Last week I attended the one day Cape Fear Crime Festival in NC and one of the speakers was Chris Roerden, a contract editor now, with something like 44 years in the business, who's written the non-fiction and winner of the Agatha Christie for Best non-fiction book, DON'T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY, and the follow-up, DON'T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION.

Chris is a delightful speaker and I bought a copy of DON'T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION (but haven't started it yet).

So, buying it I was wondering: what is your favorite How-To Write book?

Let us know,

David DeLee

A Cold Wind - a Grace deHaviland novella

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I've read King's book and Roerden's. They're both very good!

I got a lot of out Nancy Kress' Beginings, Middles and Ends a few years ago.

More recently James Scott Bell's The Art Of War For Writers and Plot & Structure to be really usefull

I enjoyed reading King's On Writing but I didn't really take much from it to use with my writing

I too enjoyed King's ON WRITING, and I have PLOT & STRUCTURE by Bell and found it quite good. Another one I would recommend is MAKE A SCENE: CRAFTING A POWERFUL STORY ONE SCENE AT A TIME by Jordan E. Rosenfeld.

David DeLee

A Cold Wind - a Grace deHaviland novella

After reading just over two hundred books on writing—it’s become a hobby or sorts—I believe these are the most useful. Starting out, I would have thought how these writers differed would have been the most interesting thing…but, it turns out however, what they all agreed upon was the more interesting thing.



The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner

How to Grow a Novel’, and ‘Stein on Writing’, by Sol Stein

Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham

On Writing, by Stephen King

Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

PD James: Talking About Detective Fiction.

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

The Fire in Fiction – Donald Maass

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott‘

Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, &, Beginnings, Middles and Ends by Nancy Kress

The Art of War for Writers” by James Scott Bell

Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass.

Learning to Write Fiction from the Masters, by Barnaby Conrad

Zen in the Art of Writing, By Ray Bradbury

Negotiating with the Dead, by Margaret Atwood.

On Politics and the English Language, by George Orwell

The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction by Barnaby Conrad

The Art and Craft of Storytelling by Nancy Lamb

Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

The Art of Fiction, by Robert Lewis Stevenson


*three of these are from old mentors of mine. :)

A great list, DLR. Thanks for sharing.
David DeLee
A Cold Wind - a Grace deHaviland novella

I've taught writing for twenty years and I've never found a how-to book I really liked.  For folks who are learning on their own, I think the best advice is to read good writing.  Then think hard about what makes it good, and how the author does it, and then to try to write like that.  

Reminds me of Faulkner's advice: "Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it."

I agree Jon. But it is also great to get someone who has been there before you to slap you out of your misconceptions and point you toward good writers to read. It wasn't 'til I was well under way that I started reading how-to books. Mostly to point at and make wise cracks. Though oddly enough, there are a few that have some interesting stuff in them. 

Yep--not saying they don't work for people--clearly there's a big market for them and a pretty much limitless supply of titles to choose from.  My take is that, as a teacher, I can do a better job of explaining craft to my students, based on outside readings and their writing, than just about any how-to book I've encountered.  I like King's book pretty well, although he's such an uneven craftsman it's hard to take it seriously at times.  I like Jerome Stern's "Making Shapely Fiction."  But mostly what works for me as a teacher is talking to students about how established writers do what they do, and then trying to apply those lessons to student work.  

Certainly no one source can service all needs, but I find I can find nuggets of gold in just about everything I read, including badly written fiction.
David DeLee
A Cold Wind - a Grace deHaviland novella

I'm of the same mind as Jon on this.  The problem is very often that the how-to books tell you how the author does it.  You may not want to writre the same way.  I'm thinking of the Elmore Leonard rules here.

The only way you get your own style and voice is from reading good novels, digesting what makes them work for you, and adapting those things to your own purpose.

J. Parker wrote: “very often that the how-to books tell you how the author does it.”  


Yes they tell you how they go about writing—and a few tricks (literary techniques) that they do well. But that’s not anything like writing as they do—that is to say, in their style or voice. I do not write in the voice of any of my old teachers nor, would they be pleased to see one of their students doing so. I have attended a number of work shops over the years, and none of those popular novelist suggests anyone should try to write in any other style or voice than their own. If fact just about any writer you ask will say that the fact that they notice they had a unique voice when writing was why they decided to become a writer in the first place.


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