I just finished reading Stephen King's On Writing - which is a part CV part How To guide. He specialises in Science Fiction, but most of his advice to wanna-be authors is about style and form which can be applied to crime fiction. He also offers tips on how to keep focused on the job and avoid writer's block and stale characters. It helped me a lot.

So, I was wondering - what was the best How to Write book you've ever read? Why was it helpful? Have you even read one before?

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Just to play the devil's advocate here: If you're tempted to buy a writer's book on how to write, check out their track record as a fiction author. Too many failed genre writers have dropped fiction writing for nonfiction (which sells much better), and so they write about how they wrote their own books. Chances are the information is counter-productive.
(This does not, of course, apply to King and Evanovich).
I don't know, I think what you're looking for in this kind of guide is the reader's eye, not the writer's eye.

What most writers, especially early in their career, have trouble with is knowing if what they write is really having the effect on the reader they want.
There are hundreds of ways to misjudge one's target audience, or at least their numbers -- even if you get exactly the effect you intended. Surely, we expect our readers to be a lot like us. How many of us are there?
There: I feel a lot better -- I seem to have a very select audience. :)
I agree with your second paragraph, and I think most writing books don't address this need. Most of them give out basic advice that is probably intuitive for most people, such as if the plot's pace is too slow it will bore readers, show/don't tell, make sure your protagonist wants something, make sure there's conflict, etc. Not only is that kind of advice pretty obvious, it also does nothing to help the beginning writer actually write better.

For that you have to get down to the level of syntax and diction, to the point where you're actually writing words down on paper. Few writing books analyze a piece of writing and discuss what different techniques are used and how they are or aren't effective. Stephen King does this in On Writing, where he gives an example of his own work and shows how he fixes it and why.

Robert Olen Butler's From Where You Dream has one chapter that does this called Cinema of the Mind where he actually takes several passages from famous authors and explains what different techniques they use to create the feel of direction as in a film, how they control the "camera", if you will. James Wood's How Fiction Works is a book completely about explaining why certain techniques are effective, and what they are effective for. David Jauss' Alone With All That Can Happen is a book explaining different areas of fiction writing from a different perspective. He gives the best analysis of point of view that I've ever read.

But most writing books (I'm speaking only of the ones aimed at how-to advice, not the ones aimed as inspirational advice such as Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird) don't give a deep analysis like this, something that explains to the writer how to do something, instead of what to do.

I know to show/don't tell, but how do I do that? What techniques can I use to better that, and when do I show and when do I tell? How can I judge that? Fewer books answer those questions. It's like a carpenter telling his apprentice he needs to make a dado joint, but not telling the apprentice how to do it or how to know when it's needed.
Yes. Quite right. And then there is the matter of blindly following a rule like "show-don't tell." Invariably that involves setting up a scene with dialogue and action. Dialogue and action are preferred by readers who are accustomed to consuming their entertainment via TV or film. The hard fact is that using dialogue and action requires far more words and pages than a short paragraph summarizing an event. The author must decide if the scene is significant enough to cast it in audio-visual format rather than narrative. There is nothing worse than empty dialogue.
Besides King's On Writing, I also liked David Morrell's Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing and Lawrence Block's Telling Lies for Fun and Profit and Writing the Novel.
I found Orson Scott Card wrote two excellent pages on the importance of the first line in his How to Write Science Finction and Fantasy.
Just write a book that you like, and if you like it, it is always possible that others will too.
Mike Gerrard asks in response to I.J. Parker’s statement that “fiction should have no
rules”: “Is that a rule?” I think the statement itself represents a duality. It is at once a
rule and a non-rule. Anybody that can answer this question conclusively can probably also
resolve the age-old one about the chicken and the egg.
Not really. Rules about writing are based on books, so the books came first. And before there was a book, there was an author. Authors are like God. And, of course, some of them like to formulate commandments for others to follow.
Stephen King's On Writing - I got a few technical pointers.
Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down The Bones - Some good suggestions, and exercises in improving one's descriptive skills.
Walter Mosley's This Year You Write Your Novel - Honest, to-the-point, entertaining even. Interesting views on choosing which narrative form.
Chris Roerden's Don't Murder Your Mystery - Very specific and informative on which manuscripts publishers choose to read/publish - plus good basics on writing technique.

Lots of writing-think out there. Should writing be organic? Perhaps, but you need structure. Which is better, plot driven or character driven? Maxim J states 'simply define setting and character and narrate', which I like.

Don't forget to read good books.

It's you the writer and the blank paper. Are you passionate about writing? Many say "There are no rules." The industry tempts us to 'write to order'. Now pondering all this has exhausted me and I need a nap!
As a general rule, I like the idea of reading only good books. One can learn from them and if something transfers involuntarily, it's btter than imitating poor writing.
But it is also true that one can learn from badly written books what not to do. Unfortunately, I tend to toss them after a few pages.


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