As part of the promotion process for her newly released book DIY MFA, Gabrielle Pereira has given her “Street Team” of advance reviewers several interesting writing prompts. (Scroll down to see my review of her book and a link to her website.) This week’s question: What are your essentials? What are your go-to “read like a writer” resources?
In her book, Pereira reminds us of the importance of reading widely in the genre we write as well as outside our own genre(s). She calls it “reading like a revolutionary,” but most literature teachers just call it critical reading, which means noticing the effect an author achieves and examining how she achieves that effect. For example: “Wow, this scene really builds suspense! How did she do that? Aha—she used dramatic irony by showing us the vampire lurking in the shadows. Giving the protagonist too much coffee and a tendency to jump at harmless sounds also helps. And look at those short, choppy sentences. Cool.”
The novel I’m currently shopping around to literary agents falls into the women’s fiction genre, because the story revolves around the female protagonist’s personal growth and a family conflict, rather than solving a mystery, thwarting terrorists, falling in love (though she does that), rebelling against an evil space emperor, battling demons, traveling through time, daydreaming about what could have been while gazing at the endless Kansas prairies, conquering the music industry, etc. In an effort to understand the expectations of this genre’s readers, I’ve joined the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and am reading many women’s fiction titles. It helps—quite a lot.
Then there’s the question of reference books for writers. Well, here you go: In addition to a pile of magazines, mostly Writer’s Digest, I have quite a collection of reference books and how-to books for writers. I’ve learned something valuable from every one of them, and I pull them out for inspiration when I get stuck or when I’m starting a new project.
In addition to Pereira’s fine book, I also find these particularly valuable:
- Plot and Structure, by James Scott Bell
- Telling Lies for Fun & Profit, by Lawrence Block
- A Handbook for Fiction Writers, also by Lawrence Block
- Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King
- The Kick-Ass Writer, by Chuck Wendig
And, because I also like to write mystery stories:
- The Elements of Mystery Fiction, by William G. Tapply
- Don’t Murder Your Mystery, by Chris Roerden
- Writing Mysteries, edited by Sue Grafton, with Jan Burke and Barry Zeman
- How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author, by Janet Evanovich, with Ina Yalof
Of course, I have the current Writers Market and Guide to Literary Agents. And I haven’t even begun to list my favorite blogs for writers; there are so many!
So there you go. I hope that was helpful to any writers who are building their own reference shelves. What are your favorite references for writers?