Four Great Books for Writers
If you’ve ever spent any amount of time around other writers, you’ll know that their favorite topic of conversation is the process of writing. Writers love to talk about writing almost as much as they love writing itself, so it’s no surprise that a huge number of writers have written books on the subject. And even though the majority of them are a bunch of useless, mystical nonsense, there are several books that can be useful for a writer to have in their bookshelf.
Books on Style
One of the best and most useful books on writing is, of course, The Elements of Style by E.B. White and William Strunk, Jr. This straightforward guide to composition was written in 1918 and is still heavily used by writers and editors to this day. It is the source of most of the cliches of modern writing, advising writers to “Omit needless words” and “Use the active voice”, aiming to train inexperienced writers in solid standards and practices of form. It is an invaluable read for any writer and even though it has received a great deal of criticism these days, it easily deserves its place on the bookshelf for its clear and straightforward approach.
A more contemporary approach to writing can be found in Stephen King’s non-fictional treatment of the subject, On Writing. King’s approach is more motivational than strictly practical, but the book is still worth it for its treatment of writing as craft and rejection of some of the popular misconceptions about writing. His other non-fictional book, Danse Macabre, is also worth a look for any horror writers interested in one of the most influential voices in the genre.
Books on Telling Stories
For screenwriters, Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder is a generally useful guide, but all writers can benefit from Snyder’s look at story structure, an approach that divides a work into 15 “beats” that form the story. It also introduces a broad overview of the concept of genre and how it can be used to benefit the writing process.
Finally, I’d like to recommend David Mamet’s exploration of drama in Three Uses of a Knife. A little more on the side of the mystics, with a grandiose approach that treats the written word like magic or religion, Mamet’s book is still a gripping read that attempts to connect high-drama to the everyday. For any writer that has struggled with elevating small human dramas to the level of the epic, it’s a fantastic read and well worth the time.
Of course, there are many more books on writing and some of them are even worth reading. However, writers should be careful about reaching for outside influences when they’re developing their own voice. That’s why next time, we’ll discuss the concept of influence a bit more thoroughly. Until then, stay safe and keep writing!
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