After reading an enormous amount on writing and the craft of story-making, the following are my best picks for writers who want to cut to the chase.

Boring Yet Essential (I’ll keep it a short list.)

“The Elements of Style” – Strunk & White, 1918 There’s a reason this book is still around.

“Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” Just be aware of what punctuation is actually supposed to be used for and you’ll be ahead of the curve, I assure you.

BTW, public service note: If your local library doesn’t at least keep one spare copy of EoS on hand, feel free to make them feel they must have failed in their civic duties and leave particularly suicidal-looking, preferably muttering wide-eyed about what happens to the ducks. This is for the benefit of all the other aspiring writers in your district. Heroic things can’t be argued with. Any librarian worth their salt will get the ducks commentary immediately and not feel too bad about your crafty ruse. They will however, be reminded to stock a copy of EoS every time they see a book cover by J. D. Salinger. Your job as patron and patriot will be complete.

Useful Plot Mechanics Guides

The awful truth is that screenwriters have been generating more of the good stuff on writing technique in recent years than any other subgroup of the species. Rather than scoff that you, my dear madame, are a real writer, (etc, etc.) instead take a dark pair of sun glasses, keep them permanently dangled from your shirt collar and be willing to read the commercialized reasons for why stuff works at the production studios. Publishing houses are a lot like production studios. They like what sells. While you don’t have to write what sells it doesn’t hurt to be aware of what in fact might get published. Just an idea.

“Story” by Robert McKee: Easily one of the most essential resources on the market. Hang your canvas on a well-built frame.

“How Not To Write a Novel” – Consider it the Mystery Science Theater or RiffTrax of novel reviews.

“Save the Cat” by Blake Snider: A clinical case study that references the myth cycle in terms of modern movies that have become part of the cultural cannon – a cannon you are probably borrowing from whether you realize it or not. Face this fact head on and embrace you inner movie affection-ado. It will save you some law suits further down the road and help you revision your idea from a uniquely untried perspective.

Just kidding. Everything’s been tried.

Inspiration on Learning The Craft

“The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers” by Betsy Lerner: A seasoned editor throws the writer on the couch and keeps him there until all the inner workings of why he writes are clear. Interesting analysis of not only why writers write, but how they can learn balance.

“On Writing” by Stephen King: Aliens and shape shifters may not be your thing, true. But King’s inner workings provide practical advice on how to take your fleeting ideas and apply them well to the genre of your choice. He narrates his own audio book, for the commuting inclined.

“Steering the Craft” by Ursula K. Le Guin: Why give you a speech when I can give you a sample?

Useful Writing Exercises

To be truthful, writing exercises stated as such are mostly touchy-feely research experiments by the head writer more than they are a genuine help to the young writer who is looking to gain something useful from a course.

Rather than exercise, just start treading down the miles of your marathon – as soon as possible. Even now, in fact, I’m hurrying through this god forsaken post so that I can shed the Betty Ford white robe of choice and go down stairs for some brunch and an uninterrupted afternoon with my latest project. [edit: will spellcheck ever come prepackaged with euphemism cross-reference? Otherwise all my allusions will have to be about Barry White?]

With that being said, this is the one book I’ve found as an excellent toolkit for the blank page:

“The Writer’s Book of Matches” by the fine folks at Fresh Boiled Peanuts.

Literary Journals

Since we’re bringing up literary journals, there are two good literary magazines that are worth at least a flip through at your local bookstore:

1. Fresh Boiled Peanuts (of course.)

2. Brick

3. And so I’ve heard: AND THEN literary magazine.

All the rest of course, are rubbish. You know one person can possibly know all the good books and magazines out there. My coffee table might fool some, but I cannot possibly know them all.