Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Books on the Craft of Writing

On a recent post at Char’s Book Reviews and Writing News, I asked writers a series of questions about writing and editing books and was a bit surprised and pleased by the number of responses. I wanted to share some of those results here.

First, I asked, “What makes a good writing instruction book?” I had a reason for asking this question. I plan to write a series of reviews on writing books for The Blood-Red Pencil and wanted to know how other writers evaluated such books. Here are some of the responses:

“I judge a good instruction book on clarity, specifics, and inspiration. It doesn't do the reader much good if the only information given is a generalized 'Write the best you can.' or 'Make sure your story works on the Macro level.'”
-Diana L. Driver, Ninth Lord of the Night

“It needs to spark a "aha" moment for whatever problem I'm having at the moment. Hopefully it will spark more than one.”
- Pauline B. Jones, The Key, The Men in Jeans series

“Actionable information”
- Susan Brassfield Cogan

“A good writing book is filled with clear examples that show what the author is trying to say. It also has exercises for the reader.”

I want to thank everyone who responded to this question. I'll keep your measures in mind while reviewing writing books over the next few months.

Next I asked, "What is your favorite writing instruction book – and why?" There was a hands-down favorite, but I also learned about some interesting texts that are not yet in my library.

Don't Sabotage Your Submission and Don't Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden. She gives a virtual checklist of mistakes that can kill your writing, if not caught.”
- Kathryn Lilley, The Fat City Mysteries

Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins. It approaches characterization using the acting methods of Stanislavsky.”
- Cathy Bryant

"My favorite is "On Writing" by Stephen King. It is my Bible for writing style."
- Marvid D. Wilson, Owen Fiddler

“One of my favorite reference books is The Joy of Writing Sex by Elizabeth Benedict. It really helped me write solid and meaningful love scenes.”
- Sean Harris

“My two favorites are Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury and On Writing by Stephen King. Both provide a personal view of writing and writing habits, as well as great advice on how to write.”
- J. M. Cornwell

Playwriting: The Structure of Action - it does so much for me, I hardly know where to start. Even though this is a playwriting book, it helps me with character and action and also with how I "hear" my words when I write. It's a great book.”
- Rebecca Airies

“The book I always recommend to my students is Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block. It's funny, eminently useful, and covers topics such as "the writing life" as well as the nuts and bolts of fiction.”
- Julia Spencer-Fleming

So there you have it – a fine list of favorite writing texts from published authors. Can you add to the list? Please use the comments link below to share your favorites.

Charlotte Phillips is the co-author of the Eva Baum Detective Series, Publicity Director for The Final Twist Writers Society and contributor to multiple blogs. Learn more about Charlotte and her books at:

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  1. This is a classic: The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri

    By the time I got to it, I already found out everything on my own, so it only validated what I already knew.

    But I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to write -- or write better.

  2. I'm currently engrossed in three resources and have had a fourth recommended to me today.

    They are in no particular order:

    Stephen King's On Writing - regardless of the genre you write in.

    HWA's On Writing Horror - particualry for those of us with a dark imagination.

    and currently I'm working through Alexandra Sokoloff's online fundementals which has been semi-promised to become a writing resource book.For anyone who plots out their work, this is essential reading. To be able to break down the art of story telling - and give excellent examples, and prompts to put together your own examples to further drive home the point - this is a must read, online, and free resource.

    Today I was recommended to get the Successful Novelist by David Morrell. The review from a fellow writer was very good and much inline with Stephen king's earlier mentioned work.


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