Friday, October 4, 2013

What's Your Favorite Book on Writing?

Join us next Thursday, October 10, for an INTERACTIVE installment of "Interview with an Agent" with Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis, Inc!

Martha Mayberry (@mbelec123) asked a fantastic question the other day: "How in the world can I learn more of these techniques to make my entire story better?" I immediately thought of some of the books on writing I've read, but since a bunch of minds are better than one, I decided to pose the question to the Twitterverse. Here are a few of their suggestions:

submitted by Stephanie Garber (@SGarberGirl)

My favorite book on craft is Donald Maass' WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK. I'm not sure if this counts, because it's a workbook and not an actual book, but I think it's amazing. It's kind of like a series of intense little work-outs for your novel. It has exercises for developing plot, character, and general story techniques. For each exercise Maass uses examples from a variety of best selling novels to illustrate his topic. This book is great for any stage in the writing process. I like to use it after I've finished my first draft, to help take my story to the next level, but I imagine other writers could use it while writing a first draft, or polishing a final draft. Every time I go through this workbook I'm challenged in different ways--it's like going to a literary gym with a really good trainer.

submitted by me

When Stephanie submitted Donald Maass's workbook, I had to laugh, because MY favorite book on writing is Donald Maass's follow-up, THE FIRE IN FICTION. I blogged about it a while back, so feel free to check out that post. Suffice it to say that Donald Maass is a high-powered literary agent who's sold dozens, maybe hundreds, of manuscripts over the years, so he definitely knows what he's talking about. It's been years since I've read this book, but I still remember what I thought was his thesis: In a novel, the characters are king. (Also, don't miss WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, the companion book that goes along with the workbook Stephanie mentioned!)

ON WRITING by Stephen King
submitted by Julie Sondra Decker (@JulieSondra)

First off, it's the only writing-about-writing book I've ever read that did a good job explaining why "colorful" permutations for the word "said" do not increase the effectiveness of the sentence. Secondly, King's archaeological metaphor on novel creation--representing the writing experience as digging in the dirt without being quite sure what you might find--resonated with me as an unrepentant pantser. And lastly, unlike most prescriptive writing advice, this book allows for flexibility and variety, offering more "how" than "what" in its suggestions. The prompts and included resources are useful, and the first half of the book outlining King's life from developing author to bestselling superstar provided context.

SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder

My favorite writing book is SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. It's actually a screenwriting book, but a lot of the same tips apply to writing high concept novels too. Save The Cat has taught me so much about plotting and pacing, and I always refer to the book before I start writing or whenever I get stuck. The 15 step beat sheet was a complete revelation for my books, and I won't write anything without using it first. I also like the companion books--Save The Cat Strikes Back has some great points on writing endings, and Save The Cat Goes To The Movies has some good examples of how the beat sheet applies to popular movies.

What's your favorite book on writing?


Marcia said...

*Currently* it's Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. I also like The Art of War by James Scott Bell and The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

Ryan said...

Story by Robert McKee
Complete and utter awesome sauce.

Tara Dairman said...

These are fabulous! Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is also great.

JeffO said...

I'm a big fan of On Writing, too.

evelyne holingue said...

Some of my favorite books on writing are on the list. But my very favorite is Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose.
The idea is that great books make great writers.

Julie Sondra Decker said...

Urgh, I really gotta get my hands on those Donald Maass books. They're everywhere!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Great suggestions, Marcia! I haven't heard of any of them, so I'll have to check them out.

Ryan, I've heard STORY is fantastic. Alas, I read so many novels these days that I haven't found a second to pick up a book on craft.

Tara, I read BIRD BY BIRD a while back and remember really liking it. I loved what she said about writing about your childhood to get the juices flowing. Her hierarchy of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches was spot-on:)

Thanks for the vote, JeffO! I haven't read it (yet), but I think it's fantastic that Stephen King combines thoughts on writing with his own how-I-became-an-author story.

Evelyne, that books sounds right up my alley. I can't help but dissect the novels I read:)

Julie, they really are pretty great. He does a great job of giving you practical, easy-to-apply techniques (well, maybe not easy, but certainly doable). They're definitely well worth a read.

Michael G-G said...

You picked all my favorites! I also like James Scott Bell's stuff.

Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer taught me a lot too. I like that on page 2 he writes: "Writing is, in its way, very much like tennis.

It's no trick at all to learn to play tennis--if you don't mind losing every game."

He had me hooked right there!

Heather said...

I keep hearing about the Donald Maass books and I need to get them. I did enjoy Bird by Bird and also a book called Make a Scene.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Thanks for adding another title to our list, Michael. We're suckers for tennis, aren't we? :)

Heather, I think Donald Maass's books are well worth a read. And thanks for suggesting MAKE A SCENE!