Are you struggling with getting that tense scene just right? Or perhaps the basic building blocks of constructing an exceptional story simple elude you. Maybe you need a boost from someone who has been where you are—struggling as an author to get a foothold in the industry.
Well, I’ve read countless books on writing, and while it was very difficult to pick the best of the bunch, I’ve complied a list here for those authors who may need help with several aspects of their writing process.
This post is a little different. It won’t tell you how to make your characters awesome, or the climax of your book explosive (for lack of a better term. Or not. I just wanted to write that). I do have another blog post that may be of interest to you if you’re struggling with character development, and that one is: How to Avoid Writing a Terrible Main Character.
This post will be a bit boring compared to my others, but there are just so many wonderful books out there that can be helpful when it comes to a lost author who struggles when it comes to one (or even several) elements of the writing process. So I’m going to tell you what my personal bibles are when it comes to content editing and certain element of creative writing. I’ll also explain why they are my favorites, and for whom they may provide the most assistance.
If you have any questions, you can contact me.
I would love to discuss any of these books with you. I love talking about books. I might just ditch the creative writing blog and start writing about books, instead!
For the Perfectionists:
So, let’s start with those who are super picky when it comes to proper punctuation and word usage.
Do you commonly find yourself worrying about comma placement? Does that semicolon go there? What should I do with an em-dash? What should I do with an en-dash Do I write numbers out, or do I spell them? What about abbreviations? How do I write out years?
For you, my dear perfectionist, I would highly recommend The Chicago Manual of Style. It has everything you’ll ever need right there, in that massive, five-pound tome. The layout makes it easy to find exactly what you’re looking for, and I have about forty bookmarks in mine.
If you’re writing (or editing) fiction—this should be your go-to for any question you have regarding all those technical aspects of writing most authors don’t have the time to think about while they’re crafting an elaborate world with intriguing characters. But once that writer has finished their first draft, they may want to focus more on the technical aspects of their writing. Yes, it’s time-consuming, and many of us would rather pay a professional editor to complete this stage for us. However, I honestly believe that any writer—fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, autobiographies—can benefit from the vast information available in The Chicago Manual of Style.
Well, it’s huge. It’s heavy. There are a lot of pages to sift through. I’m insane and I’ve read it cover-to-cover. I would recommend that no author do this. Look up the table of contents for the problem you need solved, flip to that page, and you’re good to go!
Another downside is that, while it’s very informative and easy to digest—it’s expensive. I paid seventy dollars for mine last June (2017), and now I’ve learned that the 17th edition has been released; however, from the research I’ve done based on the new edition, there have been minimal changes made; for example: e-mail used to be the accepted way of writing out that term. Now, however, you’re allowed to skip the dash and simply write: email. Also, you’re now allowed to abbreviate USA as simply the US. The font has also changed to one that’s a bit easier on the eyes, but I would say that if you already own the 16h edition—keep it. I don’t personally believe there have been enough changes which would require you to purchase the 17th edition. Now, if you own neither, obviously it would be in your best interest to purchase the newest version. I bought my 16th edition at a bookstore. I’ve found the 17th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style for much less on Amazon (and yes, you can use Prime for the two-day shipping).
For Every Single Author:
I know, I’m supposed to appeal to certain groups here, but this book really is a huge asset to have in your “how to not be a shitty writer” arsenal.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. There is another, earlier version floating around out there, however, that one only has one author: William Strunk Jr. It is nowhere near as comprehensive as the newer version. I guess E.B. White can be accredited with launching the book into the conversations of every writing circle in America.
The Elements of Style is fantastic. It lays out in the simplest possible terms (and provides examples) the best ways to write sentences, and the best way s to conserve your words. This book is a must for any author. I see no downsides to this one, so …
Upsides: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White is available on Amazon (the hard copy) for something like seven dollars. It’s a very short book, it’s an easy read, and you will flip through it every day for years. The Kindle version is likely cheaper, but I’m sure that many writers would agree that when it comes to needing a book as a reference point; it’s best to have the physical copy before you. This book, if you pay attention to its wisdom will improve your writing substantially. It goes into detail regarding how to achieve the most impact with your words, avoid ambiguity, say many things with few words—among many other droplets of wisdom. And that is absolutely invaluable.
Everyone: BUY THIS BOOK! And yes, I am yelling at you. You must own this. In fact, if you had to pick only one book from this list to purchase, it should be this one.
For Authors Who Struggle with Pacing and Flow:
OK. This is one I discovered entirely on accident, almost tossed out the window due to how “common sense” the first twenty or so pages were, but then quickly realized the benefits within and continued reading.
The book is called Scene and Structure and it’s written by Jack M. Bickham
At first, I thought to myself, Wow. This book is basically storytelling for dummies. But then I realized that we’re all that dummy on occasion. And while the book is loaded with what would seem like common sense to a content editor or a substantive editor (or, well, any editor, really), Bickham lays out the structure of a gripping story/novel in a very easy to understand manner. He explains how, when, and why to write the scenes that will make your book stand out from the crowd (which he maintains should be all of them, and so do I).
Do you have trouble pacing the climax of your novel? Are you unsure how long it should be in comparison to the build-up to said climax? How long should the sentences be in a tense scene? How should you show a character’s reaction after the major, life-changing event? Why shouldn’t you go on and on for pages about how your POV character feels about something? What’s the best way to show your readers the emotion, the impact, the action, the reactions, that conflicts have upon your characters? How should a chapter be constructed?
There are many questions that Bickham answers with ease, and there is one piece of advice from him that I want to bestow upon all of you who may struggle with writing scenes; make sure that every chapter has a conflict and that the conflict in that chapter moves the story forward. If there’s no conflict, the reader will lose interest.
It’s a phenomenal book that will help anyone who struggles with the quality/length of their scenes. Yes, the author does use his own work as reference points, which annoyed me at first, but then I realized that it was probably the best course of action for Mr. Bickham to take. After all, he didn’t have to struggle with copyright laws, and he is a somewhat decent writer. Hang in there through the beginning where it seems like the book is just an excuse to plug his own writing; it very well may be, but this book will help you to better pace your scenes, establish tension, create compelling sequel scenes and denouement from emotionally exhausting events.
The author does provide challenges to the author at the end of each chapter. Each one involves the writer coming up with a brand new story, which I think is amazing. Sure, you could use an old one, but what’s the fun in that?
With this one, I’m somewhat neutral. I think the upsides of this one far outweigh the downsides. Although I will say that even if you have the strength of Thor you will NOT be able to bend the spine of this book. Good fucking luck. This infuriated me, but I got over it because, hey, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?
For the First-Time Author:
I’ve got two recommendations for you.
1. On Writing by Stephen King
2. Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark
Now, it’s been well over a decade since I’ve read the second recommendation, but I’ve read On Writing more times than I can count. It’s wonderful. Sure, it’s one man’s account of his successful career, but who wouldn’t want to take advice from the Master of Horror himself?
On Writing isn’t only about the writing process in the technical aspect. King goes into a lot of detail about the nature of being a writer, and how that sort of draws a person toward a certain lifestyle. Especially a persistent writer. He reveals excerpts of his bad writing, complete with the advice written on to the hard copies by his teachers/friends/ editors. He documents his struggle in such a relatable way. There is so much advice in this book, but it’s about a lot more than that. I think this one should be required reading for every author.
There are no downsides to On Writing, only upsides😊
Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark is a book I picked up when I started my first novel probably eight years ago. This one is chock-full of advice which will help your writing not only be more orderly but hold more impact. There are workshops at the end of each chapter which I recommend you do because they will help evolve your writing abilities.
Upsides: If you internalize the advice and complete those exercises, your story/book will read much better than it would have had you never picked up this book.
Okay, guys. I’m almost done here. I don’t want to overwhelm with too many recommendations, though if you would like more (as previously mentioned), feel free to contact me!
Well, I’ve already mentioned the bible of all editors: The Chicago Manual of Style¸ but you’re also going to need other style guides if you intend to work on both fiction and nonfiction, short stories and articles, et cetera.
My favorite, so far is The Copyeditor’s Manual, 3rd Edition, by Amy Einsohn. This book has nearly everything you will need. If you have a question about how to insert a table into a document—this book will help you. It also covers all the basics like grammar and punctuation, as well as sentence structure. This one is a must have!
(Of course the MLA and APA are required as well).
That’s about all I’ve got for now. I would like to give credit to some honorable mentions here:
1. The Handbook of Good English by Edward D. Johnson
2. The New Oxford Guide to Writing by Thomas S. Kane.
That does it for today! Of course you all need dictionaries and a thesaurus. I didn’t think I should have to mention that, but, you never know.
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