Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What Would You Recommend?

I happened upon a very interesting blog post the other day on Write To Done called The (Nearly) Ultimate Resource: 176 Tips For Writers. Tip Number 14: Read grammar books. Tip Number 67: Know about story architecture. Many writers don’t. Which is like doing heart surgery or flying an airline by intuition. Survival rates are low. Tip Number 73: Read Stephen King’s “On Writing”.

I have to confess that I don’t own many resource books on writing or plotting or character motivation, etc. Most of the information I’ve gathered on the craft of writing comes from blogs or online articles. The three I do own are titled: The Elements of Style (Strunk/White/Kalman), Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint (Nancy Kress) and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Your Romance Published (Julie Beard).

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Your Romance Published was the first resource book I bought. I kid you not. It was actually quite helpful, wasn’t too overwhelming or technical and it gave me a place to start. Next I bought The Elements of Style because everything I read said I should and it’s another valuable resource. I should probably delve into that one more frequently than I do (blows dust off the cover). Thirdly, I purchased Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint, which is part of the Write Great Fiction series. Very informative and one of my fall writing goals is to finish reading it and attempt some more of the writing exercises.

I try to write more than I indulge in reading about writing. Don’t get me wrong, I think learning how to improve my writing is essential, and one of the reasons why I’m looking to add to my meager pile of resource books. But if I let it, reading how-to books has the power to overtake the writing itself. Also I love buying books, any books, so I have to police myself very carefully and make sure the book I’m buying is the best book for me at the time. Otherwise my shelves would be stuffed with books waiting to be read because there’s about a zillion of them out there waiting to be bought.

I would like to have a small collection of resource books at my immediate disposal and I’ve got a few bucks tucked away, earmarked for a new resource book. So here’s my question of the day: If you were going to invest in a resource book geared towards writing, which one would you buy? Or better yet, which ones would you recommend.

Here’s my list of possibles:

Plot and Structure (Write Great Fiction series) by James Scott Bell
Dialogue (Write Great Fiction series) by Gloria Kempton
Description and Setting (Write Great Fiction series) by Ron Rozelle
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain.
The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters by Christopher Vogler
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood
GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon
On Writing by Stephen King
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King
Plus any others you care to add in the comment section.

Feel free to give your opinion on which book I should buy. Offer suggestions of your own. Or reveal where you go to get help to improve your writing.


Luanna Stewart said...

I love craft books, and am slowly adding to my collection. "Plot and Structure" is great for trouble-shooting and fine-tuning. The exercises really make you think.
"The Writer's Journey: ..." is a bit heavy going, I've not read the whole thing straight through, I tend to "hunt and peck" with this one. But it's a great resource, explains the structure of a story, and why certain elements are necessary.
I don't own "Writing the Breakout Novel" but I do have the accompanying workbook, and it's fabulous. Makes you dig deep into your plot and characters.
"GMC ..." - well, there's a reason why everyone recommends it. It does an excellent job of explaining GMC, with great examples.
"On Writing" is part fascinating memoir, part craft book. Lots of wisdom from a guy who knows.
And finally, "Self-Editing ..." is a good, all around guide, tells you what to look for and suggests ways to fix common problems. I need to find my copy to help with my revisions.
I just re-read another by James Scott Bell, "Revision and Self-Editing". Also good for finding problems and suggesting fixes. I need to read craft books a few times to absorb the material, and I find I learn something new every time.
Another book I'm loving, though it's not a how-to book, is "The Synonym Finder". Much like a thesaurus, but better!
Have fun shopping!!

Ban said...

Tara wrote some things about the David Maas book - tried to find you the link but ... well I couldn't - sorry :(
Personally, I've heard several great recomendations for Steven King and I'm seriously considering getting it myself. Seriously.

Silver James said...

I would had Todd Stones NOVELIST'S BOOT CAMP book to the list, PEN ON FIRE (-a busy woman's guide to igniting the writer within) by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, and while I haven't looked at it, Leslie Wainger, an editor at large with Harlequin has WRITING A ROMANCE NOVEL FOR DUMMIES. She was at the conference this weekend and had some great advice so I'll be looking at one. I would have grabbed one at the book signing but she'd sold out!

Karyn Good said...

Hi Lu. I could not live without my copy of The Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale. I use it all the time, everytime I sit down to write.

Thanks for your thoughts on the resource books you mentioned. It helps a lot to get someone else's take on them. Like you, I plan to slowly add to the collection I have.

I'm glad you mentioned Donald Maass's workbook, I'd forgotten about it!

I found the same thing with Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint - the exercises really do make you think and think in a different way.

Karyn Good said...

Hey Ban. Thanks for looking for that information for me even if you didn't find it!

I did think the Stephen King book look intriguing for the exact reasons Lu mentioned, part memoir and part craft from a guy who knows his stuff.

You get that one and I'll get a different one and we'll compare notes.

Karyn Good said...

Hey Silver! I'm looking forward to popping over to your blog and reading up on your New Orleans experiences! Congrats on the request!!!

Add to list:
Novelist Boot Camp by Todd Stone.
Pen on Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett.
Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies by Leslie Wainger

Thanks Silver.

Unknown said...

Interesting list. No recomendation from me, sorry, but I'm taking good notes...;-)

Karyn Good said...

Hi Emmanuelle. Glad to be of help!

Helena said...

Hi Karyn,

You have compiled an interesting list, and the comments you are getting are very useful to all of us. I like to buy books based on recommendations from people who have found them useful.

I have read Stephen King's book. Very interesting as a memoir. I would borrow it from a library and read it (or some of it) before spending money on it. I always try to buy books on writing that will draw me back over and over for insights on writing.

I also like to buy books by authors who are writing in the genre I'm interested in. So King's book would fall into the memoir category as a good example of the genre. (My bookshelves are at home, but I am not, so I am coming up empty trying to think of other titles to recommend. Sorry!!)

The other type of reference book that is absolutely indispensable is a good dictionary. My favourite is the Canadian Oxford English Dictionary (or is it Oxford Cdn English?). When I'm writing, or especially self-editing, I refer to it constantly. More often than Roget's Thesaurus which is another favourite of mine.

Good post today, Karyn. Always love reading and talking about books!!

Suse said...

Hi Karyn, because I have a blue pencil session with Elizabeth Lyon at SIWC in October, I thought I would check out some of her books. I found "Manuscript Makeover" an excellent resource for revising, although I think this book would be useful before and during writing as well.

What I like about this book are the checklists at the end of each chapter so I don't have to reread the chapter every time I'm working on that particular aspect of the novel.

Elizabeth has a different way of looking at the manuscript than I've seen in other books, and it works with how my brain thinks.

Before I buy a book, I like to check it out in a bookstore (and then I usually order online for cheaper), or I borrow it from the library to see if it is something I want on my bookshelf. I also check to read what other people have to say about the book.

So what I would recommend is check out people's recommendations, and then buy what works for your writing style.

Happy book buying! I am a book-aholic so I admire your restraint in buying just to buy.

Karyn Good said...

Hi Helena. Thanks for your thoughts. Good point on borrowing from the library and then if you find it valuable to then go ahead and buy it. A great resource book is one you reference over and over again. I don't have a great dictionary though, I have someone's cast off school dictionary! Hmmm, should change that.

Have fun with your granddaughter and I hope you're getting some writing done.

Karyn Good said...

Hi Suse. You make an excellent point about checking recommendations and reviews, perhaps borrowing it first, and then picking the one that works for your style of writing. That way I'll make sure I pick the book that's right for me.

And thanks for the recommendation, I'll be sure to add Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon to my list.

Janet said...

Great list of books, Karyn. I've taken some titles down for my own wish list.

I've read Plot and Structure - found it very useful. And Mr. King's On Writing was also informative, but I wouldn't put it at the top of the wish list. I'll agree with Silver, Pen on Fire is excellent.

My suggestion is Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Or any of her other 'how to' books on writing. She comes at it from a very different slant. My other must have is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Helena did a book review on this book a couple of months ago. This is a book I found referenced on a blog - then discovered it at the library (because I, too, am very careful with my $$) - read it in one night (laughed myself silly at some parts) - went right out the next day and bought it for myself. Yes, that good.

Karyn Good said...

Hey Janet. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg sounds very promising, as does Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I will definitely add these to my list. I think I'll just use this post as a Christmas wish list! Bring on the books!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karyn,
Interesting discussion. Nothing that writers love to do more than talk about books.

I read Donald Maass's book a few years ago and really liked it. Since I am going to be meeting him at the conference in Surrey, I want to reread his book. I've been meaning to go to Amazon and pick it up. I'd love to read the workbook as well. He has a new one out now called "The Fire in Fiction." I don't know anything about it, but I'm guessing it's a good one. By the way, I know "Writing the Breakout Novel" is in the SRW library because that's where I got it.

"Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" is a good resource as well. It was one of the first resource books I read. And I believe it is also in the SRW library.

I totally agree with Helena. A good dictionary is essential. I need to take this advice myself.

Good luck with your quest!

Karyn Good said...

Thanks for the reminder, Jana. If your local writing group has a library, it's an excellent place to look for the right resource book.

I can't wait to hear how everyone's Surrey appointments go. Mine was to have been with Susan Wiggs. :)

I will add Self-Editing for Fiction Writers to my list.

Molli said...

Hi Karen. Here I am, late as has been usual over the summer, but I wanted to add a couple of possibilities for you to consider. Jack Bickham has a couple of books that I've turned to on occasion: Writing and Selling Your Novel, and Scene & Structure. They're nuts & bolts types as is another that I've just begun to read, Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434. I think Helena's suggestion of trying something out through the library is excellent, and remember to consider our group library, too.

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