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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My recent experiences with critiquing stories inspired me to return to this topic. I was struck with the originality and novelty of some of the works I critiqued. Indeed I think TV producers would benefit by acquiring some of the stories and hiring skilled "dialogists" to write their dialog.

I mention this because we tend to agonize over issues such as structure, grammatical integrity and such without addressing the primary reason novels exist in the first place - to provide escape.

So the novel satisfies all the literary prescriptions, but does it entertain the reader? I cannot tell you how many books I have tried to read but had to abandon because the stuff between the sheets did not match the glowing reviews that recommended the books to me in the first place. And conversly, I have read my fair share of books that boasted no flattering reviews or endorsements, but were paragons of literary excellence.

As a result I have decided to disregard every tenet about writing except one - appeal. If people like it, it is good. If people don't like it, it is no good. If you show a lot and people like it, it is good. If you tell a lot and people like it, it is good too. And if you do neither but instead draw happy faces and stick figures standing on their heads on every page, and people like it, you can bet your next query letter it is good.

One of my new year resolutions will be to read and celebrate only what I like. Even if nobody likes it, that's okay. From now on, I will only read what other people like if I can use their time to do it.
This will work for a reader. It does nothing for the writer. Writers need to distinguish between good and bad writing unless they write for a specific market. In that case, they'll imitate whatever has sold well and not worry about quality. (Not sure where the authors of how-to books belong in this.)

And I suppose that means that not everyone judges books the same way.
Who's been making you read stuff you don't like (up till now), Pate?
You make good points and seem sarcastic, in tune with certain aspects of the writing profession. It seems all we can do is perfect our craft and submit.
"Writers need to distinguish between good and bad writing unless they write for a specific market."

By I.J. Parker

I am sure this will sound simplistic, but here is my definition of good writing as it relates to writing novels:

writing that observes the rules of grammar and syntax and avoids obviously exploitive themes.

My brain tends to go on vacation without warning, and it does it so frequently that it is difficult for me to tell when it is in residence. So if that statement sounds like the dumbest thing you ever read, you can be sure my brain is reclining on a hammock somewhere.

I would like to know how you define good writing. Hemingway, Michener, Poe and Joyce are considered great writers, yet they wrote with vastly different styles and explored very different themes. They had one thing in common though. Their books were grammatically sound and largely eschewed exploitive subjects.

Like many people, I think it is important to apply a moral standard to writing, creative or otherwise, so that we don't end up celebrating works that pander to our worst expectations.

I simply can think of no other way to determine good writing. Readers seek different things in the books they read. Some like the simpler style of Hemingway, while others prefer the elaborate, epic-like renditions of Michener.

I think writers should read as much as possible to educate ourselves on various styles and techniques. And we should read "trashy" books too, to learn what we should avoid, and to help us appreciate the desirable books more. As writers, our approach to book reading cannot be purely recreational. Much of our reading has to be exploratory - literary expeditions that we conduct to discover literary qualites that can help us. Good writers need not despair for quality books. Our affection for books will enable us to find the gems.

My opinions regarding writing guides, rules or things of that sort are influenced by readers' wishes. While I believe we should strive to write our own stories and to stick to our guns where practical, I also believe that we should try to accommodate readers who'll ultimately determine whether we succeed commercially or not.

"In that case, they'll imitate whatever has sold well and not worry about quality."

By I.J. Parker

How do you define quality? To me, that is the question.

"Who's been making you read stuff you don't like (up till now), Pate?"

By Eric Christopherson

Not "making" me read anything per se. More like influencing me. I have read some books simply because my friends were always talking about them and I wanted to be able to offer informed opinions on the books during our conversations. And I have read books because they were so well recommended that I wanted to see what the hoopla was about. So I would say influenced.

My school books, those they made me read.

"You make good points and seem sarcastic, in tune with certain aspects of the writing profession. It seems all we can do is perfect our craft and submit."

By A F Waddell

I didn't really mean to be sarcastic. That was my attempt at humor going off target. As for your second sentence, our fair lady up there, I.J. Parker, has written more or less the same thing. Whether or not she'll confess though, that's another matter.
Not sure what this refers to, but I'm certainly frequently cynical and sarcastic. :)

Tastes differ and tolerance for literary prose also differs. Educational background has something to do with this, and gender also may influence what we choose to read.

We may not always agree on how moral a book should be, or what constitutes morality.

But when a writer sets out to write another Da Vinci Code or Harry Potter series, we do know that he or she hopes to sell a lot of books, and that that consideration may outweigh the author's own preferences.
I. J. - It can be difficult to determine who's replying to whom here. I wasn't referring to you - but I can relate to being sarcastic. Let's take sarcasm out of the closet then - if indeed it's there. :-)
I apologize for not making myself clearer. When I said you'd written more or less the same thing in regards to A F Waddell's statement, I was referring to this statement you made in the thread in this section called, "What's the point?"

"In the end, it's just best that I write to the standard that satisfies me and hope for the best."

That's the statement you made, and that I was referring to when I said above that you'd said more or less the same thing yourself. Just me and my big mouth. Didn't mean any harm.
Pate, in my opinion, it's okay to be sarcastic (not that anyone needs me to presume what is 'okay').
I'm with you about sarcasm being okay. It can get tricky to work with though. Got to make sure you use it at the right time and situation. I'll be sure to check my mouth next time to make sure my foot is not in it, before I write anything that could remotely be construed as sarcastic.
Okay, getting back to the crux of the question: what's the best writing advice you ever got ... or something like that ... here's mine.

Never answer the question.

I got this quote from a scriptwriter course by Dan Decker. It holds especially true for those who write suspense novels (like me). But it's equally applicable to all fiction, in my opinion.

As in ... no backstory and no flashbacks until the problem (crisis, first plot point) is presented. So many aspiring novelists want to dump all kinds of info about their characters in the first chapter. Not necessary. If you learn all about the characters from the git go, why bother to keep reading?

Never answer the question ... until the last page.

Just my 2 cents worth. :)

Susan (vacationing in the frigid north of Boston, anxious to go home to New Orleans to get warm)
Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat is a great book on craft for mystery and suspense writers. She defines the elements of each, gives great examples of building tension and conflict, and offered some eye-opening tips on storytelling (she likes fairy tales and tells you why).


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