Elements of Style is a small book, less than one-hundred pages. I find it an invaluable tool, because it strikes to the heart of style issues and is decidedly unpretentious. If you are like me, there are too many books, blogs, and newsletters to read. This book can be read over and over, helping any writer craft powerful writing.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Renni Browne, Dave King
I highly recommend this book. There are clear examples of how to improve a manuscript through editing and revision. Familiar topics such as ‘showing versus telling’ are handled with fresh clarity, and though I have heard the advice hundreds of times, I found Browne and King’s discussion of the topic exciting to read. The examples and analysis are helpful. (I did not do all the exercises, because I wanted to apply the techniques to my writing rather than labor over the text provided in the book. I plan to read the book several times, and may do the exercises next time.)
From the table of contents: Show and Tell, Characterization and Exposition, Point of View, Proportion, Dialogue Mechanics, See How it Sounds, Interior Monologue, Easy Beats, Breaking Up is Easy to Do, Once is Usually Enough, Sophistication, Voice
I began implementing the advice immediately. I enjoy writing dialogue and was not seeking help in this area; however, I used their dialogue tips (especially beats) and found them useful. Other areas that are more difficult, such as Sophistication and Voice, improved with application of their suggestions. If you are interested in improving your writing, or editing for someone else, I would make this book part of your collection.
New ideas: I experienced a light bulb moment when Browne and King explained how repetition of an effect can weaken the writing. This can occur on a large scale or a small scale. After reading the examples and seeking similar sections of my own writing, I saw these little quagmires of weak writing are easy to miss. I tried a few changes and was pleased with the improved result.
Check this one out: borrow it from a friend or find it at the library if you must. The title might be misleading. The book does not suggest self-editing only. All writers should be masters of self-editing, even if they have a good critique group or money to pay professional editors.
Writing the Blockbuster Novel (Albert Zuckerman)
Albert Zuckerman, a literary agent, provides excellent advice on how to write a blockbuster novel. He breaks down several best sellers, including The Man from Saint Petersburg (Ken Follett) and The God Father (Mario Puzo).
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (Stephen King)
King’s book is full of sound writing tips, including his recommendation of Elements of Style by Strunk and White. He tells a great story and the result is a book that motivates writers to write.
Writing the Breakout Novel (Donald Maass)
This is probably my favorite book on writing, though I am also very fond of Stephen King’s On Writing and Strunk and White’sThe Elements of Style. The first two books are both inspirational and informative. Strunk and White has a straight forward approach with no fluff, however I have recently come across a blog, Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, that is not so enamored with the book. I still like Strunk and White. One must remember that it is a style guide and that rules are made to be broken.
The premise of Writing the Breakout Novel is that a writer has control of his or her career merely by writing the absolute best novel possible. Less encouraging is his suggestion that the mid-list is dead and that it is harder to stay published than get published. He provides expiring examples of writers who had been successful, floundered, and seemingly at the end of their careers, and became even more successful by writing their breakout novel.
This book is a must-read. I used to read from WTBN for thirty minutes just to get inspired before writing; this practice really worked.
Plot & Structure (James Scott Bell)
This book starts with a great message about being a writer. Bell advocates studying the craft. His story is inspirational and the techniques and examples he provides are excellent.
2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love – Rachel Aaron
I really like Aaron’s writing triangle: Knowledge, Enthusiasm, Time. Having recently dragged myself through painful re-writes of two novels, I have become a believer in planning story structure. Like many writers, I have written outlines and strayed when my imagination takes hold. Aaron’s suggestions on story knowledge and structure are helpful and not too ridged. The section on developing knowledge of the story before writing is well done and seems like solid advice.
This book is motivational and entertaining, but I enjoy success stories and agree with her ideas about writing happy. Aaron also has a nice section at the end of the novel (advice to new writers) about the writing police: there are none. The theme of this section is that we should write stories we want to write, and not be discouraged because of genre (whichever that may be) is not selling right now.
Aaron’s section on editing seems well thought out and efficient. I already use scene maps and can vouch for their usefulness during editing and revision. Timelines are probably a good idea. I combine the To Do list with my scene map.
The book could use a proof reader. There are some missing words and misspellings. Overall, I found this book very useful and motivating. 2K to 10K exceeded my expectations.