Advice Books on Writing

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
I've been acquiring writing advice handbooks online in the last few months, which feels a bit like putting the cart before the horse, but I'm still getting potent tips from them. So far, I've read four of them, as well as the excellent articles in the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook.

* HRF Keating - Writing Crime Fiction - 1986. Less than 100 pages, but a useful, gentle consideration of detective novels dating back to the 1920s, as well as more modern stories. Good for pointing out that even the goriest of tales still needs to be a story that captivates the reader by creating empathy with the characters.

* Stephen King - On Writing - 2000. Written at a time when King almost lost his life, from being struck by a truck while walking along a road near his home. Part memoir of his life as a young writer and the struggle to recover from the accident, there's also plenty of great advice in there, with some delightfully bitchy asides about writers that he doesn't like.

* David Armstrong - How Not To Write A Novel (Confessions Of A Midlist Author)- 2003. As the title suggests, this British writer of hardboiled detective novels has been published, but is not a household name. In fact, at the time of writing, he had never earned enough from his writing to pay income tax on it, despite being well-reviewed. This is a brutally honest portrayal of what it's like to be struggling writer, in which he humorously tries to discourage the reader from ever becoming an author themselves.

* Lawrence Block - Telling Lies For Fun & Profit. A Manual For Fiction Writers - 1994. Lawrence Block was a big influence on me in quitting booze, as his fictional alcoholic detective Matt Scudder did, who was probably a fictional representation of the author himself. I loved this book, and have just bought the follow-up volume Spider Spin Me A Web, which is also based on the advice columns he penned for Writers' Digest in the seventies and eighties.

These books are rather dated, but the essence of what they have to say about how to go about writing holds true. It's striking how less crowded the market was forty years ago, and I'd love to find some figures showing how many writers were submitting manuscripts then compared to now. There has to be millions more these days - which almost makes me understand the reclusive, stand-offish and dismissive attitudes of literary agents and publishers.

What advice books on writing do my fellow Colonists recommend, and which ones aren't so good?
I'd say the first and best book you can read is Stephen King's On Writing, though you've already read that. I went through a phase just before I started writing ny first novel of binge reading every writing book I could find (because I didn't want to actually start writing), and that was the best one by far. You can also scan Writers Digest's website. They have a lot of great books. Some general on writing, some specific to a certain aspect, genre.
I also love Stephen King's book - full of useful and motivational advice. I'd like to add another one into the mix: Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. I have found this book really useful.
I often get side-tracked by 'how-to' books to the detriment of my writing! I've promised myself NO MORE books until I've completed my WIP! Famous last words of course....

The ones I've found most useful, over and above Stephen King and Renni Browne & Dave King already mentioned are:
"Hooked: by Les Egerton - wonderful advice on the key opening chapter of a novel
"Writing Irresistible Kidlit" by Mary Kole - aimed at the MG/YA writer, her advice is invaluable - she's an agent
"Creativity Rules!" by John Vorhaus - a wonderful book which takes a different approach to many 'how to' books as it immediately engages the reader so you want to do the exercises! Love this book
"How to Write a Novel using the Snowflake Method" by Randy Ingermanson - I love his approach to growing an idea by expanding a key sentence to a 4 page synopsis and character profiles - it's a fun read too, which helps. I restructured my current WIP based on his advice and it's really helped.
"Write a Great Synopsis" by Nicola Morgan - clear and easy to understand

Boring and not useful (to me):
Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card - too tedious and although I read it all the way through and made notes, it didn't 'click' with me at all
I devour Stephen Kings book every time I pick it up. Another great book is Dwight Swains 'Techniques of the Selling Writer'. His book has been in print for FOREVER. There's also 'Writing the Breakout Novel' - 'Save the Cat' - You might want to look at the heros journey - that's Scott Campbell - There's also a book by Christopher Vogler. The Elements of Style is a little book and considered essential. It's easy to use.

Also, GMC by Debra Dixon is a great book. The ebook version is the only one I consider affordable.

Editing for Fiction Writers is a good book.

That's all I can tink of ....
Also, GMC by Debra Dixon is a great book.
I second this one!! I met her in person when she came to speak to our RWA chapter, and have a hardback copy of the book she signed for me. It's my "bible." LOL!! But seriously, I still outline the GMC for my hero and heroine before I write every single book. This concept makes so much sense to me, and can be used when writing any genre of fiction, not just romance.
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