A Writer’s Reading List   Leave a comment

Okay, it’s been done before.  Many times.  So I’m going to do it too.  Maybe my choices will be different than those a few others have touted, but these are a few of the books I have found useful in developing the huge writing skill I have convinced myself that I posess.  These are not novels or collections of short stories or any other kind of exemplary works – they are books about writing and each provide some kind of theoretical underpinning to what it is we do.  This list will grow; it takes time to read good books.

Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury. Joshua Odell Eitions, 1994.  If there ever was a master, then it must have been Bradbury.  He explores ‘the writing life’ in a self-effacing manner, including the day he was discovered (“We’re publishing this.  You got anything more?”)  and the years in which he was forced to use rented typewriters in the UCLA librabry.

On Writing, by Stephen King.  Simon & Schuster, 2000.  Whether you like his work or loathe it, his success is undeniable.  He traces his early days, writing for his high school paper, then teaching school in Maine.  Nobody was more surprised than King when Carrie became a blockbuster.

Man And His Symbols, by Carl G. Jung. Laurel, 1968.  Okay, okay, I know.  This isn’t about writing.  However, it is about people.  If your people don’t seem real, then your writing will not seem real.  Understanding how people use symbols to carry meaning, and how these meanings propagate throughout a society, allows the writer to dip into the deepest well: the human psyche.  And that is a world Jung knew well.

The Art Of Subtext; Beyond Plot, by Charles Baxter. Graywolf Press, 2007.  We all know things; it is part of being human.  Sometimes our characters know things too; it is part of their becoming human.  Using these things to bury the true meaning of dialogue, tapping into our universal ‘knowledge base,’ allows us to say things without actually saying them.  And when you don’t say something, but your meaning still comes through to the reader, then you have spoken clearly.

The Power Of Point Of View, by Alicia Rasley.  Writer’s Digest Books, 2008.  Every character, fictional or real-life, has their own point of view.  Rasley goes way beyond the standard classroom First/Second/Third person POV to lead us behind the character’s eyes, to speak the truths that only THAT character would dare speak.  Want to make your dialogue become real?  You have to forget that you are the narrator, and let each character be the one to lead the reader where they will, even if they lead them astray.

Building Great Sentences: Exploring The Writer’s Craft, by Prof. Brooks Landon, Ph.D.  The Teaching Company.  This, like all of The Teaching Company’s publications, is not actually a book – it is a lecture series presented in a video format.  Landon leads the viewer through the deconstruction and reassembly of some classic compund sentences, to show how modifying clauses can be stacked one on top of another, to build a ‘suspensive’ sentence. The goal is to draw the reader in by effective use of language, and to keep their attention right up to the point where the true message carried by the sentence is revealed.

The Writer’s Art, by James J. Kilpatrick  Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1984.  A long-time editor and correspondent talks about “The Things we Ought Not to Do,” “The Things We Ought to Be Doing,” and his 100 crotchets:  Words that are misused, abused, confused, and generally need to be watched closely.  Not only is the book an enjoyable read, it focuses closely on making our writing more easily understood by  the only one who matters – the reader.

The Art Of Time In Fiction, by Joan Silber  Graywolf Press, 2009.  How do you ‘get from here to there,’ time-wise?  Time does not always go forwards, and sometimes stories are not told sequentially.  How to get this across seamlessly,without losing the reader – that’s what this is all about.  Not as easy as it sounds.

The Elements of Expression, by Arthur Plotnik  Cleis Press 1996, 2012.  Noted author and editor explores how language is understood by individuals with different backgrounds.  A highly entertaining read, Elements can be read just for the fun of it.  However…  If you are only going to read one book about writing, it should be this one.

Writing Subtext: What Lies Beneath, by Dr. Linda Seger, Michael Wiese Productions, 2011.  Seger works in Hollywood as a script consultant, with over 100 produced movies to her credit.  This book, while focusing on scriptwriting instead of written fiction, offers many strong suggestons on how to improve dialogue, and also adding depth to scenes, settings, and other non-spoken aspects of a writer’s work.

Posted April 18, 2012 by JD Rule

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