytical/theoretical in its approach, rather than being a straightforward craft book to teach you to write.

I agree with the others that critique can be really useful. If a critter asks 'why'd you write it like that?' or 'what was the point in that part, exactly?' it definitely helps you to think more clearly about your work. You realise you have to have a reason for certain scenes or characters, and it has to work for the reader, not just because you thought it was cool. Just be careful with critique though: some critters can be blunter than others and if you're a little sensitive about your writing, one of the tough love crowd might put you off.

I've never done any online writing courses. I did a developmental editing one, but that probably isn't what you want (it was pretty hard to get into anyway. There are only 5 spaces every time, and whoever clicks first gets the place). Actually... I think there's a version now that's written-only (no zoom meetings) and I think anyone can do it, not just the five who get the places. Check out https://www.liminalpages.com/ It was pretty useful for learning how to write better as well as for editing.
 

Unimportant

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I found "Self Editing for Fiction Writers" to be very helpful with the basics and "Word Painting" to help improve my descriptions.

But YMMV. Maybe go to the local library and grab every reference text on fiction writing they have, and go through them and see which ones resonate with you and which ones seem fairly useless.

When I have the time (when/if Day Jobbe ever allows) I want to try taking this flash fiction course.
 

Brightdreamer

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I think a lot depends on where you are as a writer, how you learn, and how well the book or course meshes with those. The right book/course can still come at the wrong time in your journey.

That said - noting that I skew to SFF - some that I've found interesting and useful at various points and for various reasons.

Orson Scott Card's Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction is still one of the best introductions to genre writing I've read (though OSC sorta sticks in my throat, the man does know his craft and does a very solid job explaining it). Get the expanded reprint version, if possible; it incorporates material from another book that I found useful that dovetails well with the original.

Jeff Vandermeer's Wonderbook is probably best saved for when you have some experience under your belt. Lots of interesting ideas and ways to look at writing and various problems one encounters, plus visual interest. It's an experience as well as a read, though likely more useful for SF/F/horror.

James Scott Bell's The Art of War for Writers is a solid overall book on how to start writing and keep writing, not genre-specific.

Roy Peter Clark's Writing Tools is another non-genre-specific writing book that I found interesting enough to keep on the shelf.

It's geared at younger writers, but Gail Carson Levine's Writing Magic is a great introduction to writing in general, with timeless advice for any writer at the start of their journey, as well as a reminder that writing is supposed to ultimately be an enjoyable activity, not just a grind. (This is a good choice for any younger would-be writers in your life, along with Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter's Spilling Ink.)
 

Nether

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For classes, I'll second (or third?) Brandon Sanderson's BYU lecture series (which is free on YT and has several years available). That course probably did more for me than anything else... well, except on the querying side. Among other things, it helped to instill a productive mindset and gave me an idea as the variety of approaches.

For "how-to" books, I have stacks of books on writing I've either never opened or barely touched. At this point, I feel like books on writing probably just don't work for me. However, I've read plenty of fiction which has by example taught me how to (and how not to) write. And, in general, I feel the best education on writing genre fiction comes from reading genre fiction (although you'll also want to read outside your genre).

James Scott Bell's The Art of War for Writers is a solid overall book on how to start writing and keep writing, not genre-specific.

Oddly enough, I have that book by my laptop right now. I picked it up maybe 2-4 years before I got back into fiction-writing, at a point when I'd meant to get into fiction-writing.
 

CWNitz

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I liked Self-Editing for Fiction Writers for line edits, Eats, Shoots and Leaves for punctuation, and On Writing and Worldbuilding for worldbuilding. Scene and Structure, and Intuitive Editing helped for general structure.

But also, reading and critting queries in SYW really helped me understand structure better, and reading and critting openings helped with line edits.
 

Elizabeth George's book Write Away