“The only way to do all the things you'd like to do is to read."

Tom Clancy

2018-08-16T20:40:19-07:00

Tom Clancy

“The only way to do all the things you'd like to do is to read."
“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

Thomas Mann

2018-08-16T20:39:48-07:00

Thomas Mann

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
“I think people become consumed with selling a book when they need to be consumed with writing it.”

Ann Patchett

2018-08-16T20:41:03-07:00

Ann Patchett

“I think people become consumed with selling a book when they need to be consumed with writing it.”
“I cannot imagine a sorrier pursuit than struggling for years to write a book that attempts to appeal to people who do not read in the first place.”

Annie Dillard

2018-08-16T20:39:23-07:00

Annie Dillard

“I cannot imagine a sorrier pursuit than struggling for years to write a book that attempts to appeal to people who do not read in the first place.”
“Talent is extremely common.  What is rare is the willingness to live the life of a writer.”

Kurt Vonnegut

2018-08-16T20:38:52-07:00

Kurt Vonnegut

“Talent is extremely common.  What is rare is the willingness to live the life of a writer.”
"The problem in our country isn't with books being banned, but with people no longer reading. ... You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them."

Ray Bradbury

2018-08-16T20:38:20-07:00

Ray Bradbury

"The problem in our country isn't with books being banned, but with people no longer reading. ... You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them."
"It's easy, after all, not to be a writer. Many people are not writers, and no harm comes to them."

Julian Barnes

2018-08-16T20:37:50-07:00

Julian Barnes

"It's easy, after all, not to be a writer. Many people are not writers, and no harm comes to them."
“I think I did pretty well, considering that I started out with a lot of blank pages.”

Steve Martin

2018-08-16T20:36:58-07:00

Steve Martin

“I think I did pretty well, considering that I started out with a lot of blank pages.”
“Nothing is harder than being a true novelist, unless that's all one wants to be, in which case, while being a true novelist is hard, everything else is harder."

John Gardner

2018-08-16T20:33:01-07:00

John Gardner

“Nothing is harder than being a true novelist, unless that's all one wants to be, in which case, while being a true novelist is hard, everything else is harder."
"Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel that I should be doing something else."

Gloria Steinem

2018-09-25T23:19:30-07:00

Gloria Steinem

"Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel that I should be doing something else."

The Elements of Style

William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White.
You may not think you need it.  I know I didn’t think so.  But I did—and I do. I’m too embarrassed to admit to some of the basic mistakes I was guilty of until recently, and I’m too ignorant to know which ones I continue to make.
And there are plenty of appalling mistakes I see in the writing of others: commas that should be periods or semi-colons; single quote marks that should be double quote marks; the declaration, “I’m going to lay down.” As the titular nun in Christopher Durang’s play, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All to You, says, “It makes me lose my patience.”

How to Write a Damn Good Novel

James N. Frey
Frey’s greatest strength is in plotting which, like it ou pas, is what most readers read for. He draws from Lajos Egri’s seminal work on playwriting, The Art of Dramatic Writing (also worth reading) but applies it to the novel and lays it out in the clearest possible way, using many examples, which are the foundation of any good writing book. He also covers characterization, point of view, and the other usual suspects of fiction.

How to Write a Damn Good Novel II

James N. Frey
In this second volume, Frey covers much of the same ground, but goes deeper. His analysis of how to use the concept of premise (“premise” is the sense of proving a point, not in the sense of “conceit”) is unequaled in my reading.
His analysis of character, and how it’s inextricably linked to plot, is also damn good.

The Art of Fiction

John Gardner
If Frey’s books are practical, “how to” guides, then Gardner’s is at the other end of the erudition spectrum. He cautions about the use of “the infinite verb phrase” to begin sentences (such as, “Looking up from her sewing, Martha said…”), but he also explains how one can use them effectively.
Gardner’s examples come from such sources as Hamlet, the Iliad, and even—wait for it—Beowulf. But as he proclaims in the opening pages, “No ignoramus—no writer who has kept himself innocent of education—has ever produced great art.”

On Becoming a Novelist

John Gardner
This is the companion book to The Art of Fiction. It’s less about the craft of writing than about the life of a writer, although there’s plenty of good insight on the former. (There are writing exercises here as well.)
Gardner wrote this book not only before social media existed but before word processing became ubiquitous, and it’s a testament to how little has actually changed about the writing life. His observation, “The best way a writer can find to keep himself going is to live off his (or her) spouse,” is worth the price of admission.

The Art and Craft of Novel Writing

Oakley Hall
This is another guide that leans toward the academic. Hall was not only a prolific and popular novelist, but a legendary teacher—or, I should I say, professor, as he was chair of the UC Irvine MFA program in the 1980s. His tenure produced many well-known authors, including “brat packers” Michael Chabon and Brett Easton Ellis.
In addition to plotting, characterization, and point of view, Hall writes about symbolism, epiphanies and objective correlatives. (Very few people know what the last term means, so it’s a good one to throw around at your next gathering of writers.) This is a thorough, intelligent book, distinguished by its multiplicity of examples. You can’t have too many examples in a book like this.

The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying out of the Rejection Pile

Noah Lukeman
Noah Lukeman is a New York literary agent, and as such he brings the invaluable commercial perspective. (Lukeman is also a writer himself.) But although his opening chapter is about the professional presentation of a manuscript (which one absolutely needs to know), the rest is about avoiding common mistakes and how to fix them. You might say that it’s a nuts and bolts approach to avoiding phrases like “nuts and bolts.”

Together these books make up a syllabus for a class on writing fiction that covers most aspects.

Except for the Lukeman, these are all books I read a long time ago. I’ve read many others since, but I think your first books on craft are like your first language: It was from these books that I picked up my own fiction vocabulary.

I always have more to learn, though, so I’d love to hear about your favorites, and why you value them.

I’ve published two books of my own about the craft of fiction:
Get That Novel Started! and Get That Novel Written!, both published by Writer’s Digest Books.