by Bruce Blake
It’s important for any writer–but especially a self-published, Indie author–to be constantly improving their craft. The two most effective ways of doing this are reading and writing. I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve learned what to do–and not to do–by reading the works of other authors (both self and traditionally published), and every word I write improves my skills (I know because my mom says so). But there will always be things you don’t notice in your own writing and are not obvious in the words of others. Authors have many tools to help them grow: writers’ organizations, critique groups, workshops, seminars, and conferences, for example. One of my favourites has always been books on writing so today, let’s have a look and see what I have on my shelves. (click on the covers if you want more details)
This is one of those books that you’ll find on almost every writer’s shelf. Who else would you rather learn from than the King? Love him or not, you can’t deny the man’s done something right to sell those hundreds of millions of books (about 350 million according to my research). The lessons are good ones, but the section where he writes about his run-in with a van is possibly the most powerful writing of his illustrious career…the book is worth reading for that alone.
Are you like me and you can’t always figure out where to put that darn semi-colon? How about whether or not to put an s after the apostrophe when that heel belongs to Achilles? Lynne Truss knows and, even better, she’s happy to tell you in a manner that will keep you chuckling and wanting to read more. When’s the last time you could say that about punctuation?
Spunk & Bite by Arthur Plotnik
Everyone’s heard of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style (a great book to illustrate all the rules you need to know so you can break them), but what about Spunk & Bite? Here’s a bit from the introduction to give you an idea what it’s all about:
Although it occasionally tweaks “correctness” to the times, Spunk & Bite is not another Strunk & White–as the iconic writers’ rulebook Elements of Style is known; instead, it addresses those whose composition skills are as adequate as the next writer’s, but who itch for creative ideas, smart locutions, and realistic takes on language…
Sounds irresistible, doesn’t it? I think I’ll read it a third time. (Please note: if for any reason you decide to do a Google search for this book, do not click on the ‘images’ tab at work or while there are children present!!)
The subtitle of the book is ’39 Ways to Improve Your Writing’ and its broken down into 3 sections: Reduce, Rearrange, and Reword. The 39 ways include nuggets like: shorten or remove superfluous, ineffective, or redundant sentences and words; avoid things that kill emphasis (exclamation points, the passive voice, adverbs, hyperbole, etc.), and use concrete details (e.g. – ‘tattered rags’ instead of ‘clothing’).
Yep, I’ll add this to the TBR pile right after Spunk & Bite.
Mr. Clark had to outdo Mr. Cheney, so his book is subtitled ’50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer.’ That’s right, this one is eleven tips better than the last book, so it needs four sections, not just three: Nuts and Bolts (‘Watch those adverbs’, ‘Order words for emphasis’, and ‘Cut big,then small’ among others in this sections), Special Effects (‘Get the name of the dog’ is my favourite; there’s also ‘Set the pace with sentence length’, and ‘Seek original images), Blueprints (‘Work from a plan’, ‘Write toward an ending’, etc.), and Useful Habits (‘Read for both form and content’, ‘Limit self-criticism in early drafts’, and ‘Learn from your critics’).
I might have to cut this post short or that TBR pile is going to get too big.
I’ve had the pleasure of taking a couple of short seminars from super-agent and uber-writing teacher Donald Maass, as well as a three-day long workshop. Easily the most growth my writing has ever seen in that short a period of time came during that Fire in Fiction workshop and, for those who couldn’t be there…he wrote a book. His concept of tension on every page is possibly the most valuable thing I’ve ever learned about the craft of writing.
A great guide to all the basics with exceptional examples drawn from bestselling novels. This is an excellent guide for any level writer.
While this isn’t a book on writing, it is an excellent resource for any writer. Want to know what that particular style of beard is called? Terms used in racquetball? How about the proper terminology for the various members of the crew on a large 18th- or 19th-century sailing vessel? You’ll find these things in the descriptionary, along with a huge assortment of other minutiae that you won’t even realize you need…until you need it.
Some genre-specific fantasy books I like:
Great advice on establishing the rules of magic or of time and space, world building, and even how to find a trusted beta reader. There’s great advice here for the sci-fi/fantasy crowd, but any author would benefit from reading how a truly great author does it.
With articles by greats like Terry Brooks and Sherrilyn Kenyon, this reference guide covers subjects like: world cultures a writer might use as a basis for their fantasy world; the anatomy of a castle; commerce, trade, and law; and dress and costume. All the elements you need to build your world.
Some other handy references to keep around:
It is exactly what it says it is: a comprehensive list of magical creatures from all the cultures of the world. The Element Encyclopedia series includes tomes on spells, secret societies, witchcraft, and a whole lot more.
The Writer’s Complete Crime Reference Book by Martin Roth
Types of larceny, courtroom concepts, police codes, and police and criminal slang terms…it’s all here.
The Writer’s Ultimate Research Guide by Ellen Metter
Know the subject you’re looking for but not where to find the information you’re after? This handy guide can fill you in on associations, publications, and other resources to get you the information you’re after (it was, however, written in 1995, so there will be some holes in the information, but it’s a good place to get ideas where to look that you might not think of yourself, at least).
What about you? What are some of your favourite go-to writing books? Let’s hear about it in the comments!
Bruce Blake is the author of a bunch of books, the father of a couple of children, and the owner of a bald head and a kick-ass Van Dyke-style beard. His next book, When Shadows Fall, is the first book of a new epic fantasy series. It will be out Oct. 1 and he promises it will rock your world.
It took him three times to name this blog post so it wouldn’t sound like he writes books in his library.