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Author Topic: The Best Books On Writing  (Read 736 times)

Offline NedMarcus

The Best Books On Writing
« on: May 20, 2018, 03:36:49 PM »
Which are the best books on writing: story, prose, marketing and others? I've read a hundred+ books on writing, and have learnt something from most—sometimes a lot. Here's a selected list of the books I've found useful:

Writing/Story
Robert McKee, Story. This book is one of the best I've read, but it's dense reading. His book 'Dialogue' is next on my reading list.
Larry Brooks, Story Engineering. Good if you forget the 10% rant at the beginning.
John Yorke, Into the Woods
Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees. I guess I like woods and trees.
Aristotle, Poetics
John Truby, The Anatomy of Story
Bill Johnson, The Story is a Promise
Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, How Not To Write A Novel

Marketing
Joanna Penn, How To Market A Book. The best, in my opinion.
David Gaughran, Strangers To Superfans
David Gaughran, Let’s Get Digital. This is more about indie publishing. Anything by David Gaughran is good.

Inspiration
Brenda Ueland, If You Want To Write. A very old book, but inspiring.

What do you think?
« Last Edit: May 21, 2018, 12:59:34 PM by NedMarcus »

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: The Best Books On Writing
« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2018, 07:33:04 PM »
I have many of those myself, although I appreciated and agreed with Brooks' rants. I would add The Irresistable Novel by Gerke, which is an advice on following advice. He does a good job of presenting the pros & cons of many topic ranging from (imo) minutiae (paragraph length, etc.) to story building issues.
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Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: The Best Books On Writing
« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2018, 07:39:14 AM »
Which are the best books on writing: story, prose, marketing and others? I've read a hundred+ books on writing, and have learnt something from most—sometimes a lot. Here's a selected list of the books I've found useful:

Writing/Story
Robert McKee, Story. This book is one of the best I've read, but it's dense reading. His book 'Dialogue' is next on my reading list.
Larry Brooks, Story Engineering. Good if you forget the 10% rant at the beginning.
John Yorke, Into the Woods
Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees. I guess I like woods and trees.
Aristotle, Poetics
John Truby, The Anatomy of Story
Bill Johnson, The Story is a Promise
Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, How Not To Write A Novel

Marketing
Joanna Penn, How To Market A Book. The best, in my opinion.
David Gaughran, Strangers To Superfans
David Gaughran, Let’s Get Digital. Anything by David Gaughran is good.

Inspiration
Brenda Ueland, If You Want To Write. A very old book, but inspiring.

What do you think?

@NedMarcus  I feel like there's another thread(s) floating around here on this very topic somewhere... @Eclipse would know b/c he's omniscient.

For me, the very very very best book on writing I've read was Ursula LeGuinn's Steering the Craft
Of your books, Robert McKee's Story stands out... it's got a lot of useful stuff and I do credit him for qualifying Archplot as one of many approaches (as opposed to claiming the Hero's Journey is advice on *how to write* instead of *how to write the hero's journey* a pretense I've seen elsewhere). Some of his diagrams put things in oppositions that just aren't opposed, but in other places his breakdown of things from beats to scenes to sequences is really useful. I think he's more useful for someone who has to put out a TV show every week and needs a straightforward way to do it, than for a novelist however.  A lot of his advice is reflective of a studio exec dealing with large quantities of stories in need of a quick assessment, and some of his maxims of what a story is distilled down to I think are clear signs of what's wrong with cookie cutter hollywood output (out-of-character tension in dialogue for the sake of having conflict in scenes that don't need it, structural crutches that don't serve the narrative, protagonist-myopia, and a long list of other things). That said I have to say I got a lot out of the book.

I really look forward to checking out the marketing titles you listed!!
« Last Edit: May 21, 2018, 07:41:02 AM by Bradley Darewood »

Offline Neveesandeh

Re: The Best Books On Writing
« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2018, 12:26:53 PM »
I got John Truby's book after watching Justwrite's video about Batman Begins. I ended up reading it three times in one month to help plan out the books I was working on. I don't know if it's made my writing much better, but I feel like it has really helped to clarify what I should be aiming for.

I'll need to check out the others. The Robert McKee one in particular has me interested. I'll try and get his book on dialogue as well, because I'm convinced all my characters sound exactly the same.

Offline Magnus Hedén

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Re: The Best Books On Writing
« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2018, 12:55:00 PM »
I will definitely check out the McKee book, I do keep hearing about it.

Steering the Craft is my favourite book on writing, as well. LeGuin has a down-to-earth, no-nonsense way of getting her message across.

I'm currently reading Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction, which is similar to her Imaginative Writing except it only covers fiction writing and is thus more in-depth. In both books I've found her observations and perspectives very useful, and a lot of the reading material is amazingly evocative. I also think many of the exercises are good. Never stop doing exercises, writers!
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Offline NedMarcus

Re: The Best Books On Writing
« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2018, 01:05:59 PM »
I would add The Irresistable Novel by Gerke, which is an advice on following advice. He does a good job of presenting the pros & cons of many topic ranging from (imo) minutiae (paragraph length, etc.) to story building issues.

It looks interesting. On my list.

Offline NedMarcus

Re: The Best Books On Writing
« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2018, 01:18:03 PM »
For me, the very very very best book on writing I've read was Ursula LeGuinn's Steering the Craft

This one's waiting on my kindle.

Quote
Of your books, Robert McKee's Story stands out... Some of his diagrams put things in oppositions that just aren't opposed, but in other places his breakdown of things from beats to scenes to sequences is really useful. I think he's more useful for someone who has to put out a TV show every week and needs a straightforward way to do it, than for a novelist however.

The diagrams were the only part of the book that I didn't personally find useful, and I agree that it's focussed on story for screen, but I think his writing on story is mostly universal, and I also liked his discussion on beats/scenes/sequences(chapters)/acts.

Quote
I really look forward to checking out the marketing titles you listed!!

The first two are all about marketing, but the third one is more about indie publishing in general.

Offline NedMarcus

Re: The Best Books On Writing
« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2018, 01:20:38 PM »
I'm currently reading Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction, which is similar to her Imaginative Writing except it only covers fiction writing and is thus more in-depth. In both books I've found her observations and perspectives very useful, and a lot of the reading material is amazingly evocative. I also think many of the exercises are good. Never stop doing exercises, writers!

What type of exercises? All the writing I do, apart from free writing, is for my fiction or nonfiction.

Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: The Best Books On Writing
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2018, 02:23:49 PM »

The diagrams were the only part of the book that I didn't personally find useful, and I agree that it's focussed on story for screen, but I think his writing on story is mostly universal, and I also liked his discussion on beats/scenes/sequences(chapters)/acts.


Yeah I loved the beat analysis and the positive/negative tonal binaries-- i found that really useful.

I think a lot of what he has to say *isn't* universal-- he's showing how to write a particular *kind* of story, much more cogently than I've seen elsewhere, but some of his advice (two that come to mind are the primacy of conflict and the need to structure the story around a protagonist and antagonist) is passed off as universal when it's really not.  In fact Ursula LeGuinn has a great quote on conflict that offers an alternative view: "Modernist manuals of writing often conflate story with conflict. This reductionism reflects a culture that inflates aggression and competition while cultivating ignorance of other behavioral options. No narrative of any complexity can be built on or reduced to a single element. Conflict is one kind of behavior. There are others, equally important in any human life, such as relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, parting, changing."

Anyway, I liked McKee but I definitely didn't buy a good half of what he was selling.

Offline NedMarcus

Re: The Best Books On Writing
« Reply #9 on: May 22, 2018, 01:31:50 AM »
I think a lot of what he has to say *isn't* universal-- he's showing how to write a particular *kind* of story, much more cogently than I've seen elsewhere, but some of his advice (two that come to mind are the primacy of conflict and the need to structure the story around a protagonist and antagonist) is passed off as universal when it's really not.  In fact Ursula LeGuinn has a great quote on conflict that offers an alternative view: "Modernist manuals of writing often conflate story with conflict. This reductionism reflects a culture that inflates aggression and competition while cultivating ignorance of other behavioral options. No narrative of any complexity can be built on or reduced to a single element. Conflict is one kind of behavior. There are others, equally important in any human life, such as relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, parting, changing."

I take conflict to mean incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles or interests. Finding/losing, relating or not, discovering, parting, and changing could easily be interpreted as conflict.

Can you name any stories that succeed without conflict (conflict in its widest form)?


Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: The Best Books On Writing
« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2018, 02:00:32 AM »
The film Rush (formula I racing story) highlights several stories in one; several are primarily about conflict, including the (we assume) primary question: who will win the title? However, surrounding that conflict-laden question are a host of others with less or, perhaps, no real conflict. Will the wild man calm down and change his ways? There's no conflict because he's not trying to calm down. Paralleling that, we find his counterpart seems to be lamenting the loss of this chief rival, sometimes enemy, and lasting friend. He isn't struggling to overcome paralyzing grief - just coming to peace with it. If you can imagine a story about just those kinds of things, then you can imagine a story that isn't about conflict. There are probably a great many - but they are not massively popular for clear reasons: these are slower stories of nuance. Their authors, if they rely solely on these kinds of stories and not more conventional, conflict-driven stories were probably not widely popular or even noticed.
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Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: The Best Books On Writing
« Reply #11 on: May 22, 2018, 02:57:42 AM »
I think the underlying force is anticipation (tho there are exceptions to this out there as well). Conflict is a good way to build anticipation but it's not the only one. Sometimes the joy of discovery drives a scene be it a nonfiction travelogue or a wanderer on an epic quest or insights into a character's personality quirks or secrets. On the micro level banter can be antagonistic but can also be mutualistic to equally entertaining effect. I side with Ursula here over McKee

(Edit: In a more direct response to: "Finding/losing, relating or not, discovering, parting, and changing could easily be interpreted as conflict"-- I'd say that's one way to play it, but the joy of discovery doesn't have to be built on tension.  Finding can be interesting without an underlying fear of loss.   Relating can happen as you claim with the underlying possibility of not relating to add tension, or it can just be a beautiful thing that unfolds on it's own without anticipation built on the doubt or risk of it not happening. There's tons of stories that have sequences driven by relationship-building, actually. Yes, you can build conflict into these things if you want to, but they can also stand on their own without being defined or driven by conflict, or to muddy the waters even more they have some of conflict mixed in without conflict being the central element that makes the scene compelling.)

Conflict and tension is at the root of what I write 99.9% of the time, it's just easy to do it that way and I find it exciting to write, but I think that's a product of my cultural normalization as an (American? Westerner? Millennial?) and I think it's a big mistake to say that stories are made out of conflict when there are so many beautiful possibilities out there. It's like we're cutting off our own limbs as writers when we limit ourselves with maxims that "define storytelling" instead of exploring possibilities-- that's why I resist, even when they're maxims I don't typically confront in my own practice of writing.
« Last Edit: May 22, 2018, 07:39:49 AM by Bradley Darewood »

Offline Magnus Hedén

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Re: The Best Books On Writing
« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2018, 02:04:50 PM »
What type of exercises? All the writing I do, apart from free writing, is for my fiction or nonfiction.

They come in all kinds. I find the idea is either to challenge you to step out of your comfort zone or to focus on just one small part of writing or cognition, like targeting muscle groups.

Many times when I start a writing exercise I think, "this is stupid, I won't get anything out of this". And there have certainly been duds (though that's often down to me, not the exercise). Even the most silly-sounding exercise can suddenly trigger ideas or have you make connections you hadn't made before. Several writing exercises I've done have either turned into scenes in WIPs or standalone pieces of flash fiction (here are some that I published, though the first two were from a prompts, not exercises).

I learned a lot from writing the same scene using different POVs (from Steering the Craft) and another really good one was to write a passage (I think it was about a journey) without using adverbs or adjectives.

Others are more 'technical', targeting specific cognitive functions. For example, brainstorming lists of words and combining them forces you to think laterally, which is very important for creativity (why is love like a house?) Or perhaps listing something to build your capacity for immediate creative thinking (make a list of red things, make a list of sharp things, make a list of things that worry you). I find these more strained to do and often have less direct results, but there's plenty of scientific evidence to support that forcing yourself to use those cognitive functions will strengthen them. You exercise your creativity so that it stays in shape, much like you might with your physical body.
« Last Edit: May 22, 2018, 02:06:44 PM by Magnus Hedén »
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Offline NedMarcus

Re: The Best Books On Writing
« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2018, 02:51:59 PM »

Conflict and tension is at the root of what I write 99.9% of the time, it's just easy to do it that way and I find it exciting to write, but I think that's a product of my cultural normalization as an (American? Westerner? Millennial?) and I think it's a big mistake to say that stories are made out of conflict when there are so many beautiful possibilities out there. It's like we're cutting off our own limbs as writers when we limit ourselves with maxims that "define storytelling" instead of exploring possibilities-- that's why I resist, even when they're maxims I don't typically confront in my own practice of writing.

I can't help but think that many of those possibilities wouldn't be read by many people. I do agree that some people may like them, but they'd be fairly experimental works without a big audience. From what I can see, all cultures use conflict in stories. It seems widespread in Asia, where I live, for example.

Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: The Best Books On Writing
« Reply #14 on: May 22, 2018, 05:25:43 PM »
I think if you unpack scenes in any given story you'll find that conflict takes a backseat more frequently than you realize-- we've just been trained to look for it and accord it a greater value than it deserves. I think we all read and watch scenes rooted in something other than conflict all the time, and conflict isn't always what makes a scene compelling even if it's there. I think you're missing out on what LeGuinn is pointing out to recast her list as conflict by another name or opposing binaries

I overuse conflict not because it makes for the most readable writing, I do it because I'm not the best writer--I'm still learning--and i have more practice and comfort with conflict
« Last Edit: May 22, 2018, 05:28:24 PM by Bradley Darewood »