December 12 – 18: “What’s the one fiction/writing/craft guidebook that every writer should have?”

What’s the one fiction/writing/craft guidebook that every writer should have, not on his or her shelf, but right there on the desk always within reach?

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5 Comments
  1. At the risk of being controversial, my go-to craft book is Story, by Robert McKee. In fact, I’ve read it five times. I have passages highlighted, and I created a 3-page “study guide” to remind me of some of his key points.

    Before McKee, I had yet to come across anyone who talked about story in such a nuts and bolts, brass tacks way. As a hard-headed Scot myself, I really appreciate that. There are a lot of touchy-feely “you can do it!” books on writing out there, but not many people have the intellectual discipline and insight of Robert McKee.

  2. Carole, my experience – at least in relation to story structure and development – has been similar to yours. Most of what I’ve learned about story structure has come from screenwriters. I’m a huge fan of Blake Snyder. I have all three of his books – SAVE THE CAT, SAVE THE CAT GOES TO THE MOVIES, and SAVE THE CAT STRIKES BACK, and I refer to them often.

    I think the issue of choosing one book may depend on where a person is in their development as a writer and storyteller. Someone who has a good grasp of structure may not be the best writer and/or editor, and may need SELF-EDITING for FICTION WRITERS by Renni Browne and Dave King. I found it to be full of practical advice.

    Then there is the issue of taking instruction from people we are familiar with or can relate to. I like David Morrell’s books on writing simply because I like David Morrell’s novels, and because I know he’s sold a bazillion copies of them and he therefore speaks with a level of authority that I can easily appreciate. I know he’s “been there and done that” enough times to have a closet full of the T-shirts.

    By the way, I’ve been listening to David and other thriller writers lately. The MP3 downloads of past (before 2011?) ThrillerFest and CraftFest panels and workshops are on sale cheap over at the VW Tapes website. For $2.99 you can listen to almost an hour’s worth of writing advice and instruction from some of the best writers in the thriller market. Some of them are pretty entertaining, too. Download one of James Rollins’ classes and see if you can listen without laughing.

  3. Thanks for the very informative post, Michael – wow, that’s a lot of great suggestions! I will definitely look into all of those at some point.

    I think you make a very good point about people needing different books at different stages; I think it’s a good idea to reach writers whose work you admire for advice. On the other hand, there are one or two well-known writers who I admire very much but whose books on the craft of writing are full of bad advice, imo. It’s a very tricky thing to give specific personal advice to young or upcoming writers; you run the risk of them taking everything to heart.

    One of my favorite stories is a recounting of what the legendary violinist Isaac Stern said to his students as they left his class. “If you come away with 25% of what I’ve taught you, well and good. 50%, well, you’ll survive. If you come away with 100%, god help you!”

  4. The SAVE THE CAT series by the late Blake Snyder is one of my standbys also.
    But these days I tend to use lists and blogs more than books (uh-oh). I find myself constantly referring to informative blogs like those of Lee Lofland for police procedure and stories and to Doug Lyle for all things medical.

  5. It’s not so much a book as it is a DVD series, but my favorite and most impacting tool has been The Hero’s 2 Journeys by Michael Hauge and Christopher Vogler. I learned invaluable data about the three act composition and it gives you a printed guide of the basic steps.

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