To the fiction author, the answer is of course that books on writing are extremely helpful. There are some great books out there, and many of you may be asking why I think this is even a question. I raise it because in the screenwriting world there are many professional screenwriters who advise to never read the books on how to write a screenplay, or at best to read them once to see what they are all about and then toss them and forget what they said. I am still undecided in the world of screenwriting books, but in the world of fiction I have to say books on writing can be of tremendous help, and some are incredibly interesting.
Some of my favorite books on Writing
Each of us have our favorites. Here are mine:
Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
When I was first starting out in my screenwriting endeavors, my buddy bought me Syd Field’s “Screenplay” book, and I bought him Self Editing for Fiction Writers in return. It is fantastic for anyone starting in fiction prose who does not know how it should be done. It covers formatting and all those goodies, and of course the basics about conflict and point of view. If you show up at a writing group and don’t know what point of view is (or “POV” as most people refer to it when discussing your writing), you need to go home and read these books.
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
As far as the most interesting one out there, I would point you to Reading Like a Writer because it has so many great examples of wonderful prose.
How Fiction Works, by James Woods
If you want to master the incredibly valuable skill of “free indirect style,” check out How Fiction Works.
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
Of course, if you are one of those people who read fiction non-stop, you will probably have a great grasp of what makes a piece of fiction work. But you are most likely passively reading, because you enjoy it, not actively reading and paying attention to how the author set up this piece of knowledge and revealed it in X way, or when a character’s name is revealed in dialogue or other techniques. If that is the case, check out The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner. Additionally, if you ever take a writing class the teacher will likely reference this book, so it is good to have read it so you sound knowledgable.
Everyone has their different views. My literary writing professor at Johns Hopkins advised I read Robert McKee’s Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting a book for screenwriters that very much focuses on structure and a whole lot more.
As writers of prose, I imagine many of us will not discredit books on writing. But for those of you that do, I hope I have provided a tad more information that will help shove you in the direction of at least checking them out. Newbies, to you I say that you must check out the books I referred to above and get to writing.