Friday, March 13, 2009

Self-editing tips, part 6

For the final installment of the series, here, as promised, is a list of recommended reads for any writer. Not a complete list, by any means, but the ones on my book shelf. I constantly supplement my Amazon wish list with more (and more and more).

Sol Stein: Stein on Writing
“Usable solutions” for fiction and nonfiction writers. Includes detailed sections on characterization, dialogue, pacing, flashbacks, the “triage” revision method and an innovative way of developing drama. I’ll expand on this last in a later post.

Janet Burroway: Writing Fiction
One of the classics – for good reason. Instructive from first draft through final revision.

Robert McKee: Story
Geared toward screenwriters, but because stories are universal, invaluable for writers in any medium. (I'd love love love! to take his workshop! If only it didn't cost thousands of dollars...)

Madison Smartt Bell: Narrative Design: A Writer’s Guide to Structure.
Heavy duty stuff, but great. Dissects stories to reveal structural strengths and weaknesses.

Dwight V. Swain: Techniques of the Selling Writer
Recommended to me by an editor for its advice on developing an emotional rapport with your reader.

David Michael Kaplan: Revision: A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction
Provides guidance for every writing stage to help you cut to the bone of your story.

Robert Olen Butler: From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction
Adapted from Florida State University’s writing program. Archived at

Rachel Ballon, Ph.D.: Breathing Life Into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional and Psychological Depth.
I tend to shy away from any how-to book that practically guarantees publication if you buy it (this one’s jacket says: Creat convincing characters that readers – and editors – can’t resist!). Though I’d recommend Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer if you can only buy one and not the other, this has useful info.

Gothan Writers’ Workshop: Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School.
Provides the “fundamental elements of fiction craft.”

John Gardner: The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers
Or writers of any age. Not just for beginners, as stated.

Charles Baxter and Peter Turchi (eds): Bringing the Devil to His Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life. Tips on craft from nineteen award-winning writers, essays adapted from Warren Wilson College MFA Program.

Jon Vorhaus: Creativity Rules!
One of the more useful workbook-type texts, though I’m not one for writing prompts.

Frances Mayes: The Discovery of Poetry
Not just for poets. Chapters such as Words: Texture and Sound with sections on The Muscle of Language and The Kinship of Words – how can any writer not find these relevant?

And, for the sheer joy and celebration of language, I highly recommend Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends. He is one of the writers that makes me feel high just reading him. Margaret Atwood, Charles D’Ambrosio and T.C. Boyle too. I’d like to get in a room with them all.

The poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote: "We wish to be told, in the most memorable way, what we have been meaning all along."

Wow. If you can do that with your writing, you’ll have a lifelong connection with readers.

In a future post, I’ll share some more titles from my bookshelf related to writing.

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