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Some Books Every Writer Ought To Own (Or At Least Read)
Every writer worth his or her salt has their ‘tool kit’ shelf of books, and these are some of mine. I’m not going to list all the works on my particular shelf (because, for example, Candy Moulton’s The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West, Orson Scott Card’s How To Write Science Fiction & Fantasy or William C. Martell’s The Secrets of Action Screenwriting are a bit specific for this list). I also recommend getting at least one book on how to write that you completely and utterly disagree with. Keep it with the rest of the good ones, and anytime you think you’re not doing words right, flip through it and remind yourself that you don’t have to listen to everyone. (Incidentally, important tip. How to tell a bad “How To Write” book from a good one – check to see what the writer of said book has actually sold any thing of note. If it’s a couple of short stories to some magazine you’ve never heard of or some community theatre production, ask yourself why you should value that person’s opinion over your own).
The list behind the cut is a bit weighted toward screenwriting, but there’s still valuable stuff to be learned in all these works; also, a few of these are much less “How To” than they are “War Story”, but I still reckon they bring value. The order of the books is not a scale of any kind of quality, by the way – it’s just the order in which I pulled them off my shelf.
The Writer’s Rights by Michael Legat. I would say this one is absolutely essential to anyone who wants to be a professional novelist. Basically, it’s a guide to all the legal and business practice stuff related to publishing business. Read it; there will be a test later.
The Writer Got Screwed (But Didn’t Have To) by Brooke A. Wharton. As soon as saw the title of this book I knew I had to have it. It’s a valuable guide to the minefield of contracts and legality in the entertainment industry.
The Complete Book of Scriptwriting by J. Michael Straczynski. An excellent tool kit book, packed with useful technical info on formatting, structure and a bunch of other things.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. The go-to book for questions about use of language and writing style. If your editor doesn’t own a copy of this, they’re not doing their job properly.
Story by Robert McKee. Some people hold this book up as holy writ delivered from on high, others rebel against the structures it contains. Either way, you ought to read it, because love it or hate it, you’ll get something out of it.
The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice for Writers by Betsy Lerner. Does exactly what it says on the tin.
Fortune & Glory by Brian Michael Bendis. A graphic novel, just recently re-released in hardcover, covering Bendis’s adventures in Hollywood as he tries to sell a movie based on one of his comics. Hilarious and painfully true.
Conversations With My Agent by Rob Long. Long was the guy who created Cheers and this is the story of what happened to him after it was cancelled; a great narrative that underlines the fact that you’re only as good as your next work.
Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman. A great book by an Oscar winning screenwriter, full of good advice and tales from the trenches.
A cracking good dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases. Yeah, sure you’ve got ‘spellchecker’ and ‘thesaurus’ buttons on your word processor’s toolbar, but they’re no substitute for the real thing.
The Writer’s Handbook and/or The Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook (current edition). If you’re just starting out, this is all you need to find someone who will give you money for stuff you write (NB: you also need skill, and, y’know, talent, but that’s up to you to supply it).