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  1. #1
    Illusions Of Silence grechzoo's Avatar
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    Whats the Best book out there to help me write a novel

    Basically i have thought of a good story idea which i have built on in the last few months, and m really enthused by it.

    its fiction. maybe a bit science fiction.

    while my typing on this site is usually poor, its just laziness and i think i can write well but its the things like structure and story pacing/developement that worries me.

    So if you could recommend me book that guide me through these obstacles i would be extremely grateful.

    i understand theres no quick fix but im sure if you give me a good selections of books to research, it will help me overall.

  2. #2
    Try Orson scott Card's book. Can't remember the name, but you could probably find it on the literary source list.

  3. #3
    The Great Flying Bear choppy's Avatar
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    Card's book is "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy." It has some good stuff in it, but also a lot of fluff. And after barely getting through his novel "the Lost Boys" I'm glad that he didn't also include horror in the title.

    King's book "On Writing" is inspirational, but doesn't talk too much about the writing process.

    I've enjoyed the Writer's Digest series, which I would recommend.

    Ultimately, though, what really helps is just reading a lot in your chosen genre. Read what you like to write - see what works and what doesn't.

  4. #4
    Illusions Of Silence grechzoo's Avatar
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    Thanks choppy.

    I agree with your last point.

    but as I said in the first post i'm sure a book that teaches me about pacing and structure will also help as much at this stage.

  5. #5
    Awaiting The Inevitable Liathano's Avatar
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    I have the exact same problem and I was given "Elements of Style by Strunk & White". It is a great book. Another one for strcture is "How to write fast while writing well by David Fryxell". I hope these help.

    For the actual story pacing "Goal, Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon. For myself I let the story pace itself and fix up in the end if it doesn't flow.
    Last edited by Liathano; December 7th, 2006 at 08:50 AM.

  6. #6
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Did anyone say "Elements of Style"? It's a decent book, but, flung at a beginner, can do more harm than good. It's simplistic, poses silly rules, ignores important "Elements of Style" except when warning against them. Drillseargant Strunk won't accept any usage that's against his personal taste. Councelor White is too respectful to his Master to counter Strunk's singlemindedness. For anyone interested, it's available for free, online. The Wikipedia entry has a link to both the original Strunk tome and a Strunk & White version (3rd edition, I think; 4th is current). Check it out before buying.

  7. #7
    Illusions Of Silence grechzoo's Avatar
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    thanks guys,

    you have helped me a lot.

    look forward to showing you some of my work in the near future

  8. #8
    Awaiting The Inevitable Liathano's Avatar
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    Dawnstorm, I do agree that the book can be a bit too black and white but for a beginner it is a good place to start. I think beginners need to know their rules well before meandering off the path too far. Anyone who has written enough knows where you can bend the rules to suit your style and story.
    Last edited by Liathano; December 7th, 2006 at 05:13 PM.

  9. #9
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Liathano View Post
    Dawnstorm, I do agree that the book can be a bit too black and white but for a beginner it is a good place to start. I think beginners need to know their rules well before meandering off the path too far. Anyone who has written enough knows where you can bend the rules to suit your style and story.
    See, the problem is that most of the "bad" usage that Strunk criticised comes from other rules that were taught. Substituting those rule with Strunks works only as long as they counter the original problem. Today Strunk's style is the problem. Due to Strunk's book (among other factors) writers now don't know how to use the passive voice, conditionals, progressive forms... If you think that "the rules" in Strunk & White are really rules, you're probably hopping out of the frying pan into the fire.

    Example? Look for Rule 19. Express ideas in similar form:

    Quote Originally Posted by S&W
    The unskilled writer often violates this principle, mistakenly believing in the value of constantly varying the form of expression. When repeating a statement to emphasize it, the writer may need to vary its form. Otherwise, the writer should follow the principle of parallel construction.

    Formerly, science was taught by the textbook method, while now the laboratory method is employed. // Formerly, science was taught by the textbook method; now it is taught by the laboratory method.
    Why does the "unskilled writer often violate this principle"? Probably because he's been told to "avoid repetition"?

    Personally, I prefer the former of the two sample sentences (the one Strunk wants to make better). The second one sounds awkward to me. That doesn't mean it's a bad sentence, though. Strunk's points aren't invalid. But it's not hard to see, how a beginning writer would - if he believed Strunk - fall into the opposite extreme and cause too much repition (and thus monotony, which I have less patience for than Strunk).

    Interestingly, both sentences violate two of Strunk's own rules: "Omit needless words" (method x 2), and "Use the passive voice". Wouldn't you expect Strunk to give you a sentence that's good from the get go (except for the rule that's broken)?

    Formerly, science teachers relied primarily on textbooks, now they employ laboratories. // Formely, science teachers relied primarily on textbooks, now they rely primarily on laboratories.

    Whether this is better is arguable, but it conforms more to Strunk's own rules.

    Which brings me to the claim following above quote:

    The lefthand version gives the impression that the writer is undecided or timid, apparently unable or afraid to choose one form of expression and hold to it. The righthand version shows that the writer has at least made a choice and abided by it.
    This is utter nonsense. A preference for variety is not in any way timid. Strunk is using a rhetorical trick and an authoritative tone to convince you to take his solution over that of the competition.

    By such singleminded rulemongering Strunk invites the next generation of bad writers. All that changes is the ruleset they apply. "Express ideas in similar form" is in no way superior to "Vary structures to avoid monotony".

    When it comes to style, "rules" tilt the balance into a direction, especially if you don't give both possible "rules". As a writer, you're better off with a dictionary and a grammar and a brain. You shouldn't let someone else make your choices for you; especially not when he doesn't tell you that that's what he does.

    Sorry, but I go into rants when I hear people suggest S&W. I've seen many texts drained of what made them interesting by applying the "rule treatment". Ideally, a book on style would tell you what the "elements of style" do (all of them, not just those the author likes), and then let the writers make their own decisions.

    Sorry, but I disagree. S&W is not good for beginning writers. Later, you'll have to work hard at getting those silly Strunkisms out of your system. (Unless you're lucky and you like to write that way, of course.)

  10. #10
    Awaiting The Inevitable Liathano's Avatar
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    I can't argue with that. I have moved away from using it long ago and prefer to find my own style depending on the tone I set in the story. Writing is an art form and will always be dependant on the author.

    This thread is a testament to the great group we have on this site. You can always get a little help at any level.

  11. #11
    It depends on what you're looking for. There's a whole series called Write Great Fiction. I only have one book, Plot & Structure, which I've found to be pretty helpful. Other subjects are dialogue, setting, characters...they've got whole books on them!

    Oh whoops judging from your first post the plot book would be the best.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by grechzoo View Post
    What's the best Book out there to help me write a novel

    ....the one you sit down and write yourself.


    Grech, I've got a stack of writer's aid books sitting on my shelf. I barely remember anything I read in them. About the only way that they helped me was to confirm that I wasn't violating some insiders rule of publishing that would cause an editor to vomit on my manuscript.

    You want to know what did help? Actually parking my rear in front of the keyboard and cranking that first book out. I learned a lot. Pacing, atmosphere, action, characters... you name it. The best thing for me was write it out and then read it and decide whether or not I had actually accomplished whatever affect it was that I was going for.... then trying to figure out why (or why not).

  13. #13
    Ataraxic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Right, because we have all these insider rules that we keep in little checklists, and a garbage can nearby for the vomit. There would have to be an awful lot of vomit, I would imagine.

    The problem with Strunk & White is that while it is a very succinct guide to grammar, it was mainly written as a guide for non-fiction, expository writing. If you have to write a business letter, Strunk & White can be quite helpful. If you're trying to write a novel, it's not really very effective. The concerns of a fiction writer -- rhythm, patterns of repetition and variation in language use and sentence structure, symbolism, descriptive imagery, sentence fragments, emotional emphasis, hidden details, etc. -- have very little to do with being clear, concise and informative. Which is what Strunk & White is trying to teach you to do. I suppose you could make the argument that you have to learn how to write business letters before you can write fiction, but I don't think I would find it very convincing. Certainly, the book's not going to help you with pacing and plot structure.

    One guide I did find to be very well done -- and rather reassuring on the endless variety front -- is author Jack Hodgins' ďA Passion for Narrative." But I'm not sure how available it is. Orson Scott Card's "Character & Viewpoint" is not a bad basic guide on the subject, though his material on viewpoint formats is not as well set-up as I would like, and if you take everything he suggests as gospel, then you have the same problem Dawnstorm is warning of -- you'll probably do things you ordinarily wouldn't and it will flatten and mess up your writing.

    Stephen King's "On Writing" is two-thirds a brilliant memoir, very inspirational and probably something you'd like to have if you are a fan of King's. Unfortunately, the advice part of the book -- while having some nice things like the notion of a toolbox -- tends to be regurgitated, standard "rules" that King himself doesn't use. However, there is some gold at the end -- King has several appendixes that contain some useful info. The best one is where he shows you the development of a short story narrative. So it's not a bad book to get out of the library.

    Nor will it hurt you to look at some books that specifically deal with plot structure or pacing/development, as long as you read them for information and ideas to think about, instead of as blueprints telling you how you should write.

    But the best plan is maybe to take writers who you like, probably best to use current writers. And then break-down and analyze the following: 1) How does the writer structure the novel or short story? (You can even diagram it.) 2) What is the pacing of the novel and does it change in different parts? 3) How does the author get the pacing to change? 4) What do I really like about this author's work? 5) How does the author achieve those aspects -- strong characterization, gripping action, etc. -- that I like? 6) How does the author use words to do this? 7) How does the author use character point-of-view, and if an omniscient, non-character pov is used, how does the author use that?

    The idea here is not to study the authors so that you can copy them, but so that you can understand what it is they are doing, and the many, different techniques that all of them use. This usually will give you a lot of ideas about how you can set things up for your own story. At least, that's what I've seen frequently occur. It takes a little bit out of the reading fun for awhile, but then you get to begin appreciating these works on a whole other level, and it goes back to being interesting to read them.

  14. #14
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    The problem with Strunk & White is that while it is a very succinct guide to grammar,
    I hear that a lot, but it's not true. It's a style guide. S&W assume you already know grammar. (They say "Use the active voice", but don't tell you what it is, and later in the section they even expect you to understand what a "transitive" is; which is ironic, since many "end-users" of the tome don't even know what the passive voice is, and assume that their sample sentence "There were many leaves lying on the ground," is passive voice, because, well, it's not active voice [and the grammar in this sentence is so tricky, that I'm not even sure whether "were" is a linking or an auxilary verb, here...]).

    Strunk & White are not a guide to grammar. You won't learn grammar with this book. (I tend to think you won't learn style either, but that's what they set out to do.)

    Sorry, but it's my S&W rant engine kicking into gear. Somebody should write a book on how to read S&W.

  15. #15
    Ataraxic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    That's alright. Back in the 1980's, when I read Strunk & White, it was the recommended guide as a basic "style" book, but by style, they meant grammar and formatting, and so I remember those parts of the thing, I guess. For actual publication stuff at the publishing house, we used the Chicago style book for consistency, which was a massive tome. But even as a "style" book, it's a lot more geared toward non-fiction writing -- business, expository, essays, that sort of stuff. In fiction, you seldom are using most of those techniques, so style guides are not a great deal of help.

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