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Author Topic: Writing Resources  (Read 4484 times)
Quinn Yellowfox
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« on: December 30, 2009, 05:06:40 PM »

There are a lot of good references for writers. Which are your favorites?

(Please look in your local library before buying anything. Not all references are good for everyone and this isn't an advertisement.)

These books are hard to find and most folks have probably never heard of them, so I'll post them first.

Writing Realistic Dialogue and Flash Fiction and Punctuation for Writers by Harvey Stanbrough http://www.stonethread.com/ are excellent books. I would summarize them as: Rules don't break easily, but they bend nicely. These are the rules and how to get away with bending and sometimes breaking them. If you are at a writer's conference and Harvey is presenting, his courses are great!
« Last Edit: December 31, 2009, 07:17:09 PM by Quinn Yellowfox » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2009, 06:33:12 PM »

(Excuse me for fixing a typo in your topic heading, Quinn. I figured you wouldn't mind.)

I think Strunk and White, The Elements of Style, should be on every writer's desk or at least the bookshelf close at hand. It's only about 80 pages long, and can be had in paperback for a dollar or two from a used bookstore. Unlike those gargantuan style manuals from the university presses, this little book has the basics everyone needs and doesn't go off the deep end with technical details about footnotes and bibliographies.

A good dictionary is always something to have, though if you are always connected to the internet, you can make do with Dictionary.com for that. Spelling matters, folks. Too many spelling errors and malaprops will turn readers away before they finish your story.   Undecided
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« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2010, 01:58:03 AM »

Here's a reference that many folks outside the US Air Force may not be aware of: "The Tongue and Quill".  Also known as "AF Handbook 33-337". (Don't you just love military nomenclatures?)

Though, of course, it is rather slanted to writing within the military in general, and USAF in particular, it has a wealth of wonderful information for writers and briefers as well. It not only contains a lot of great tips on proper grammar and structure, but it is a lovely primer on the process of writing itself. A sort of "art of communication 101" for the "why" of writing and communications.

A sampling of topics include:
 - 7 steps for effective communication
 - Preparing to write or speak: Analyzing your purpose, researching your topic, supporting your ideas, organizing and outlining thoughts
 - Writing with Purpose: Writing and Editing your drift, fighting for feedback and getting approval
 - a huge selection of templates that are useful more for a business environment, but handy all the same
 - The Mechanics of Writing: Common Grammar and terms, Capitalization, numbers numbers numbers, Abbreviating

Have a look!  Download is free to the public (your tax dollars at work) at:
http://www.e-publishing.af.mil/shared/media/epubs/afh33-337.pdf
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« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2010, 11:34:21 AM »

Hey, thanks, Vargr. I've never seen this, even though my mate was in the Air Force. I'll download it and take a better look.  Shocked
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« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2010, 02:42:32 AM »

Must agree with Altivo, The Elements of Style is a must have. It's surprisingly light, and doesn't just batter you with, "Don't, don't, DON'T".

Another good reference I've heard from others (that I need to read more of) is Stephen King's On Writing. I'm not very far in, but as he elaborates, it brings out the inner writer in yourself.
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« Reply #5 on: January 23, 2010, 02:34:05 PM »

Good point, Shara. While I'm not overly fond of King's writing, his book On Writing is still worth reading for anyone who aspires to authorship. There are some others that I find good in that same direction, but they aren't on my active shelf. I'll try to dig them out and list them soon. (I do know where they are, but it's in the midst of about 2000 volumes that are shelved out in the barn. The house isn't big enough any more.)
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« Reply #6 on: May 30, 2010, 03:30:19 PM »

I visited my local library yesterday to pick up a book on writing. They only had one book, but they said they could order another in for me.

I was thinking of asking them for Elements of Style. Or does anyone else have any other suggestions, considering my level?

Meanwhile, I thought I'd write a short summary of Write & Sell Your Novel (2nd Edition) by Marina Oliver. Maybe someone might find some of the points useful.

  • Writing is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. The inspiration is essential and no amount of hard work can creat the gift if it isn't there
  • Read and read
  • Get used to treating everyday events such as news stories or overheard conversation as cues for inspiration
  • Decide whether your book is more plot-driven, character-driven or balanced
  • The reader must care about your main characters. Give them a personality that attracts, give them depth and let the reader care about them
  • Remove unnecessary minor characters or keep their descriptions to a minimum
  • The protagonists should be on-stage as much as possible
  • Provide conflict. What is at stake must be important. Then provide a satisfactory solution or compromise
  • Don't confuse readers by changing viewpoint inconsistently or by introducing too many characters at once
  • Avoid excessive modifiers and adjectives and prefer strong active verbs to passive verbs and tenses (guilty as charged!)
  • Have a powerful opening chapter which engages the reader's interest and gets to the action quickly
  • In dialogue, 'he said' is almost invisible. Avoid excessive use of synonyms like 'uttered' as it can get intrusive
  • Avoid exposition except when it is the most efficient way of filling in the plot. Exposition slows the pace and is distancing
  • Don't stop in the middle of an exciting scene to explain something
  • Vary the pace. Lots of short sentencess and urgent action increase the pace.

All in all not a bad book. It doesn't go into much depth though and I wouldn't call it particularly inspiring.
« Last Edit: May 30, 2010, 05:09:11 PM by Jacky » Logged
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« Reply #7 on: May 30, 2010, 07:01:31 PM »

I think all that advice is good, though most of it can be ignored occasionally.

I was pleased to see "Read and read" up there at the top, because more and more I'm running into would-be writers who don't read, and proudly declare that fact. If you don't read, you can't write. Good writing comes from enough exposure to good and bad writing to give you an ingrained sense of what is good or bad.

The issues of viewpoint are crucial. After spelling and grammar, the next most common problem I see in amateur writing is an unclear viewpoint: switching between first and second person, switching from one character's viewpoint to another without clear scene changes, and so forth.

These things are largely mechanical, and have to be viewed in that perspective. In the heat of creation, you may commit one of these errors and that's fine. But not going back and editing it away later, after making a clear decision about which viewpoint you are going to use, that would be a cardinal sin.

Just as an aside here, a remarkable (and published) exercise in viewpoint comes to mind. In 1969, Anne McCaffrey published Dragonflight, the first of her many novels about the world of Pern. The story is told almost entirely from the viewpoint of Lessa, who begins as a serf girl in an oppressive landhold and ends as a dragon rider and leader of a weyr. In the last part of The Masterharper of Pern, published in 1998, McCaffrey comes full circle again by describing the same scenes through the eyes of a different character, Robinton the Masterharper. We see the same events unfolding but with a different understanding and perception of what is going on. Whether you are a reader of the Pern stories or not, this particular contrast is well worth examining.

Some of the suggestions farther down, about pacing and excitement for instance, are related to preferences that do in fact vary widely between authors and readers. Some of us enjoy a leisurely pace. Books do not have to move at the breakneck speed of today's Hollywood productions or a 30 minute television sitcom.  On the other hoof, don't "pad" your writing if you have nothing to say.
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« Reply #8 on: May 30, 2010, 11:11:04 PM »

I second the "read" bit. Many cliche-ish stories are written by beginners who've only read a few works of that genre and think, "hey, this isn't so hard to do after all!" so they go and plop some brain droppings onto paper and hold it out for the world to see. Like toddlers. Everybody goes through that phase; the only challenge is to make sure that it is a phase. Not some eternal, self-sustaining period of egotistic self-delusion.

WRT resources, there's one essay that was pivotal in helped me form (and continue to form) my writing style. It's called "Politics and the English Language" and it was written by George Orwell some... ahem... time ago. Here's an online version: http://www.k-1.com/Orwell/index.cgi/work/essays/language.html

Most English-speaking students encounter Orwell in high school, but since my high school years were spent outside of my English-speaking homeland, I didn't have the privilege of encountering Orwell until freshman year in college. When I did, it just... wow. Nineteen Eighty-Four gripped me like no other work of fiction had before. It had the urgency, bluntness, and clarity of Hemingway, but none of the artsy-fartsiness I felt in his style. Orwell introduced me to the world of writing, and he became my model for a few years - if not in politics, then in writing. Even now, I still appreciate the quality of his essays. I think subconsciously I try to pattern my own essays after his... not sure if that's bad, but yeah. Glad to recommend Politics. Don't worry - despite the title, it's got nothing remotely politically charged about it. Wink
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« Reply #9 on: May 31, 2010, 07:54:24 AM »

I agree, read, read,read! I learned that the first sentence is highly important. It sets the tone and is the hook in your readers mouth. The much cliched "It was a dark and stormy night.", can be used or can be parodied 'It was a bright and sunny day when the murder happened!"
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« Reply #10 on: May 31, 2010, 08:14:51 AM »

I though I would add a couple of the tools that I use.

Firstly I have a copy of the Drake International The New Zealand Secretary's Handbook. It pocket size guide to every thing that a PA/Secretary needs to know. Everything from conversion between units of measure, hat sizes, legal terminology, and hints for arranging a successful function. I find it really handy simply because it contains information that adds realism to a story but isn't generally listed anywhere. I'm sure that there are local versions worldwide, but they are so useful you rarely see them in second-hand shops.

Did you know that you could download Wikipedia? Well a cut down version for schools from  http://schools-wikipedia.org/. Quoting the website it has '5500 articles (as much as can be fitted on a DVD with good size images) and is about the size of a twenty volume encyclopaedia (34,000 images and 20 million words).' It's supplied as a 1.2gb file that expands to a 3.7gb DVD image, but it runs fine off your Hard Disk.

Following on from k9k. Yes the first line is important, but according to some highly unscientific surveys (mainly me watching people in the library) most people will read the first couple of pages of any book before taking it. I have also seen several people actually jump to the end of the book and read the last few pages to see if the pay-off will be the worth the effort. Understandable considering the size of a lot of the books these days. Undecided
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« Reply #11 on: May 31, 2010, 04:32:31 PM »

I am guilty of it, my mother always taught me, read the first chapter and if you think it sucks, stop reading it.
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« Reply #12 on: September 28, 2010, 08:17:18 AM »

As a new member I hate to bump old threads but I read Jim Butcher's Live Journal which has his thoughts on writing. (Start at the bottom post, work your way up.  It isn't intuitive, but its how live journal works)

It's quite long, but I found it to be really informative.  It's focused on making sure the writing is able to be recognized by an editor as something that is good enough to be published, but the techniques apply to all fiction.  Hope it's useful.
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« Reply #13 on: January 29, 2011, 05:09:00 PM »

Bumping to save space.

Care of the Inky Fool, an insightful article about sentence construction, style, and Strunk & White. To summarize: Brevity isn't always everything.
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« Reply #14 on: January 29, 2011, 07:37:23 PM »

I've set this topic "sticky" so no one needs to feel guilty about bumping it. This should be a collection of useful resources that remain useful, after all, and don't go out of date.

Now, I have one to add. Just got this today.

Writer's Knowledge Base is a search engine especially tuned for resources that should be valuable to writers, including keywords such as "POV" for "point of view" that writers might use in Google without finding much.
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