Books About Writing
I began writing when living with my husband in Hong Kong. As you might imagine, the availability of English bookstores in a population of 5 million Cantonese speaking people is somewhat limited. One day I walked down the steep hill into Central with a mission to find a book about writing. The sales clerk at Dymocks directed me to a small section at the back of the store where I found a narrow shelf containing poetry, English dictionaries, guides to speaking Cantonese and about six books on the craft of writing.
I am an impulsive person. Rather than wait for a day when I could search further afield or wait the few weeks it would take to order and receive a book from Amazon, I bought a small book called The Writer’s Book of Wisdom: 101 Rules for Mastering Your Craft by Steven Taylor Goldsberry. What a delightful find.
Goldsberry writes simply and compellingly rule by rule under the headings of Approach, Language and Craft. My copy is full of yellow stickies and underlined text. For example: Rule 3 – Believe in Yourself even if nobody else does. Rule 51- Sentences are written like jokes: the punch line is at the end. Rule 69 - Dialogue creates tension. Rule 78 – Use images to deliver ideas. I have found a time and place for almost all one hundred and one of his rules.
A second equally marked-up book is Write Away by Elizabeth George, a New York Times bestselling author. George is a highly organized writer who cites talent, passion and discipline as the three critical qualities for aspiring writers. I used her method for plotting to outline the chapters of my second book. Once the outline was in hand the writing flowed twice as quickly as my first novel. Write Away begins with an overview of the craft discussing story, character, setting and plotting. Part II covers what George calls the basics including idea, opening, viewpoint, voice, dialogue and scene. Part III covers technique, Part IV is the process she follows and in Part V she illustrates with a range of samples and templates.
My husband gave me Stephen King’s book called On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I am slightly embarrassed to say that I have read only one of his novels, however, this book about writing has a prominent place in my office. King talks about the toolbox writers need to house the basic tools of their craft: vocabulary, grammar, style, reading, a schedule, a place to write. He then describes three parts to a novel – narration, description and dialogue – and how these parts mix with character and story idea to advance critical themes.
King offers clear, pithy insights – the kind you might choose to put on your bulletin board as daily reminders. He also offers many examples drawn mainly from his own writing, often showing passages he has edited to sharpen the pace and delight his readers.
Write Like the Masters by William Cane is also on my bookshelf. Cane analyzes twenty-one authors (including Stephen King) to illustrate superb skill and technique. From D.H. Lawrence we learn about dialogue and symbolism, from Dostoevsky we learn his transition secret for moving from scene to scene. Orwell is the master of plotting and repetition, Wharton shows us how to describe settings and employ foreshadowing. Cane concludes by urging writers to imitate the masters and learn how to mold their techniques into your own works.
Noah Lukeman is a literary agent. His book, The First Five Pages, offers guidance on how to stay out of the rejection pile. I came across Lukeman while investigating the topic of query letters. His website offers a few free downloads and some general words of advice, two of which are posted on my bulletin board. Chapter 2 of his book is on the elimination of adverbs and adjectives, chapter 3 discusses the sound of sentences and paragraphs along with the rhythm of words writers string together. In later chapters Lukeman covers dialogue dos and don’ts, showing versus telling, characterization, the use of hooks and other aspects that distinguish a good writer from an average one.
Each book delivers practical insight. Each is worth visiting again and again.