As it is possible to notice from the diagram below, books have known an unprecedented growth over the past few centuries. Besides, with the advent of Internet things have accelerated even more. To the point that it is next to impossible to make any reasonable prediction about the future of the publishing industry.
This abundance doesn’t necessarily mean that books have gotten cheaper. For example, according to nbcnews.com prices for textbooks since 1977 have grown by 1,040%. This is a staggering number, above all considering that the overall inflation over the same period amounts only to 308%.
With e-books the situation is probably a little better for us readers. However, considering that, in general, non fiction e-books tend to have a higher price tag; considering that the number of how-to books about creative writing has skyrocketed as well; and that writers should devote their time to write their works or read the other’s, I decided to put together a very short and no-frills list of how-to books about creative writing. I’m not saying there are no other effective books about creative writing, I’m only saying that, among those I’ve actually read, these are the ones that can really make the learning curve of a beginner writer gentler.
How to become a writer-resources
This small book is a classic. It’s full of interesting suggestions. And you can certainly learn a lot from it. However, this is by no means the Bible. I’m saying this because you should always bear in mind that effective usage and rules aren’t always the same thing.
For example, The Elements of Style states:
In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.
In short, you should always write red, black and white and never red, black, and white. Well… though I suggest you that you read it, I’m one of those fellows who often put in the extra comma.
As a matter of fact, I think that The Elements of Style should be complemented by a resource that is exquisitely digital, and incredibly interesting. I’m referring to the COCA, that’s to say the Corpus of Contemporary American English. Briefly, a corpus is a collection of selected texts that can be examined electronically to see how words and grammatical structures are actually used in the wild, so to speak.
You can consult the COCA freely. However if you find it useful, to keep such a worthy project going you can donate whatever sum you deem most appropriate.
Rather than your usual how-to manual, this book seems like a chat about the art of writing. In fact, Stephen King devotes an important part of the book to autobiographical matters.
Now, considering Stephen King has written a staggering number of horror novels, and some of these are among my all-time preferred ones, I found this autobiographic part just as interesting as the more technical one.
In fact, it’s good getting to know your idols and realize they are made of flesh and have real problems just like you. This awareness can help you get through hard times.
I’m recommending this book because in it James N Frey says plain and loud an often forgotten truth. That’s to say that in fiction rules have always to be kept in perspective. In fact, he says, the only raison d’être for rules has to do with making life easier for creative writing teachers. This means that there cannot be diktats, and that you can do pretty much anything you feel like… provided you know how to.
This may seem an obvious truth, but it isn’t always such a straightforward conclusion for beginner writers.
This is a collection of articles written by various authors. Each article is devoted to a particular aspect of writing. But not in a dry and technical manner. On the contrary, here more than rules we have a look at the general principles which should inform our writing. For example about taking inspiration from real life here is an interesting passage:
By bending reality into fantasy you are not lessening the Truth inherent in your idea. Rather, you are increasing it. Life is a blur in which it is difficult to see anything clearly because a zillion things are going on all at once. Art is all about sharp focus.
I had never read it before. But when I did I felt like that short story alone was worth the price of the whole book. It really shows why fiction is essential to the well being of us all.
I don’t wanna say a word more about it. Just go read it.
This isn’t a book about grammar. And it doesn’t tackle story structure or any other theoretical frame. Simply, this book is a repository. Of emotions. And it is useful in that it helps writers to open their eyes and look around at the world around them, at real people, to take notice of how their emotions show up in their postures, gestures, and expressions.
In its own peculiar way, this book is invaluable because it helps writers get past that stage in which all their descriptions tend to focus over and over only on few details.
This approach can then be applied to a wide variety of other different aspects of story writing. In short, this book is like having a sergeant screaming into our ears something like:
Look you’ve got a whole universe to watch and study. Use it.
A final word
Years ago, I read the first dozen or so of how-to books as if they were a sort of gospel. Back then I had a pernicious tendency to accept any suggestions I read, even if some of them ended up contradicting each other quite blatantly.
Luckily, with the passing of the time my attitude shifted. I went from accepting everything I read to questioning everything.
At first sight this attitude might come across as extreme and needlessly critical. But I believe this is the only attitude a writer can have if he or she is to make it. And with make it I don’t mean making money, I mean writing something worth. Something that when you reread it you feel proud of yourself, even if the sales aren’t that much encouraging.
Put simply, when you write you should always know why you’re writing what you’re writing in the way you’re writing it.
Put simply. Indeed…
Diagram by Tentotwo [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/ licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons