Books on Writing Books

Mar272012

I need to make a short list of good writing books. Left to me, it will be extremely short: Seger, McKee, and Mernit. I’m talking about craft books not the Bird-by-Bird kind of books (which are also extremely valuable but not my focus at the moment). If you’ve got a minute, tell me what craft books have made a difference to your writing.

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77 Comments to 'Books on Writing Books'

On March 27, 2012 at 9:36 pm McQ said...

My critique partners and I absolutely adore the craft-heavy ebooks Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors II, both by Alexandra Sokoloff (and available at Amazon, B&N, etc.). Fabulous content, fabulous delivery – I’ve learned SO much from her blog posts and now these books. I’m also a big fan of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure.

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On March 27, 2012 at 9:41 pm Kelly said...

I like Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block.

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On March 28, 2012 at 4:14 pm Brenda C said...

Me, too! First one I ever read, and still a favourite (not that I’ve read too many of them).

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On March 29, 2012 at 10:40 am Office Wench Cherry said...

I loved it so much that when I was weeding non-fiction at work last year I left it on the shelf even though I was the only one who ever took it out anymore. And I have my own copy.

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On March 27, 2012 at 9:51 pm Amber Lin said...

I’m assuming On Writing falls into the Bird by Bird category, so I’m going to say Michael Hauge’s Writing Screenplays that Sell because his story structure works for me when no others did, his bit about generating empathy for characters before showing their faults was, oh, revolutionary for me, and so forth.

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On March 27, 2012 at 10:42 pm Jan said...

Techniques of the Selling Writer – Swain
Story – Robert McKee
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Brown & King
Writing the Breakout Novel – Maass (plus the workbook)
Save the Cat – Snyder

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On March 27, 2012 at 11:10 pm Skye said...

It’s actually for technical writing, but I believe it has increased my craft overall. It’s called Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams. (There are actually 3 different levels of his book now, but I learned with this one, the one for pros.)

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On March 27, 2012 at 11:38 pm northerngirl said...

This is off topic, but I thought given your previous academic studies it might be of interest. There is a project in the works called the Popular Romance Project http://popularromanceproject.org/ It’s described as
“The Popular Romance Project will explore the fascinating, often contradictory origins and influences of popular romance as told in novels, films, comics, advice books, songs, and internet fan fiction, taking a global perspective—while looking back across time as far as the ancient Greeks.”

And a Crusie book cover is featured on their About page!

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On March 27, 2012 at 11:56 pm toni said...

Save the Cat was a great primer, but I actually got much more out of Save The Cat Goes To The Movies, where Snyder took his concept and broke it down in several genres. One movie [per genre] got the full treatment, and four or five got summarized using his concepts. It was quick, clear, concise.

Lawrence Block wrote on On Character (I think it was called). An old Writer’s Digest book that encapsulated conflict/motive, etc., beautifully.

Sadly, the rest of my books are packed, and I can’t go peruse the shelves to see what else I’m forgetting. Empty bookshelves are kinda depressing, even if it’s a good move.

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On March 28, 2012 at 12:04 am robena grant said...

I’ve read a ton of them. Have a huge self-help library. : )

There is one very slim book that I adore: The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And how to avoid them) by Jack M. Bickham. Got a lot of info out of Cheryl B. Kleins book Second Sight (an editor talks on writing revising and publishing books for children and young adults) and I write adult fiction. but it was good.

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On March 29, 2012 at 12:59 am Melanie said...

I second the Bickham book.

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On March 29, 2012 at 1:01 am Melanie said...

I second the Bickham book.

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On March 29, 2012 at 1:01 am Melanie said...

I second the Bickham book.

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On March 29, 2012 at 1:01 am Melanie said...

I second the Bickham book.

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On March 29, 2012 at 1:01 am Melanie said...

I second the Bickham book.

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On March 29, 2012 at 1:03 am Melanie said...

Oh god, something went dreadfully wrong and I seconded like 49 times. Sorry!

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On March 28, 2012 at 12:16 am tara y said...

I enjoyed Robert’s Rules of Writing by Robert Masello, especially since it has a rule 102. Break the rules.

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On March 28, 2012 at 12:32 am KD James said...

I have to second the recommendation of Alex Sokoloff’s Screenwriting Tricks for Authors. I paid close attention during the year-long class you and Bob did online — I know you think I didn’t (for good reason) but really I did. Really. Even so, I never quite understood structure. Not because you didn’t explain it well, but because my brain just didn’t “get” what you were saying. Alex explains structure using movie breakdowns (in the book and in her classes) and suddenly there were light bulbs exploding all over the damn place. And I thought, “So *that’s* what Crusie was talking about. Damn.” Seriously, Alex is an awesome teacher. And writer.

In addition to some others mentioned above, I also learned a good bit from Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing. I think the biggest revelation EVER was when he said that the purpose of non-fiction is to impart information and the purpose of fiction is to evoke emotion. Completely changed the way I think about writing. Also, he has some great advice about dialog.

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On March 28, 2012 at 12:36 am Jennifer said...

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass is my gold standard for writing forever.

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On March 28, 2012 at 12:51 am KD James said...

Oh. Also, as a very basic primer for those who are new to writing fiction and unfamiliar with the concepts (as I was not so very long ago), Deb Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict is a great introduction. I was a very new and extremely gauche member of RWA when she came and gave a presentation to our chapter several years ago. When it was over, I went out to my car and just sat there, for probably a half hour, just trying to absorb all the information, before I felt I was capable of focusing on driving myself to an actual place and not just wandering off. Other books might describe it as well as or better than Dixon’s, but if you’ve never heard this stuff, it’s the kind of thing that leaves you feeling like it changed your life.

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On March 28, 2012 at 2:51 am Clever Cherry said...

I’ve got GMC out of the library (inter library loan) right now. It’s really good. It breaks my heart that it is SO EXPENSIVE though. 52 dollars used 82 dollars new on amazon.

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On March 28, 2012 at 6:23 am robyn enlund said...

do you mean deb dixon’s book? it’s only 19.95 here:
http://www.gryphonbooksforwriters.com
this is where she suggests to buy it from :-)

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On March 28, 2012 at 9:22 am Egads said...

GMC is 19.95 here.

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On March 28, 2012 at 11:44 am RainyWeather said...

Clever Cherry,
Go to
http://www.gryphonbooksforwriters.com
to buy it for $19.95 (plus shipping).

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On March 28, 2012 at 1:11 am Susan R. said...

I collect these like some people hoard bags of M & M’s – Phyllis Whitney’s book I think is long out of print, but it was inspiring – also The Weekend Novelist is helpful in regards to plotting, organizing, etc.

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On March 28, 2012 at 3:14 am Carey Baldwin said...

Of the piles of books on craft I’ve collected, the one I go back to whenever I find myself stuck and not knowing why is the Workbook version of Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. I was too cheap to buy the actual book, but luckily the workbook has enough juice to light up New York city.

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On March 28, 2012 at 3:24 am colognegrrl said...

I have no idea what you mean when you say “Bird-by-Bird”, but in my collection I also have The Novel Qriter’s Toolkit by someone called Bob Mayer, How To Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey (I guess this is not the “million little pieces”-Frey), Brenda Ueland’s If You Want To Write, Janet Evanovich’s “How I write”, and Elizabeth George’s “Write Away”. All of these were helpful to me at one point or the other.

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On March 28, 2012 at 3:36 am colognegrrl said...

Sorry, I think Bob’s book is still about Novel Writers.

Also, I have a book which deals exclusively with the first four pages of a novel because that’s as far as editors will read if they look ar a manuscript. It was extremely helpful because it’s funny and very critical at the same time, analyzing a lot of different manuscripts concerning those first four pages in respect to language, plot exposition, voice, etc. (By the way, didn’t we do something like that on the Forums some time?!?)

Unfortunately, this book is in German, and while a lot of American books are translated into other languages, it rarely happens the other way around. So, tough luck for y’all.

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On March 28, 2012 at 3:54 am Louise said...

I have a few, two that stand out. Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Golberg.
Solutions for Writers, by Sol Stein — were probably the most helpful. Especially the secrets of good dialogue.

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On March 28, 2012 at 5:42 am Sheila said...

I LOVE this idea, although I am not sure how the heck I missed all these post’s, I am now up to speed and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it.
I have only read a couple of writers books but I found them interesting and informative, they are
Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life by Terry Brooks
Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury

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On March 28, 2012 at 6:25 am robyn enlund said...

seconding all those who have pointed to Save the Cat series (awesome!) and Alexandra Sokoloff. Love love these ones!

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On March 28, 2012 at 7:27 am SnarkMaiden said...

I like Susie Bright’s How To Write a Dirty Story for lessons on how everything you write needs real characters, not cardboard cutouts – though I’m not sure how much it improves my tech writing ;-)

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On March 28, 2012 at 7:30 am Suzanne said...

Loads of them over the years: Syd Field, Sol Stein, James N. Frey, McKee, Swain, Seger, Ursula K. Le Guin, Maass, Blake Snyder, Sokoloff. I’ve gotten bits out of all of them (each one offered a light bulb moment or two or ten). But my go-to plotting guide, the one that I pull out for each new book, is Michael Hauge because he covers all the bases (character arc and physical goal).

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On March 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm cleo said...

I second the Ursula Le Guin – I’m not sure if Steering the Craft is still in print, but it’s a concise writing workshop in a book and it helped me understand a few things I didn’t previously.

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On March 28, 2012 at 8:27 am Naked Under My Clothes said...

In addition to Bob’s book and McKee, I have many posts here bookmarked, and I’m not just saying that to suck up. Also things at Cherry Forums.

Books are fine. But when someone takes a story I know and says “here and here, and see this?” THAT is when I go “ohhhhhhhhhhhh.” So I’m looking forward to Writewell.

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On March 28, 2012 at 8:47 pm Elisabeth Crisp said...

I agree about the posts from Argh. I have them bookmarked. I super-imposed Jenny’s Four Part Structure onto John Vorhaus’s Comic Throughline from The Comic Toolbox. I also like Don Maass’s books–the workbook is really amazing.

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On March 28, 2012 at 8:55 am Leigh Evans said...

Stephen King’s On Writing did it for me. Will you be adding books that aren’t necessarily craft driven? For example, though Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art was an uneven reading experience for me, but I feel he said a few stand out things. Like ego–the second I start thinking of myself as Leigh Evans, writer, I’m screwed. It’s much better to be Leigh-Ann at the keyboard who has a story to tell and the desire to tell it.

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On March 28, 2012 at 9:20 am jude said...

John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. I also love his other writing-related books, but I don’t think they fit your category as well.

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On March 28, 2012 at 9:24 am Nan said...

Alicia Rasley’s The Power of Point of View is a good resource, as well as Stephen King’s On Writing. Ann Hood’s Creating Character Emotions has some helpful information. And I too, loved Elizabeth George’s Write Away. Not craft, but definitely a book that should be on every writer’s shelf is The Chicago Manual of Style.

Going to attend Bob Mayer’s workshop next month–really looking forward to it!

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On March 28, 2012 at 9:26 am Gin said...

I recommend Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure a lot, mostly for the definition of a scene and conflict (not for the “sequels” discussion, which tends to confuse more than help) and the way scenes need to end with the character in a worse spot than when she started out, instead of everything going well for her. He’s got another one, Writing and Selling Your Novel, which is also a good basic overview, and covers things like how you need to sit in your chair and do the work. Most of his theories are essentialy the same as Dwight Swain’s (since Bickham was Swain’s student), but I find Bickham more accessible.

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On March 28, 2012 at 9:49 am Egads said...

I like the Donald Maass books. The Breakout Novelist combines the Writing the Breakout Novel books and the Fire In Fiction. My only complaint is the type is too small.

I liked Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card for years, but now I think for POV Alicia Rasley’s The Power of Point of View is better. I’m working through her ebook The Story Within Plot Guide for Novelists now and that’s pretty good, too. I’ve become a fan of Rasley through her blog (Edittorrent) with Theresa Stevens. There’s plenty of thought-provoking writing posts there like a recent one on Three or Four Acts? .

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On March 28, 2012 at 9:57 am Deborah Blake said...

I have a tendency to buy books on writing. Then I’m too busy actually writing to read them :-)

I think I’ve learned more from things you’ve said here and in workshops than anything I’ve ever read in a book.

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On March 28, 2012 at 5:56 pm Louise said...

I have to agree with Deborah.
I’ve been given a number of books and never actually studied them.

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On March 28, 2012 at 10:46 am Kieran said...

Two are tied for me: anything by Michael Hauge and Blake Snyder, although I still review Dwight Swain’s TECHNIQUES OF THE BESTSELLING WRITER, esp. why readers read. The original SAVE THE CAT breaks Blake’s story concepts into genres, and he does a great job of explaining each (“Monster in the House,” “Dude with a Problem,” etc.). He’s also extremely helpful with log lines. GOES TO THE MOVIES gives you more examples of genre scripts for those wanting more practice beating out stories. But his best book is STRIKES BACK, published posthumously. He goes over his 5-point finale, for one. And he includes his “Transformation Machine” chart. If you want to get a feeling for his 15-beat structure, his website http://www.blakesnyder.com breaks down current movies into beats. They just put out the beat sheet for HUNGER GAMES. It’s fun to follow along.

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On March 28, 2012 at 10:48 am Kieran said...

Sorry–that’s TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER, by Dwight Swain

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On March 28, 2012 at 11:05 am Michelle Butler said...

My top three are: Dwight Swain’s Techniques of a Selling Writer, Deb Dixon’s GMC, and Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure or The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And how to avoid them).

At the risk of sounding like a total suck up, I really got a lot out of the blog you and Bob did on writing. I printed it all out and still look at it. I also got a lot out of Elizabeth George’s book on writing and Maas’s Writing the Breakout Novel.

They weren’t books – but I also learned a lot from online writing courses taught by Virgina Kantra (deep POV), Buckham (intimacy), Sabrina Jeffries (character for plotters) and Margie Lawson’s stuff.

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On March 28, 2012 at 11:10 am Brussel Sprout said...

The artful edit: on the practice of editing yourself, by Susan Bell. This is the one writing book I would want on my desert island with me.

I also found Novel Shortcuts by Laura Whitcomb very useful, and I’d echo comments about Maas and the Breakout Novel Workbook.

Currently also enjoying Pocket Muse by Monica Wood for daily writing exercises.

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On March 28, 2012 at 12:15 pm RainyWeather said...

There are a lot of writing books I like, but the ones that spring to mind are:

Dorothy Dixon’s GOAL, MOTIVATION & CONFLICT – Read after Jenny recommended it here.

Janet Evanovich’s HOW I WRITE – My favorite writing book. Very informal, but organized, with lots of useful information. Reading this makes me want to head right for my desk. (Probably helps that I’m very fond of the Plum books.)

G. Miki Hayden’s WRITING THE MYSTERY – just very useful.

Sol Stein’s STEIN ON WRITING – Read this three years ago (the first book on writing I’d ever read) and was impressed and inspired. Then a family illness meant I had to put writing on hold for three years. Now that I have time to really focus again, I’ve read several other writing books and perhaps Stein’s book wouldn’t impress me as much now – or maybe it would.

The comments are great! I’ve added several books to my must-read-soon list.

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On March 28, 2012 at 12:23 pm Chelle said...

I use The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman a lot, but only after the discovery draft is finished.

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On March 28, 2012 at 12:27 pm katyL said...

Syd Field and Stephen King are probably at the top of my list. But also Hallie Ephron’s book on writing mysteries. And because I believe grammar and English skills are part of craft, I’d include The Chicago Manual of Style, Grammar for Grownups by Val Dumond, and good old Strunk & White. And my Oxfords–can’t live without my Oxfords:)

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On March 28, 2012 at 12:55 pm Robin Lee Hatcher said...

The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue & Vice for Box Office Success by Stanley D. Williams (It’s for screenwriters but it works for novelists too.)
Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell
The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell

I have two shelves of writing books, many unread, plus more on my Kindle. My goal is to read 12 books on the craft of writing in 2012. It’s the end of March and I’m already behind schedule.

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On March 28, 2012 at 2:04 pm Laurie S. said...

Deb Dixon’s “GMC” was most helpful to me when I was first getting started — really the building blocks of writing. And I love Donald Maass. But the book I turn to again and again is Stephen King’s “On Writing” — it manages to be inspirational and informative at the same time.

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On March 28, 2012 at 2:19 pm Lisa said...

I tend to “zone out” when writing. I end up with 20,000 words here or there and have no idea how to arrange them for maximum impact… I understand plot, subplot, theme and wasn’t sure what I was missing… I read every craft book I can get my hands on and I ended up reading – Outling Your Novel – Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland. I have to say – it has been a HUGE help. Although I will never outline BEFORE I write (I just can’t – I get an idea – I write the idea out and then I write the scenes that come to me – in no particular order) – using this book with the story that is already developing = awesome results.

I also like Write a Novel and Get It Published by Nigel Watts, Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell and Writers Workshop of Horror edited by Michael Knost.

Since so many people recommended it – I am going to read Dorothy Dixon’s GOAL, MOTIVATION & CONFLICT. Thanks! =)

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On March 28, 2012 at 2:20 pm Lola said...

Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. The short version is here:
http://www.thewritersjourney.com/hero%27s_journey.htm#Memo

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On March 28, 2012 at 3:11 pm Tamera Alexander said...

The Moral Premise by Stan Williams
Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
How to Grow a Novel by Sol Stein
Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

Love your blog, btw. Fabulous!

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On March 28, 2012 at 3:13 pm Tamera Alexander said...

This DVD set has proven invaluable too. Have listened to/watched it countless times:
http://www.screenplaymastery.com/product_pages/heros_dvd.htm

It’s Michael Hauge and Chris Vogler teaching together, combining screenplaying writing and the mythical power of writing story. Excellent.

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On March 28, 2012 at 3:16 pm Diane K. said...

My faves are:
Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell
Conflict & Suspense by James Scott Bell
The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass + Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook

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On March 28, 2012 at 3:21 pm Kate George said...

I think all my favorites have already been mentioned. Although I have a niggling feeling in the back of my head that I’m missing something. Rats. I hate that feeling.

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On March 28, 2012 at 3:37 pm Jenna Rosner said...

Dorothy Parker. Not even so much her stories but her poems. I know this isn’t exactly what you were thinking but it works for me.

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On March 28, 2012 at 4:35 pm Stephanie said...

How to write the breakout novel workbook / Maas (didn’t find the non-workbook anywhere near as helpful)
The writer’s journey / Vogel omg, I read this book over and over to help develop the characters and character’s journey
Scene and structure / Jack Bickham a must read for understanding the underlying structure of a book (how did I get published without reading this? I have no idea)
The war of art / Stephen Pressfield. No doubt, have to read this EVERY day to continue to accomplish anything
I carry these books with me on every trip.
Stephanie

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On March 28, 2012 at 5:15 pm KarenF said...

“Writing the Character Centered Screenplay” by Andrew Horton (I am a screenwriter, but I think this would be equally helpful to novelists.

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On March 28, 2012 at 5:25 pm Susan D said...

For mystery and suspense, How to Write Killer Fiction, by Carolyn Wheat

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On March 28, 2012 at 5:51 pm Kieran said...

There’s a CD of a lecture that Chris Vogler and Michael Hauge gave together that I listen to over and over…it’s about the character’s inner and outer journeys. It’s one of the best writing instruction lectures I’ve ever heard.

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On March 28, 2012 at 9:06 pm Hellion said...

1.) Story Structure Architect
2.) Outlining Your Novel (K.M. Weiland)–my favorite craft book right now
3.) Write-a-thon (I’m still hopeful for this one, I haven’t read it straight through yet.)

I also have the Comedy Writing by Billy Merritt book, which I’ve read off and on and sometimes helps. A lot of the books I tend to buy are about character or creating the key scenes that make up a story structure (learning to identify them). I like books I can use in conjunction of creating my storyboard with post-its.

I honestly pick and choose among about a dozen books until I get my storyboard or rough draft outline created to work from.

There was a screenwriting book I found VERY VALUABLE–Emotional Structure. Importance of character and creating the emotional layer. Brilliant.

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On March 28, 2012 at 10:15 pm Pat G. said...

Did anybody mention Janet Burroway’s WRITING FICTION? That’s the most helpful, i.e., practical, writing book I’ve read.

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On March 29, 2012 at 1:51 am Eileen said...

SAVE THE CAT by Snyder and also John Truby’s ELEMENTS OF STORY. He has a great chapter that breaks down what a character wants versus what a character needs and how readers “get on the story train” based on what the character wants. They want to know the destination of the story. This story is about if Jane Doe will be asked to the big dance by Dreamy Boy John. The story will be over when she either gets asks to the dance or doesn’t. However, satisfaction for the reader is about if the character gets what they need. If Jane doesn’t get asked to the dance that’s okay if she got what she needed (to learn to like herself etc). I think about that a lot when writing.

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On March 29, 2012 at 2:12 am Judy Hudson said...

I also love the Alexandra Sokoloff books, as well as Donald Maas, The Fire in fiction and Michael Hauge’s Writing Screenplays that Sell.Just got GMC and am eager to get into it. And I agree thet Scene & Structure by Jack Bickman was very useful too.

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On March 29, 2012 at 5:18 am Sure Thing said...

Loved Ray Bradury’s Zen in the Art of Writing.

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On March 30, 2012 at 8:32 am savvy2 said...

Mernit. Are you talking about Billy Mernit’s “Writing the Romantic Comedy?”

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On March 30, 2012 at 1:51 pm S said...

How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N Frey
Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King
Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickham
Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon
Selling your Story in 60 Seconds by Michael Hauge
Fiction is Folks by Robert Newton Peck

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On March 30, 2012 at 2:47 pm Hellion said...

savvy2: yeah, I think that’s who I meant. Oops. http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Romantic-Comedy-Billy-Mernit/dp/0060935030/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1333133190&sr=8-1. For some reason I keep thinking his name is the same name of my best friend.

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On March 30, 2012 at 2:47 pm Hellion said...

I love Elizabeth Lyon’s books!

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On March 30, 2012 at 5:53 pm Pamela Toler said...

Add my vote for Browne and King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Donald Mass’s Writing the Breakout Novel

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On March 31, 2012 at 7:45 am Leigh Evans said...

Is there a particular Linda Seeger book? She’s got a whole bunch. I’d like to go book shopping tomorrow.

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On March 31, 2012 at 8:10 pm Jenny said...

The one I like is Making A Good Script Great.

I have not forgotten this, really, it’s just that everything came due at the end of the month. New post with book list coming shortly.

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On April 8, 2012 at 10:40 pm Mercy Walker said...

I found Jim Butcher’s blog posts on his blog the best novel writing guide I’ve ever read. And since you love Buffy the Vampire slayer, you’ll love Jim Butcher’s novels.

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On April 8, 2012 at 10:40 pm Mercy Walker said...

I found Jim Butcher’s blog posts on his blog the best novel writing guide I’ve ever read. And since you love Buffy the Vampire slayer, you’ll love Jim Butcher’s novels.

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