Hey writers, how many books about the craft of writing fiction are on your shelves? Mine contain 58, not that I’ve read every word of all of them. I’ve only dipped into parts of some. There are general how-to’s and more specialized ones on plot, character, dialog, scenes, point-of-view, structure, suspense, emotion and such like. There are others devoted to a specific genre like science fiction, mystery, etc. Some (maybe most) give the ambitious reader exercises to try at home. Many dissect sentences and paragraphs that achieve superior results.
And now you’re waiting for me to get to the book I hate.
First, I think it important to tell you why I reacted as I did. This one came into my life recently. That means it had some tough competition, like Nancy Kress’ BEGINNINGS, MIDDLES, & ENDS and Donald Maas’ THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION, and books covering a broader range of artistic endeavors like David Bayles and Ted Orland’s ART & FEAR. The latest one that didn’t measure up was written by a professor who is overly fond of quoting his own work. Even when he drew examples from other works, many of his examples left me indifferent. He also exuded impatience at encountering the same weaknesses again and again in succeeding classes of students taking his courses. My sympathies were with his students. Worst of all, I’m searching to come up with something–anything–I learned for my investment of time and money.
While pushing onward through his chapters, I wondered what my reaction would have been if I had read this one years ago when I was a newer writer. Would his points have impressed me before my forays into 57 other books on writing? Is my response largely because his work is more suitable for Creative Writing 101 whereas seminar material is more my speed?
Lastly, why am I telling you this? The reason is simple: As writers, we find ourselves on a seemingly never-ending quest to improve our story-telling skills. Rather than growing annoyed at a writing manual that doesn’t work for us, lets go find something more tailored to whatever it is we’d like to learn, whether that’s working in a specific genre (romance, detective stories, historical fiction, etc.) or tackling a specific format (novels, short stories, screen plays, or multi-volume series) or developing ways to write despite adversity in our lives.
Do you have a book about writing that you found particularly helpful to the point that you return to it for fresh guidance?