Thursday, December 19, 2013

On the Thirteenth Day of Chrischanukwanzamastivus

In celebration of the holidays, here's a list of my twelve favorite books on writing.

But wait, if you read this RIGHT NOW, I'll include a thirteenth book at no extra cost!! (Just pay separate reading time and brain processing.)  The list is in no specific order and reflects my favorites as of today.  At this very instant.

1. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, by Janet Burroway.  Probably the most widely used textbook for creative writing courses, it is wonderfully detailed and a great foundation for any writer and an ongoing reference for those writing their tenth novel.  It's expensive but you can find used versions of earlier editions for a fraction of the cost and they're just as helpful as the latest edition.

2. The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, by Noah Lukeman.  Lukeman is a brash young New York literary agent and his book tells it like it is: agents (and editors of journals) develop an early warning system that allows them to not waste time on submissions they recognize as failures in the first five pages.  He shares all, so read it and do your tough revisions and get good critiquing on you mss before you submit.

3. Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, by K. M. Weiland.  Yep, that old conundrum, to plan your novel or go seat of the pants.  Can you guess which one Weiland recommends?  The more I write, the more I recognize the value of conscientious planning for longer works.

4. How Fiction Works, by James Woods.  Masterful and detailed analysis of the elements of fiction, including a revelatory look at contemporary Points of View.  Sophisticated, master level reading.

5. Burning Down the House, by Charles Baxter. Talk about sophisticated!  Baxter rips to shreds many of our contemporary literary tropes including "Against Epiphanies" and "Dysfunctional Narratives."  Unfortunately, while Baxter employs the flames to great effect, he never addresses what to do with the insurance money.  His wit is delightfully barbed, so be advised.

6. Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks.  A fairly recent discovery after it was recommended by a member of our workshop group, Brooks does a masterful job of laying out the archetypal dramatic framework using contemporary novels to illustrate his points.  As I look at my own and others' novels, I'm now more attuned and able to help improve structural weaknesses that deflate a reader's attention.  I'll be teaching a class at the Indiana Writers Center on this topic in the spring.

7. The Emotion Thesaurus, by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman.  A great little reference book that can give you just the prod you need to find the perfect ways to illustrate/render your characters' thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  As with a thesaurus (you DO already have one so I don't need to list it here, right?) the best part is how this book may lead you from your initial idea to an even better one.

8. How to Read Literature Like a Professor, by Thomas C. Foster.  Subtitled "A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines," this book is a gem for writers of all genres as it opens the secret gate to the intricacies, subtleties, and sophistication of literature to us all.  And best yet, it does so with humor and without pretension.  One of my favorite lines on our art and craft comes from this one:  "It's all about sex...except when it's about sex."

9.  Story, by Robert Mckee.  An absolute classic and one of the sources of inspiration for Brooks's Story Engineering.  This one focuses on screenplays but translates easily to prose fiction.  One of the best books on writing.  Period.

10.  Author 2.0 Blueprint, by Joanna Penn.  A brand new eBook by one of the top bloggers on writing, Joanna Penn.  If you're considering getting your writing published and wonder about the many new avenues available in addition to the traditional ones, you must read this book.

11.  Story Matters, by Barbara Shoup and Margaret-Love Denman.  A wonderful combination of essays on craft, story examples, AND interviews with and comments by the authors of the stories and their approach.  Highly insightful.

12.  Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose.  The art of close reading deftly explained and thoroughly illustrated with readings.

And for those of you who dutifully opened all these bright shiny presents, a bonus extra:

13.  The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler.  Another recent recommendation from a member of the workshop, Vogler explicates Joseph Campbell's "The Hero's Journey" and provides us with fascinating character archetypes and story paradigms.  So who is YOUR Trickster?

Best wishes for your own writer's journey.  Enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. Okay, okay, I woke up in the middle of the night and heard John Gardner's wandering spirit whisper in my ear, "So, what is The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, chopped liver?" And I squirmed the rest of the night, realizing I've often called HIS book a classic and a foundational work. Not to mention that it includes one of the most renowned of all writing exercises, his famous "Barn" exercise. If you don't know it and haven't tried it, grab this book immediately! And BTW pay no attention to the "young writers" subtitle, as this book is very challenging and sophisticated reading, plus the term "young" refers more to experience level in writing than to age. So that's fourteen...hmmm, I should have known I couldn't stop with thirteen as that was starting to sound like blackbirds...a man and a woman are one, a man and a woman and a book are one.