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The Elements of Style
William Strunk J. and E.B. White
$6.95 ($5.56 Amazon)
This thin tome (92 Pages) is famous for containing the distilled wisdom of the ages. This book is remarkable in its brevity, vigor and clarity. Anyone who lays pen to paper or suffers QWERTY should purchase and read this book. (Available in most bookstores)
Characters and Viewpoint
Orson Scott Card
$15.99 ($11.19 Amazon)
I've been a fan of Card's fiction, and this book is outstanding in his use of examples to illustrate his points, and the section on viewpoint is the best explanation I've found. The secrets of the art are herein revealed. (Imagine finding a "tell all" book about magic by Houdini)
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy
Orson Scott Card
$14.99 ($10.49 Amazon)
Fanfiction might fall under the category of "speculative fiction", and this book is a good first step to going from borrowing worlds and characters to making our own. I have a Science Fiction book simmering myself (A series of related short stories) and this book reveals a little about the selling side of authorship.
$15.99 ($11.19 Amazon)
Not quite as strong as the Card books, but a good, solid exploration of plots. (Those of you who have read my stories know that's an area where I need a lot of help.) This book tends to 'tell' rather than 'show'.
The Art of Fiction : Notes on Craft for Young Writers
$12.00 ($9.60 Amazon)
I've not read this, but it's been recommended to me.
Story : Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting
$27.50 ($19.25 Amazon)
Okay, this book is really aimed at screenwriting, but most of the principles apply to any fiction. The inspirational first chapter alone is worth the price.
Marisa's Book Picks
Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English
By Patricia T. O'Connor
$11.00 USA / $16.00 Canada
$11.00 ($8.80 Amazon) Riverhead Books, New York
This is a WONDERFUL book for those us who can't always remember when to use "me" and when to use "I", if it's "who's" or "whose", or maybe you don't know "which" from "that". Very lighthearted; very useful.
The Chicago Manual of Style
$40.00 ($28.00 Amazon) Prepared by the Editorial Staff of the University of Chicago Press
The University of Chicago Press, Chicago
"For over seventy-five years the University of Chicago Press Manual of Style has been the standard reference tool for authors, editors, copywriters, and proofreaders." You are missing out if you don't have an edition of this in your household.
— Joseph Palmer
The books you already own.
I know what you're thinking; "Huh? My books?". The books on your shelf are a tremendous resource. Look at them. Don't read them, Look at them.
Note that the first sentence of a chapter is frequently not indented. Count the number of characters in a line (Most paperbacks are less than 60). There's a reason for that, it's easier to find your way back to the beginning of a new line. Note that in spite of the HTML spec, there is no space between paragraphs, unless there is a break in scene (Noted by a line with * * * in the manuscript, or at the top of a page should it paginate that way.)
Paragraphs are indented (Like this one). You can do that in HTML by adding 3 or 4 " " (non-breaking space) characters to the beginning of a line that follows one that ends
with the "<BR>", or after a "<P>" tag.
The art of publishing is well established, and has been honed over the ages in order to make the words themselves so easy to read that they disapear to the reader. Learn from the experts.
Now you can read your books, but just the first sentence from each book, then close it. Look at all the different ways authors have found to draw you into the story. I've been asked to look at a few fanfictions, and in nearly every case the sins of the story are all revealed in the first sentence (Which is usually overstuffed with competing ideas).
The used book store.
Go buy a tattered old copy of one of your favorite books. On the way home stop by the stationer's and buy a set of highlighters. Flip open the book and start highlighting a random chapter. Highlight the dialog (The stuff between "") in yellow. Then highlight the descriptor words ('said' 'shouted' 'sobbed' 'cried' in blue. Now find a place where there is a conversation among more than 2 people, and highlight the words the author used to keep the 'speaker' straight in your mind. Pick another chapter and highlight the description between dialog.
This exercise is to make yourself aware of the craft of fiction. This is the framing of the story, the studs and drywall. We know it's there, but we don't notice it because if the author has done their job right, the reader doesn't see it.
A text editor.
Find a program that you can use that will not wrap the text, and set it up to show each sentence on a separate line. This is a good way to see patterns in the words. Any row of sentences that start with "The" or "He" or "She" stick right out, since the words themselves are there, stacked up.
Groups of similar sentences also show up. Two sentences, nearly identical in structure will sound odd if read one after the other. (Unless, of course you plan to do that.) In a way this is like woodworking. A single knot can add character and interest to a piece, a pair of knots can turn into 'eyes', and turn the work an accidental face.
Your own voice.
Read your story out loud. I'm always surprised at the number of mistakes I find this way. I'm not quite sure how this works, but passing the story though my speech center is like having another person check it.
"Wise Readers" is from Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. He describes finding and cultivating readers who will honestly tell you what they think. Let's face it, "I liked it very much" is nice to hear from a reader, but "I lost interest in the fight scene", or "No, Akane would never do that!" might help you to become a better writer.
The tree was still young, and by stretching my fingertips I could reach all the way around the trunk. It was a rare hot day in late autumn, just perfect to dry the leaves, but there was no wind to free them. I can't throw a Mouko Tabisha, but I can shake a tree the old-fashioned way. That's where the idea came from in "Autumn". All I had to do was move that tree from the 3Com parking lot in Santa Clara to the Tendou yard.
Copyright ©1999 Joseph Palmer & Marisa Price All Rights Reserved.
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