by Meredith Cole
Happiness is a room lined with books. I have all the usual suspects on my shelves: a thesaurus, two dictionaries (one French), an atlas, and the Joy of Cooking. And then I have a couple of "craft" shelves. When I get hung up on something in a story, I often like to browse my reference shelf to help get me unstuck. One writer's procrastination is another writer's inspiration.
Stored up from my filmmaking days, I have quite a few books about writing screenplays. These are quite useful when it comes to plotting or writing good characters. They often present material in a distilled way that allows you to step back and see the big picture (rather than dig down deep in the trenches to be distracted by adverbs). Some great books are Creating Unforgettable Characters by Linda Segar, and The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler. I also like Writing a Screenplay in 21 Days by Viki King. I've never done it, but I like to imagine that it's possible.
But sometimes I need something to read something new. That's when I head to a bookstore or my local library to do some browsing. I love to dip into books on writing and see if they have any gems or exercises that will jump start me.Some of them are on mysteries, some on novels, and some on the writing life. I use these books to help craft my syllabus for the mystery and novel writing classes that I teach.I've used You Can Write a Mystery by Gillian Roberts and Hallie's Ephron's Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel in my classes.
These days I've found that most other reference books have become Google searches rather than actual books anymore. It's quicker and instant gratification is important when you need to find out if a plant is poisonous right now. But if I want to dig deeper on a topic, I get a longer book so I can really immerse myself in something I'm thinking about writing about.
I can see someday having all my reference information come from my computer. But I don't think I'll let go of my library anyway. There's something nice about curling up with a book and getting inspired all over again to write your own book. It just feels right.