Recommended & essential books about writing.
The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, by Christopher Booker.
This book is a masterwork of more than thirty years research into why people tell stories. Booker breaks down literature into seven archetypal themes which occur across all types of stories. Using a wealth of examples ranging from ancient myths and folktales to plays and novels of great literature to the popular movies and TV soap operas of today, he demonstrates how these archetypal themes have remained constant over the generations. Not everyone will agree with Booker, but everyone will learn from him—about reading, writing and understanding. This fascinating read provides writers with a new way to look at their own plotting and tap into the hero's journey.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, by Jane Smiley
Smiley classifies and defines the novel and provides a primer of supportive instructions to the struggling writer. She explores the reasons why some novels succeed and some don't. She provides the reader with a list of 100 books she has read, from thousand-year-old texts to recent best sellers, offering her own insights and assessments of each work. Smiley provides a glimpse into the creative process and gives writers and readers new ways to be aware of what goes on between the lines. This book contains important and joyful advice to aspiring writers and is a gift to lovers of literature.
Reading Like a Writer: a Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose.
This title is unique among books on writing in that Prose devotes a full chapter to eight critical elements of writing: words, sentences, paragraphs, narration, character, dialog, details, and gesture. For example, she explores concepts such as first sentences and their impact on the narrative. Prose suggests that "close reading" is the key to understanding and learning about literature, for the reader and writer. She takes her readers on a guided tour of the tools and the tricks of the masters―Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Kafka, Austen, Dickens, Woolf, Chekhov―and discusses why these writers have endured. Throughout, she cautions readers to slow down and pay attention to words, the raw material out of which literature is crafted. One of the most important books on writing I have ever read.
Writing Fiction: a Guide to Narrative Craft, by Janet Burroway.
Now in its tenth edition, this book is for committed writers only. A highly valuable textbook on the writing process, Burroway covers story form, plot, structure, building character, place and setting, and takes a detailed look at point of view. Each section comes with examples of how things do and do not work, as well as providing a list of suggested readings and writing prompts for further study. This book is a master class in creative writing that also calls on us to renew our love of storytelling and to celebrate the skill of writing well.
All Write: How to Start, Structure, and Sustain a Writing Group, by Deborah L. Mandel
A writing group provides invaluable help for aspiring writers. I participated in a group for several years, which helped me hone my first two manuscripts that were then published as the start to the Billy Boyle WWII mystery series.
All Write focuses on how to organize a group and includes tips on writing and constructive critiquing. Mandel, with her background as a writer, copyeditor, writing group member, and psychotherapist, offers concrete how-to advice on how to maximize the effectiveness of a writing group for all members. This book is packed with writing tips, lessons, and group exercises that can be immediately put to work.
(Full disclosure: the author is my wife.)