Books and Blogs On Writing

I love reading about writing, in much the same way that I imagine car enthusiasts like books about engines. I love pulling the top off and poking around in the mechanics of storytelling, examining different narrative traditions and conventions, and sliding in underneath a faulty story to see where the plot-leak is. Analysis is fun!

And there’s lots to be found on the subject. I admit, I’ve never read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ because a) everyone keeps telling me to and I am contrary and b) I don’t care for Steven King’s work, so the value of his advice to me personally is questionable. (I have a copy of James Frey’s writing book, which I actually quite enjoyed, but again the source renders the advice a bit iffy.)

EDIT: The spouse has informed me that the James N. Frey who wrote ‘How To Write a Damn Good Novel‘ is in fact a completely different James Frey from the one who is notorious for sucking at discerning between fact and fiction. My defense is that I have trouble remembering names at the best of times, and expecting me to discern between people with the same name on the basis of an initial is asking far too much. Although clearly I have to start looking up everything. It’s a good book, though.

Blogs I read:

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books – This is a review site, not a writing one, but a big collection of scathing reviews is very helpful! The ladies pull apart the books they don’t like and spell out exactly why, so it’s a great ‘what not to do’ guide.

Pub Rants –  I really like agent-blogs that give advice, as there’s nothing like getting point by point advice from a member of the specific subgroup of humans to which I wish to sell my work. Kristin Nelson is one of my favourites, currently, because there’s lots of good advice, she posts reasonably regularly, and she likes all the genres I write which leaped her right to the top of my ‘fantasy agents’ pile.

Janet Reid/Query Shark – and Often harsh and always useful, there’s a ton of good advice here for writers.

Adventures in Text – I follow this not only because the writer is my NaNoWriMo ML and leader of the Cult of Kess, of which I am going to be Cake Guru when we get around to organizing our permanent Writer’s Retreat of Awesomeness, but because it has good advice galore. Go see!

And I cannot leave out Miranda – – who is my blogging-partner and encouragement-buddy, without whom this blog would probably not exist. If I don’t post every day, she has to buy me a drink, the reverse ditto. Rum is an excellent incentive!

EDIT 2: I can’t believe I left these out! Limyaael’s fantasy rants is an enduring favourite, full of rants that make me say ‘hear hear’ as well as useful tips.

Some of my enduring favourite books are:

J. Michael Straczynski’s ‘Complete  Book of Scriptwriting‘ –  Lots of interesting historical nuggets about the television and film industry combined with plenty of good advice about pacing, adherence to structure and so on. As the title says, it’s intended for script-writers rather than novelists per se, but he does acknowledge the potential for crossover, and a lot of the advice crosses over very well. It’s something I can read purely for entertainment, but I always come away wanting to write.

Lynne Truss’s ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves‘ – It’s a love-it-or-hate-it book, I’m told, but I’m definitely in the ‘love it’ camp. I adore the author’s particular brand of humour, and it does contain sound advice on the ins and outs of punctuation.

Chris Baty’s ‘No Plot, No Problem‘ – I love this book. I’ve read it over and over, and am currently on my third copy. (One got lost, one got so soaked that all the pages went moldy and stuck together). It’s very specifically a book for NaNoWriMo and the questionable-quality first draft, but I always find it very helpful in getting me motivated and enthusiastic about writing.

Kate Grenville’s ‘The Writing Book This one only just makes the cut, because I bought it and I have reread it and I remember finding it helpful at the time. I don’t remember any specific gems, though, unlike the first three, so it didn’t make quite the same impact. This is probably because a lot of room was taken up with ‘writing exercises’ which I loathe and never do. When I buy a book about writing, I want it to be about the *mechanics* of writing, not just cuddly little exercises for me to do as if I were still in primary school.

I also have a little grammar dictionary which I love because I stink at remembering formal grammatical rules, but which is currently put away somewhere so my toddler can’t destroy it, and I can’t remember which one it is. They’re good to have, though.

I’m surprised that, when it comes down to it, I only have a few books that I liked enough to buy/remember the name of. I need to find more. Any recommendations?


6 thoughts on “Books and Blogs On Writing

  1. I love books on writing too. Sadly, I don’t have very many and the few I have don’t even belong to me… I read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ because it was lying around the house. It was good, interesting, but nothing overly amazing. Like you, I’m not as enthralled with Stephen King as the rest of the world. Still, it was interesting enough that I enjoyed it and finished it, but I wouldn’t rush out to buy it.

    I can never remember the titles of my books, but I do remember one. ‘How to write Science Fiction and Fantasy’ by Orson Scott Card. Even if you don’t write in those genres it’s a very interesting read. A section at the end discusses the many things to not do as a writer, the pitfalls to avoid, which is always a nice reminder.

    I bought a book on characters and emotions, as I have a lot of trouble with making my characters influenced by events in the novel. A son of a recently deceased father will often be rather stiff and unmoved. However, the book focuses on writing exercises, which I can’t stand. I’m very much a theorist and love reading about writing, as opposed to performing tasks on writing.

    Very interesting post! I’ll be checking out all those links when I get a chance. And as a participant in Nanowrimo, I’ve always wanted to try ‘No Plot? No Problem!”

    • I absolutely recommend ‘Complete Book of Scriptwriting’. It’s a good read for the bits of history about film, but the rest of it is pure technical advice, with no floofy exercises and plenty of examples. ‘No Plot, No Problem’ is less about the mechanics of writing (as in, the nuts and bolts of fiction) and more about the mechanics of *writing* (as in, the procedure of putting words to paper), but it’s some of the best advice on that procedure that I’ve encountered. Limyaael’s rants are also full of good advice (not just on fantasy, either) and are free, which is always nice.

      I do write fantasy/sci-fi, and I will check out the Card book, but since I’m not a huge fan of Card either, I’m a little wary.

  2. His writing style is a bit annoying in it and he does tend to go on and on with needless repetition and examples, but the guts of the book are still very good. I got it for a tenner and once I got beyond his long-winded nature I was loving it.

    I’m definitely keeping an eye out for the scriptwriting book, for when I get myself a camera and start making short films.

  3. I have Modern English Usage and it’s fantastic. It’s a daunting-looking book but the author is actually quite dry in humour and I liked that. There’s 14 or so pages on the differences between ‘which’ and ‘that’ and when to use them. Hardcore but good. I also liked the Lynne Truss book, probably because I’m a bit of a hardliner myself (even though Stephen Fry thinks Grammar Nazis are ridiculous).

    • Ooh, I’ll check that one out, thank you! I think it’s possible to take grammar-perfectionism too far – I once got a story blocked from a Harry Potter archive repeatedly over the positioning of a single comma – but I also feel very strongly that if you want to construct a good story, you need at the very least a decent grasp of the building blocks you’re using.

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