Often the question is asked, “What books on writing would you recommend?” I tend to think books on writing are similar to exercise equipment. You can spend a lot of money buying the product, but you’ll never get anything out of it unless you use the thing. A writer can buy all the books in the world written to help him learn the craft, but unless those titles are opened and studied, the money spent is wasted.
With that in mind, here are a few recommended titles to help self editors get the most out of their prose:
For Grammar and Punctuation:
Painless Grammar by Rebecca Elliott, Ph.D.: This book was written to garner the attention of middle school students, but writers of any age will find the examples hard to resist and easy to learn.
Punctuation Plain and Simple by Edgar C. Alward and Jean A. Alward: This book is a practical, no-nonsense guide for all marks of punctuation.
Lapsing Into a Comma–A Curmudgeon’s Guide to the Many Things that Can Go Wrong in Print–and How to Avoid Them by Bill Walsh: Reading this book will make you feel like a junior reporter learning the ropes from a seasoned journalist–a grumpy seasoned journalist–but you will enjoy it.
The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier–How to Solve the Mysteries of Weak Writing by Bonnie Tregna: This book will clear the confusion about passive versus active sentences and why every form of “to be” in your prose isn’t as bad as most think. If you’ve ever scratched your head, wondering why a sentence shouldn’t start with an “ing” form of a word, you’ll find that you had a reason to be puzzled.
A Dash of Style–The Art and Mastery of Punctuation: Actually, I recommend every book by this author, Literary Agent Noah Lukeman. Did you know that a paragraph is a mark of punctuation? Well, it is, and you’ll find out how important that mark of punctuation can be in your writing style by reading this book.
For Technique and Style:
No list for self editors is complete without The Elements of Style by Willian Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White. As the front cover of most editions tell you, the book is small enough to carry everywhere, and writers should carry it wherever they go.
Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors by Brandilyn Collins: Learn how to make characters vivid in the imagination of readers by creating a movie in their minds.
The Plot Thickens, 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life by Noah Lukeman: Learn about the importance of character, conflict, context, and other important elements that will make your stories zing.
Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell: Buy this book, read it, and use it. There are books I could and would recommend by authors such as Donald Maass and David Swain, but master this book first before you tackle the others. Mr. Bell puts it all into simple, easy-to-understand language with examples you won’t forget.
Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder: Even if you have no desire to write a screenplay, Mr. Snyder’s wisdom about back story is worth the money you spend, and you’ll enjoy the book. Learn about the Dead Pope in the Swimming Pool technique, and your back story will never be the same.
Another book by James Scott Bell that I highly recommend is The Art of War for Writers. If this doesn’t get you enthusiastic about your writing, nothing will.
A must-have is Self Editing for Fiction Writers–How to Edit Yourself Into Print, by Renni Browne and David King: If you haven’t heard about this book, you’ve been hanging out with the wrong group of writers.
Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell is another easy to follow, example-filled book. This book delivers what the title promises in an easy, understandable format.
Another highly recommended book by Noah Lukeman is The First Five Pages, A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile: An industry insider’s look at the elements and mistakes that agents and authors look for in the first five pages of a manuscript.
My last recommendation is one book every writer either needs on their shelf or in their Internet subscriptions: The Chicago Manual of Style, published by the University of Chicago Press. This heavy volume is the go-to for most publishers. If it isn’t covered in a publisher’s guidelines, a writer can be sure that publishers of fiction will use The Chicago Manual of Style in their edits. It is worth the expense. I own the current 16th edition and I’ve subscribed to the online version as well.
Now, because I feel I must, I want to clarify that I receive nothing in exchange for my recomendations of these books. These are just a few in my private library that I often share with authors.
I’d love to hear from you. What books on writing do you recommend, and why do you recommend them?