Books on the Craft of Writing.
The following is a list of books I have read (or tried to read) and my personal opinions on each.
***The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Novel (second edition). Tom Montelone, Penguin Group, NY, NY 2010 - If you want a one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about writing a book, this is the book to get. It touches a little bit on just about every facet of writing the book from a look at the industry to the actual process of putting pen to paper (or typing on a computer). It talks about Genre, Reading books in the genre you want to write, Plot, Characters, Setting, Dialogue, Research, Viewpoint, Direction, Pacing, and more. It gives small vignettes of wisdom at the end of each chapter that sums up what was just said. It's dotted with quotes from famous authors and words of wisdom from the author himself.
Creating Characters: How to Build Story People. Dwight V. Swain, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH 1990
Though written in 1990, the information holds true for any generation. This book shows how to give your character life through the authentic study of human character using descriptions of people and settings, actions of and to the characters, dialogue and introspective thoughts. There is a lot to this book and I’d recommend it to anyone who is trying to write anything longer than a children’s book.
DIALOGUE: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, Screen. Robert McKee, Twelve, a div of Hachette Book Group, New York 2016
A serious book with great information, but in a very scholarly presentation. As the friend who recommended it said, "It's a good book in small doses." I skipped over the Stage and Screen and scanned over the Prose sections. It has useful information, but I wish it were told in a more ordinary way. For example, I understand what this says when I read it over about five times. "When characters use what they say to pursue what they want, the rambling activity of conversation turns into the focused action of dialogue." But why couldn't he just say, Use characters words to propel the action?
***FROM IDEA TO NOVEL - Mastering the Process, Elizabeth George, Viking, a div of Penquin Random House. LLC. New York 2020.
A wonderful look into the thought process of a writer. Elizabeth George takes you from the beginning to the end of her book "Careless in Red (A Lynley Novel)" a mystery-murder novel. Not only do you learn the journey she took to write the book, but you learn her process into character development, plot, and scene. Each chapter ends with Optional Exercises that encourage you to use her process to develop your own ideas.
This would be a great book for a week-long retreat where participants can read a chapter, do an exercise and then discuss what they wrote.
Help! For Writers: 210 Solutions To The Problems Every Writer Faces. Roy Peter Clark, Little, Brown and Company, 2011
This book reads a bit like an outline to me. It contains very useful information and advice, but I couldn't stick with it. Seriously though, If you are struggling, I think this could help, but for me it was too much like taking medicine.
How to Write A Children's Book & Get It Published. Barbara Seuling, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1984
A good book that will take you from the idea of writing a book to publishing and marketing the book. Many of the examples are dated, but the advice is still solid. Here is one list of many that are helpful. (Listings have been shortened.)
1 A simple, clear plot is necessary. 2. Your main character must solve the plot problem. 3. Be visual, think of your story as a short film and keep things moving and interesting. 4. Read the best picture book writers. Study their style, language & content. 5. Use interesting language; never condescend to simplistic language. 6 Do not find an illustrator for your story. This is neither expected nor desired rely only on your story not the pictures that will accompany yet. 7. Write fresh new stories. 8. Read your story out loud, listen for its weak spots and how it bears up under repeated readings. 9. Make every word count. 10 Jump Right In. Start your story immediately. 11. End on a positive note
***Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing. Patricia T. O'Conner, A Harvest Book, Harcourt, Inc 2000
I read the entire book. That's saying something. Most "How to" books bore me and I cannot read past the first chapter. Patricia offers insightful suggestions and "rules" of the trade using humor and some great examples.
Writing the BREAKOUT NOVEL Workbook. Donald Maass, Writers Digest Books, 2004
This is a workbook full of great advice in small snippets so as not to overwhelm. The exercises are thoughtful. It would be a great book for students who are wanting to learn how to write a novel or to use it in a classroom. I'd love to spend a weekend with someone else, just doing the exercises together. (Isn't writing such a lonely craft?)