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What do you recommend as reading material to improve writing for beginners? If one recommendation is put per answer and can be voted separately a good list of resources should build up.

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Good luck, Don Quixote. No perfect book exists. You'll find only "good enough" and such is the "industry standard", books aren't written by robots for robots but by people for people and no matter how dry and professional the subject it's impossible to wring a text entirely dry of all informality and subjectiveness like you'd want it. –  SF. Jul 31 '13 at 9:23
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39 Answers

To start the list: I myself found 'On writing' from Stephen King very helpful.

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This was one of the best books and most informative sources I've found. –  Reverend Gonzo Nov 19 '10 at 13:07
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Writing Down the Bones

Good start, nice lessons to improve your skills, just ignore the Zen stuff.

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And also good in my Opinion: 'Gold' from Isaac Asimov. It's not completely about writing, but also contains stories and essays.

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I really liked Storyteller by Kate Wilhelm

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Not strictly about writing, but useful for any creative process: The War of Art

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A few of my favourite writing books:

  • Steven King's On Writing - hands down the most inspirational read on writing I've read (and his process is different than many).
  • Eats, Shoots, and Leaves - a witty read on punctuation, great for sharpening that part of your brain.
  • Sin and syntax - a book of examples of good and bad syntax, some of the most fluid writing I've seen.
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+1 for Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. It's informative, fun, and sadly not well known. –  sjohnston Dec 8 '10 at 4:56
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Story by Robert McKee is one of my favorites. It's about screenwriting, but has a huge amount of information on storytelling in general.

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Hot to write a damn good novel. The name might sound shallow, but the book is so packed with great information that it makes for a great source of knowledge, especially for the beginner.

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Christopher Vogler's summary of Joseph Campbell's Monomyth, "A Practical Guide to The Hero With a Thousand Faces".

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The following were very informative for me, for various reasons:

  • How to Write Best Selling Fiction, by Dean Koontz: no-nonsense, practical, full of real-world examples, though a bit dated.
  • The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells, by Ben Bova: examines the mechanics of what the craft of writing good fiction consists of (note Bova was an editor for many years, so his insight is doubly valid).
  • On Writing, by Stephen King: more of a biography of how he did it (as he admits), but incredibly insightful and very well written.
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  • Orson Scott Card: Characters and Viewpoint
  • Keith Johnstone: Impro for storytellers (intended for improv actors, but energizing to read and it gives useful tips about what makes a story roll)
  • Jerome Stern: Making shapely fiction
  • Paul Matthews: Sing me the creation (exercises intended for poets, but useful for prose writing, too)
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+1 for Characters and Viewpoint by OSC. Mandatory reading. –  sjohnston Dec 8 '10 at 4:58
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I found 'Get Started in Creative Writing' tremendously inspiring. A good quick intro that covers several genres and media, and has a lot of good exercises for creativity and getting started.

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The following are the books I have found especially helpful over the years

  • Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft (8th Edition) by Janet Burroway et. al. This is the first book on the craft I bought based on the recommendation of the instructor in the first fiction writing class I took back in college. It is now in its 8th edition.
  • Points of View edited by James Moffett & Kenneth R. McElheny. This is a collection of short stories written from different points of view. I find it helpful now and then to go back and help find the narrative voice for a piece I am working on.
  • Aspects of the Novel by E. M. Forster

Hope this helps

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I must add to the praise for Bird by Bird. I've been a professional, full-time writer and editor for 18 years, but I found Bird by Bird immensely supportive (especially her advice about getting the words written down first, without worrying about editing) and laugh-out-loud funny. It's not only for beginners.

I'm not a fiction writer, but my husband was quite fond of Elements of Fiction Writing - Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card and Beginnings, Middles & Ends by Nancy Kress.

My own "Wow, that helped!" book was The Art and Craft of Feature Writing, which helped me figure out the difference between "that's an idea" and "that's a story." It was a gift from a mentor/editor and I just gave a copy to a mentee of my own.

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I would strongly recommend these three books for any author, published or aspiring:

  1. On Writing by Stephen King
  2. Plot & Structure by James Campbell
  3. Characters and Viewpoints by Orson Scott Card

I'd also commend the yearly Writer's Market books - they have great articles in there for writers.

And you can't beat Strunk and White's Elements of Style. You don't have to follow every single rule, but it's a good idea to know them anyway, if for no other reason than to know when to break the rules for maximum emphasis. It's the difference between sloppy writing and truly creative writing.

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for exercises, check out the gotham writers' workshop writing fiction guide.

for inspiration, i really like brian lamb's booknotes books in which lots of great writers talk about their habits and processes.

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"Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" is a nuts-and-bolts book that taught me an awful lot about how to write effectively.

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I liked "No Plot; No Problem" by Chris Baty.

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I have a large number of writing books, but the only one that I really keep going back to is Artful Sentences by Virginia Tufte. The book is a collection of 1000+ beautiful sentences organized by structure. Reading each sentence and writing my own sentence in the margins using the same structure has had an incredible effect on my writing. The book added a huge number of great "sentence great" to my writing toolkit.

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Two of my favorites already mentioned above: "Writing Down the Bones" and "Bird by Bird." The other one in my top three is "If You Want to Write" by Brenda Ueland. All three of these books are always inspiring and motivating to me, time after time.

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Here are some of the books I am always going back to and recommending:

  • Writing Fiction: A guide to Narrative Craft, by Jannet Burroway - This is an awesome book that you can keep re-reading and learning new things from. Burroway sets out a series of guidelines for your prose which remain true to all genres. You don't have to adhere to all her advice, there is certainly room within her guidelines for experimentation, but you'd be wise to seriously consider Burroway's advice.

  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott - If you're looking for a bit of encouragement and life lessons, look no further. When I was first assigned this book I was really worried. It sounded like self help and I didn't want to read it. These days I still look over it every now and again. It reads more like a memoir than a writer's tips and tricks book, but certainly worth your time.

  • On Writing, by Stephen King - If you in any way enjoy him as a writer, it might be another way to go. He discusses many elements of the craft, but the first half of the book discusses his life as a writer. The whole thing is a very fast read, and his ideas and opinions on craft decisions later in the book are certainly worth considering.

  • If you're interested in reading a bit more about the creative process for a number of writers, check out The Paris Review Interviews. You can find some of them online, and the rest are published in a series of volumes. It's always interesting to hear other people's opinions and takes on how they write.

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In Haruki Murakami's novel 1Q84, the main character is a writer. It's possible to get a pretty good idea of Murakami's writing methods just by reading the story. There are some extremely simple tips and tricks in there, and I learned a lot about writing just from reading it.

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Aristotle's Poetics

Several translations are available for free online and can be purchased in bookstores.

Sample:

With respect to the requirement of art, the probable impossible is always preferable to the improbable possible.

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Joesph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces

I think that writers tend to love mythology, which jives perfectly with how helpful it is for writers to know mythology. This book recounts and unites myths from many cultures throughout the ages under the thesis that important stories-- from parables to fiction to the way we announce breaking news or share personal experiences-- are reappearances of a single, enduring story whose structure lies in the "Hero's Journey."

With inspiration from this book, a new writer can not only gain a better sense of her characters' (and possibly her own) grand story, but will also find inspiration to continue writing, even if only to further contribute to the grand story that unites her with story-tellers from all times and grounds her work in what touching stories are really all about: a universal human connection.

Two companions to this book are The Power of Myth in book form, an interview of the author by journalist Bill Moyers, and the actual The Power of Myth documentary-interview on DVD.

To make his points, Campbell draws from psychology, religion, mythology, cultural ritual, and philosophy; and he lays out character archetypes and stages in a hero's journey. If you want the same information but prefer it in a bite-sized portion, there is Christopher Vogler's The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, which scoops an extra dollop of Carl Jung on top of Campbell's work and flattens it out into an undemanding template for writers, chiefly screenwriters.

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The Elements of Style and The Chicago Manual of Style will keep you from having to reinvent the wheel.

The Art of the Novel by Henry James is perfection yet a bone-dry read. Thankfully, this nineteenth century gem is condensed into a 20 page afterword to be found in.

The House of Fiction, an Anthology of the Short Story (Charles Scribner's Sons, NYC, 1950/1960) by Caroline Gordon and Allen Tate. Tagging Henry James' insight to these stories really works. This anthology is the definition of a good read. It will keep you on the road.

For a great book on becoming an artist, a writer, a painter, or a musician: No Longer Human (New Directions 1958) by Osamu Dazai is the whole story.

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I recently stumbled upon How NOT to Write a Novel a few months back and have read it twice already. Well worth the time and money, IMHO, and I own most of the other titles on this list.

Here's a link: http://www.amazon.com/How-Write-Novel-Misstep-Misstep/dp/0061357952

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protected by Neil Fein Sep 27 '13 at 5:01

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