Actually, while some folks (my wife, for one) might turn their noses up at books about writing, I often find them fascinating, and I firmly believe that my own work has been strongly influenced by what I've learned from a handful of writing craft guides. So I'm pleased to offer not just one but four different suggestions in response to this week's question: "What's your favorite writing craft book of all time?"
Each of the books below have offered me something different and specific:
- I've never read all of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, but that hardly matters. The central lesson embedded right there in the title has carried me through more than my fair share of rough patches in the early stages of writing a story.
- Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft was the first craft book in the first writing seminar I participated in—and still stands as the most comprehensive analysis of the different aspects of a short story or novel: character, plot, setting, time, point of view, etc. etc. A central, indispensable reference.
- Madison Smartt Bell's Narrative Design: Working with Craft, Imagination, and Form impacted me like no other book with its analysis of linear versus modular structures, and it convinced me how much every word, every move, counts in a short story—with careful, almost line-by-line analyses of several stories and how they work.
- And then a new favorite: Francine Prose's Reading Like A Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them was simply brilliant, infused with a love of literature and infectious with its belief that we can learn to write from what we read.