Unless you have a ton of cash lying around or are fortunate enough to earn a full scholarship, you’re not going to earn your MFA in Writing anytime soon. Although a Masters in Fine Arts might go a long way in aiding the fledgling writer to become a published author, it’s not alway the case. I’ve read a number of articles and blog posts championing the utter nonnecessity of obtaining an MFA in order to be a successful writer. Now, don’t get me wrong. If someone were to offer me the $20,000 to $30,000 for tuition and I could clear my schedule I’d apply to an MFA program in a heartbeat. So, if you can’t swing that hefty tuition payment and need that steady paycheck to ward off the bill collector, what do you do? The answer is: there are a number of good books on writing out there. I’ve read several over the years. Here are five that were particularly helpful:
On Writing by Stephen King. Part memoir and part writing instruction, this is a must read for anyone wanting to improve their writing. King, in a no nonsense manner, lays out the rules for better writing (hint: reading a lot and writing a lot go a long way towards this goal).
The Successful Novelist by David Morrell. I liked this work by the creator of Rambo because he provides a unique way to outline your work. Its sort of a stream of consciousness means of creating your plot. Basically, you have a dialogue with yourself on paper. Sounds weird, but it actually works. Quite well.
The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell. This is a little pocket size handbook written in the vein of Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War. It is divided into pithy one to three page chapters covering everything from creating your first lines to submitting your work to an agent. Made to use as a handy reference, I think it’s a must have.
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. This is another must read. It discusses plotting from the aspect of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey in great detail. It even challenges you to philosophically examine your life with respect to The Hero’s Journey. Although it is written primarily for screenwriters, it works well for novelists.
Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. This book addresses several major parts of storytelling. It covers concept, character, theme, and plot. I found it a solid comprehensive reference for writing fiction. Oh, and by the way, Brooks provides a great template for outlining your novel.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to pickup a book on writing, go through it, and apply the principles to your own writing. In a future blog, I’ll go over five more of my favorite books on writing.