Anyone serious about writing wants to improve, and each succeeding story or novel should reflect that goal. In order to become better, writers look to other successful writers. The Internet is a treasure trove of golden information. It is also chock full of lead. As we are still a page-turning generation, there are helpful magazine articles and books, any of which can become part of a writer’s library. Over the past fifty-six plus years, this author’s library should take up many bookshelves. In a way, it does, but not how you may think.
There are four bookcases in my office with a total of twenty-four, thirty-six inch shelves. Twelve shelves contain books, magazines, and binders of historical research references, because that is the basis of many of my novels. One shelf contains CD’s. Those who enjoy listening to music understand the value of their presence. Ten shelves are dedicated to novels, some printed in the mid-1800’s, most prior to 1960. Aside from being pure entertainment, they are also a resource—a reference—to how authors were successful at becoming published. The old publishing system was a daunting challenge, and to manage that, these books had to have been special.
That leaves one shelf, three feet of books on the techniques of writing. That’s all? Yes. These few volumes lay out the process—the core of information on how to write. The first and most important are, in order:
The other books in my library discuss characters, story elements, and various techniques, the few I found the most helpful over the years. Much of this information is available online; however, be careful about people who say there is only one way to approach writing techniques.
Why these specific resources?
The Chicago Manual of Style came about in 1906 to standardize how printed books look. Adhering to its guidance will show any potential editor or publisher your professionalism. Those who don’t get a quick look and rejection slip. It’s that simple.
Strunk and White’s Elements of Style addresses the elementary rules of usage, principles of composition, and a list of often mis-spelled and misused words. It becomes a real help as the author goes through the editing process.
Edgerton’s book discusses one of the most important elements in a novel—the opening, whether it is the first sentence, or paragraph, or first page of Chapter One. If the reader’s interest isn’t peaked at that moment, chances are it will dry up and all the hard work goes unread.
Now, what in the world makes William Shakespeare so important? He is a reminder that author’s can be original. “He invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, and verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original.” (See http://shakespeare-online.com/biography/wordsinvented.html for a list)
And all that stuff online? Pick and choose what is important to you in building a style. Create your own reference book. After all these years, many of the techniques come without thinking, but I always pull out this collection and thumb through the worn pages asking, have you done this? Would this work to better convey the character or scene? That invariably leads to another edit, being sure any changes are consistent throughout the story.
Think of it this way. A painter sketches the subject on canvas, and then brushes on layer upon layer of color until his masterpiece is done. The first draft is the sketch, the author’s brushes the techniques of writing, words the color.