Editing, Fiction Writing, Writing

Best Writing Books, Part 1

I’m often asked about my favorite books on writing. I have shelves of books on writing, editing, publishing, story structure — you name it. But, when I’m asked to recommend the best writing books, the same volumes comes to mind.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft: My all-time favorite and number one choice is Stephen King’s book, On Writing. For those who might be raising an eyebrow because they aren’t fans of the horror genre … this book is the BOMB!

 I find it funny, witty, heart-felt, and spot on with advice. Half of the book is a memoir, but it gives credence to the fact that King spent years struggling to get anything published, which seems impossible for the author who’s authored so many books that I can’t name them all. The other half of the book gets down to the nitty-gritty of writing, which can be summed up succinctly: (1) Read a lot, (2) Write a lot, and (3) When you are writing, get your butt in your chair and keep it there.

I agree with King. As an author, reading as much a possible gives you fuel. It revs up creativity, inspires, makes you think, and makes you laugh or cry. As for the keeping your butt in a chair statement, it might sound funny, but it’s excellent advice. No one, unfortunately, will write your novel for you. It takes dedication and work, persistence day after day, especially when you’ve hit 40,000 words and you don’t see the end of your novel in sight. Is it worth it? To me, absolutely! Is it hard work? No doubt about it.

Story Engineering: Another all-time favorite is Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. Brooks is a master at breaking down story structure. Story structure is how your novel is put together, chapter by chapter. Yes, you can read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (and at some point, you probably should), but I find Brooks logical, funny, and sensible when it comes to the nuts and bolts of putting a book together well.

As the title might imply, the book breaks down story structure mathematically. (I know, I said the word “math” to right-brained folks!) But his math is mainly in percentages — and it is frankly fascinating the way he looks at popular fiction and movies. He uses a “take your favorite book off the shelf and flip to page __” to make his points, and I spent several evenings doing exactly that (while exclaiming, “my gosh, this really works!”).

Brooks also has a wonderful blog with loads of great advice – storyfix.com – but I highly recommend checking out this book to get it all in one place.

Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between: James Scott Bell is also a brilliant advisor for fledgling and experienced writers. I was delighted when I found this little book – a goldmine of advice in just 92 pages. It’s actually so slim that I lost it for a week and had a panic attack until I found it lodged inside one of my other books.

The great thing about this book is that it doesn’t matter if you are a “plotter” or a “pantser” (you plot out your novels or you just sit down and start writing by the “seat of your pants”). James Scott Bell argues that the best place to locate the heart of your novel is in the middle.

And I’ve found, no matter if I have my novel outlined and ready to go (I’m a plotter), it’s always a good idea to consult this little blue book for perspectives, a gut check, and to flesh out any remaining ideas. If you have just a nugget of an idea, Write Your Novel From The Middle is a great way to determine if you have enough of a story to write 80,000 words about it. Is your heroine the right heroine? Is the challenge real? Does the journey matter?

James Scott Bell has many, many other books about plot, structure, dialogue, and suspense. Each is written in an easy, conversational way that makes you feel as if you are chatting with a good friend.

I have three more books I’d like to share — look for those in “Best Writing Books: Part 2!” Have a great week!

– Laura

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