Monday, March 24, 2014
Jungle Reds' Favorite Books on Writing
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Hank and I were recently at Sleuthfest in Orlando. Not only was it wonderful fun to be on and attend panels, but it was great to mingle with fellow writers, both published and unpublished.
One of the things I was asked was, "How do you learn to write a novel?" The real answer, of course, is that you learn to write a novel by actually writing a novel — there's no shortcut to that, or guideline, or blueprint.
But books can help.
I personally can't say enough good things about Stephen King's ON WRITING: A Memoir of the Craft. Not only is it Mr. King's story of how he became, and stayed, a novelist, but it has excellent chapters on ideas, writing, editing, and critiques. It has what I think of as a bootcamp-like approach. King is tough on aspiring writers, because he wants you to get over the idea of "being a writer" to someone who shows up everyday and writes.
One of my favorite quotes is: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
I also love Anne LaMotte's Bird by Bird, John Gardner's The Art of Fiction and On Moral Fiction.
Reds, what books on writing have shaped, challenged, infuriated you?
HALLIE EPHRON: I have quite a collection of writing books - with my own WRITING AND SELLING YOUR MYSTERY NOVEL taking pride of place as my favorite 'how to' basics book.
And of course I love ON WRITING and BIRD BY BIRD and Lawrence Block's TELLING LIES FOR FUN & PROFIT, all classics. Also Elizabeth Lyon's MANUSCRIPT MAKEOVER and an oldie, Orson Scott Card's CHARACTER & VIEWPOINT.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Gosh, can't do better than the Stephen King book. I was--awash with
inspiration. I mean--it was life-changing. I'm a big Save The Cat fan, the Blake Snyder book on screenwriting. And David Morrell has a terrific one, as does Chris Roerden. (Hallie's, of course! Which is dog-eared and pencil-marked and yellow highlighted.) I love Donald Maass's Fire in Fiction. My big confession is that except for ON WRITING and BIRD BY BIRD, which I devoured and read over and over, I never really sit down and read the whole thing I just--have them, and open them to a random page when I need inspiration. It's really a valuable thing to do! I know I have left out many of these...I am in the airport and trying to remember titles! But my question--what do we use these books FOR?
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Susan, I LOVED John Gardner's On Moral Fiction (still have my
treasured copy.) I think it was the first book I ever read on writing, and it made a huge impression. But somehow I missed his The Art of Fiction! Love Stephen King's of the same title. Although I don't agree with all his advice, it's a fascinating story, and a great start. Two other faves--Lamott's Bird by Bird, and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. These are not so much books about structure as books that help you free up the writer within.
Hallie, I wish I'd had your books when I was starting to write!!!
Oh, and David Corbett's The Art of Character is fabulous.
LUCY BURDETTE: The two I loved the most have already been mentioned--Annie Lamott's BIRD
BY BIRD (boy does she know writers' neuroses!) and the Stephen King. But I also found Elizabeth Lyon's MANUSCRIPT MAKEOVER to be enormously helpful, especially after a first draft is on the table. And Hallie's book is an excellent primer on writing a mystery. In fact, now I'm prompted to go back and reread all of those--I bet I'd learn some new things or learn some old things over again:).
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I went to my craft and reference bookcase to pull out my favorite writing books, and realized I don't have many of them - I keep giving them away! I suppose that's the sign of a really useful tome. I echo many of the great books the rest of you have mentioned here, especially my perennial favorite, TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT.
Let me try to add to the discussion with an "If you like" list. If you've already read Stephen King's ON WRITING, try Pulitzer-prize winner Richard Rhodes' HOW TO WRITE. If you've read John Gardner's ON MORAL FICTION, try his earlier THE ART OF FICTION. If you find BIRD BY BIRD inspiring, try Monica Wood's THE POCKET MUSE: IDEAS AND INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITING (I've given away three copies of this over the years. I have to buy a new one!) And an excellent craft book that has become the foundation for much of my teaching: TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER by Dwight V. Swain. It's not about marketing yourself on the internet - it was first published in 1981 - but it has some of the clearest explanations of scene and structure around. Swain taught at Oklahoma when it was the predominate writing program in the country. Many of the authors of how-to-books today were taught by his students or his students' students.
RHYS BOWEN: Many of my favorites have been mentioned: Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and David Corbett's Art of Character in
particular. I'm not really keen on reading books on writing because I always end up feeling depressed that I'm doing everything wrong... but when I've had to teach classes it's great to be reassured about what is important. Oh, and Kathy Lynn Emerson did a good book on Writing the Historical Mystery.
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Readers, what books have helped you?
Are you like me, who reads cover-to-cover and takes notes? Are you like Hank, who dips in when she needs inspiration? Or like Rhys, who "ends up feeling depressed"?
What books did we miss?
Please tell us in the comments!