References for Writers
Swap out a beach read for a reference book — or a social media account
As summer approaches, I’m recommending some great beach reads. Okay, they aren’t mysteries or romance novels. They are books about writing craft, but if you’re a writing nerd like me, you’ll enjoy them.
This month, I’m recommending works about craft that are opposites. The first series takes time to read, and the concepts the author presents take time to digest. The author presents the information using logic, and his work is highly structured. The second book is a delightful and classic reference book that’s been updated.
Anything written by Larry Brooks
Mr. Brooks is intense and passionate about writing. He describes himself as high energy, and if you’ve attended one of his keynote conversations at a book conference, you’d agree. What I like about his work is that he cuts through the supposed mystique of story creation. Often, my writing students will claim that they’re not good writers or that they can’t write. In response, my question is, “Do you understand the structure of what you’re composing?” Once we break down the structure of an essay, a lightbulb goes on. You see, it’s not that my students are poor writers, it’s that they don’t understand the structure of what they’re attempting to write.
Mr. Brooks makes a similar assertion: It’s a lie that characters, plots, and themes magically, instinctively appear on the page, even for A-list writers. He makes the case that while “pantsing” exists, there are core truths involved in fiction writing — and even those who deny this claim still use them. His books, including Story Engineering, and the blog posts on his website, take time to read; I can’t skim them. They’re not quick fixes or generic top ten lists about writing. Rather, in every book, article, and blog post, Brooks offers examples and makes logical arguments for his position.
What’s fantastic about Brooks’ work is that every moment spent contemplating it is a learning opportunity. His books are worth reading more than once. I read them as often as necessary, and every time I do, I learn something new.
Elements of Style, Condensed and Illustrated for Busy People
This book is a 100th anniversary gem. According to its authors, William Strunk, Jr., and Virginia Campbell, they took a brilliant book that was "short and sweet,” and made it even shorter and sweeter. Published in February 2018, this book is an updated standard-bearer of accurate English style. In contrast to Mr. Brooks’ work, the new Elements of Style is meant to be read in a few hours, and the book is formatted to assist with quick reading by using judicious white space along with illustrations.
Of particular note is the section about needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. Every word should tell. Those phrases should be posted on every writer’s inspiration board. We all need reminders about phrases that are unnecessary such as “the fact that” and “along these lines.”
In the age of texting and lax writing standards, this book is fresh air. It makes the case for correct spelling — bastardized spelling is distracting to the reader; thus, defeating the purpose of saving time or improving clarity — and it offers tips about comma use and principles of composition that are a joy to read. The medical lab illustrations underscore the book’s message: Keep it clear and concise or use this scalpel to cut away superfluous words!
Writers need to share the joy (and the pain) of putting words to paper. To lighten the mood, consider following a few social media accounts. One of my favorites speaks to my profession. The Twitter account @AcademicsSay guarantees a laugh with memes such as, “Academics are not off in the summer; they are a little off year ‘round.”
Other Twitter favorites include @Writer’sDigest and @JaneFriedman. On Instagram, there accounts such as WriterPosts, Grammarly, and TheWritePractice. On Facebook, I enjoy Analytical Grammar/Grammar Planet. If you enjoy mixing with other punctuation enthusiasts and grammar nerds, then join in the social media fun!
Next month I’ll be analyzing another book for writers: Dialogue by Robert McKee.
As always, happy writing.
~Tracey Kathryn, MA