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Below, listed according to spine height which is how they stand on my shelves, are the authors and books that have guided me out of my ignorance on the craft of writing fiction.

My favorites, those I’d save in the event of fire, are John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story, Robert McKee’s STORY and his DIALOGUE. And, yeah, with flames licking my heels, I’d also pick up Martha Alderson’s Writing Blockbuster Plots. (She has a great section on writing the Middle.) And, of course, I’d grab the books on syntax, Virgina Tufte’s and Constance Hale’s and that of Sidney Fish.

Well, really, I’d go for the laundry basket and toss them all in. Each author adds his or her unique understanding of the elements of wordsmithing and structuring. Their insights on craft are not just additive, but cumulative. Like R2D2’s hologram of Princess Leia, they form a multi-dimensional body of information—a powerful and reliable assist to our every fiction-writing endeavor.

There is, however, a proviso. It pertains to timing. I first read John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction as an undergraduate. I had no idea what he was talking about. Only years later and after struggling for months, after producing nothing but hairballs of grammatically correct amateurism, did I—in desperation—dig out my old The Art of Fiction and begin reading. And, lo, John Gardner appeared as though in the flesh and began talking to me.

I shop on Amazon and nearly always find a “used good” paperback within which I doubt a forensic technician could find a fingerprint. Best buys I ever made.

  • The Art of Fiction, Ayn Rand
  • Spunk &Bite, Arthur Plotnik
  • On Writing, Stephen King
  • Writing Tools, Roy Peter Clark
  • Writing Blockbuster Plots, Martha Alderson
  • Writers [on Writing] Volumes I and II Collected essays from The New York Times
  • Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting, Robert McKee
  • Stein on Writing, Sol Stein
  • Beyond Style, Gary Provost
  • Scene & Structure, Jack M. Bickham
  • The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, Evan Marshall
  • Writing Popular Fiction, Dean R. Koontz
  • Make a Scene, Jordan E. Rosenfeld
  • Grammar as Style by Virginia Tufte
  • Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style by Virginia Tufte
  • Between the Lines, Jessica Page Morrell
  • Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass
  • How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, Orson Scott Card
  • Creating Short Fiction, Damon Knight
  • How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey
  • Structuring Your Novel, K.M. Weiland
  • The Anatomy of Story, John Truby
  • Write Away, Elizabeth George
  • The Scene Book, Sandra Scofield
  • How to Write a Sentence, Stanley Fish
  • On Moral Fiction, John Gardner
  • The Art of Fiction, John Gardner
  • Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury
  • Writer’s Workshop, Stephen Koch
  • Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster
  • Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
  • The Art of Subtext, Charles Baxter
  • How Fiction Works, James Wood
  • Hooked, Les Edgerton
  • The Art of Fiction, David Lodge
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
  • It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences by June Casagrande
  • Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
  • Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • Building Great Sentences by Brooks Landon

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