Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Favorite Writing Books

I have a busy day ahead of me, but if I'm very good and very diligent, then I'll be done with the "work" stuff and can more or less go on holiday for a while (not that I'll stop working entirely, but I won't have anything that absolutely must get done right away).

This will be my last official writing post of the year. I'll start up again after the new year, and I'm still looking for questions or topics you would like me to address, so if you have a burning question about writing or the publishing world, let me know.

Since I have been asked in the past about my favorite writing books, I thought I'd share a list, in case you need a last-minute gift for a writer, need to let someone else know what you want, or need a list of things to buy with gift cards. This list is in no particular order (mostly, as I come across it on the bookshelf by my desk).

Story by Robert McKee -- I think this is mostly meant for screenwriters, but it's still all about story and character and how they relate. It's a big, dense book, and it didn't make sense to me until I'd read it twice, and then it was like a light bulb going off in my head. I'm thinking of re-reading it again, since I've had a lot happen to me, writing-wise, after the last time I read it. As far as I know, it's still just in hardcover, and it is pretty expensive, so you might want to look for this one in the library.

The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler -- That's where I got a lot of the material for my discussion on archetypes. He also takes the work of Joseph Campbell on mythological story structure and translates it for modern storytelling. I have the first edition, and the current edition is much bigger. Apparently, he actually does analyze Star Wars step-by-step as an example. I'm considering getting the latest version since so much has been added.

The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders -- I have mixed feelings about this book. It's one of my favorite writing books and absolutely essential to my process, but mostly because I've used the basic information as a jumping-off point to my own system of character development. However, there's some inaccurate information in the examples given (characters getting mixed up), and I think a lot of their examples are flat-out wrong, tending toward stereotype instead of really understanding their own premise. I think they also miss a lot of the power that's possible from using these archetypes (and it is a case of them just not getting it because when I raised a possibility in a workshop with one of the authors, it turned into a public debate). I also disagree on the male/female separation. Still, this book is good for hours of amusement in not only developing your own work but also in analyzing your favorite books, movies or TV shows. If you read it, though, I'd suggest you also read all the posts I've made on the subject, which are neatly archived on the articles page on my web site.

Plot by Ansen Dibell (part of the Writer's Digest series) -- I think this was the first book on writing I bought, back when all I seemed able to do was come up with characters and situations, and then I faltered when I needed to actually make something happen. This was where I learned how to put a plot together. I haven't revisited this book in ages, but it's a really good basic how-to.

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas -- I use this as a checklist for every story idea I develop. Not that I've yet had a truly breakout novel, but these days in commercial fiction, you need to treat every book like it's your breakout novel.

The Anatomy of Story by John Truby -- I got this from the library earlier this year, and it changed my basic writing process. Now that it's out in paperback, I'll be buying a copy, since trying to read the notes I scribbled while reading the library copy is a real pain.

Writing the Romantic Comedy by Billy Mernit -- I think this is essential reading for anyone who wants to include comedy and/or romance in a story, or for anyone who loves romantic comedy films.

The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus -- Another essential for those trying to write humor or comedy. It also includes a good basic plot structure for a comedy story.

Emotional Structure by Peter Dunne -- I'm still incorporating this into my process, but I do think it brought about a big breakthrough for me.

Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias -- Another life-changing book for me. It's aimed at screenwriters, so there's some stuff in this book that doesn't apply to novels, but in today's commercial fiction climate, writing a book that almost reads like a movie can really help.

So, until the new year, happy writing!

1 comment:

Carradee said...

*bites back a grin* Reading your list of books you like to help your writing, I'm reminded of the last three major purchases I made in the writers' aids department:

Body Trauma
Police Procedure and Investigation
Book of Poisons

*stares at and picks nails* Oh, I paid cash btw.