Reading to Write

At a writers festival last weekend, I taught a workshop called “Writing Killer Fiction.” During the workshop -- and throughout the weekend, for that matter -- I found myself repeatedly recommending the same three books to aspiring writers. To my way of thinking, this trio of books would be a fantastic addition to any writer’s reading list, not just those who aspire to writing crime fiction. I thought I’d share my chosen three with you here. There are other books on writing but, for my money, this slender trio covers all the bases perfectly.

This Year You Write Your Novel (Little, Brown & Company) by Walter Mosley
“I don’t promise a masterpiece,” Mosley warns in his introduction, “just a durable first novel of a certain length,” and later in the introduction he underlines this point. “I can't promise you worldly success, but I can say that if you follow the path I lay out here, you will experience the personal satisfaction of having written a novel. And from that point, anything is possible.” I wrote a review of the book for January when it first came out in 2007. That’s here.

The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile (Fireside) by Noah Lukeman
The first five pages are the most important in your manuscript. If they’re not sharp and ready, who will want to read beyond? But literary agent Lukeman really goes much, much deeper than readers might expect. Those who are currently iffy about self-editing will do very well heeding Lukeman’s advice. And as much as anything, The First Five Pages is a book about editing. Though not just, as the title implies, the beginning of the book. Lukeman’s work seems to bring the currently much maligned Elements of Style to life.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (Pocket Books) by Stephen King
Part memoir, part writing primer, King’s fans will be delighted to discover more about the master’s background, but there are few writers who won’t benefit from the straight-forward advice King’s hard-won experience helps him offer up. “This is a short book,” King says in On Writing, “because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers ... don’t understand very much about what they do -- not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.” ‘Nuff said.


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