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When people aspire to become writers, asking people questions, often they get answers telling them this, to keep on practicing with no technique, and they are given upvotes. And even I too upvote these answers, reckoning them to be useful.

But I think that those learners ought to read books, and to apply the things which are written in them. When it comes to story-telling, techniques, I am sure, are useful.

So my question now is, which according to my knowledge, was not asked before on this site, is this: What are some books for learning to write, whether books on prose style, or books on story-telling, or books on clarity, or any book covering how to write.

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  • Sorry. I didn't realize another question about books on writing was on this site.
    – garbus
    May 20 '21 at 23:14
  • Any book by your favourite author. May 21 '21 at 6:29
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I found 'On Writing' by Stephen King interesting and informative. It's not a complete how-to book but it does have interesting tips.

However, 'Self-editing for fiction writers' by Renni Browne and Dave King is a fantastic book. It assumes you can write and then points out stylistic errors you should avoid and ways to improve your writing.

I know people go on about 'The Elements of Style' by Strunk and White, and I bought a copy, read it and learned some things, but it is dated. It's beyond its sell by date.

'On Writing Well' by William Zinsser is worth a read if you are writing non-fiction.

There are innumerable blog posts telling us how to write. Most of them are produced by people who are not making money by traditional publishing means. They may have good advice or they may be re-hashing someone else's article.

I wrote an answer to a question on this site a few years ago which asked how many books about writing the person needed to read. I think I hold to my opinion at that time: if reading about how to write is stopping you writing, cease reading. If you aren't writing, you need to do so. However, if you are continuing to put the words on the page and are looking to improve your writing, books about writing can help.

One final thought is that critiquing other people's writing and seeing what other people say about it yours can help. You might like to try Scribophile. What I find most useful about this site is after I have written a critique, seeing what other people say about the same piece of writing.

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  • Thanks for the answer.
    – garbus
    May 20 '21 at 19:13
  • Seconding On Writing. Some of the advice isn't for everyone, but a majority of it breaks down various techniques in a way that they are widely applicable. Plus, it's short and entertaining! If you're into audio, he reads the audiobook himself too.
    – GammaGames
    May 21 '21 at 17:05
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I have procrastinated by reading about writing for about ten years now. I have read ALL the books on creative writing and screenwriting.

My advice: read fiction and write.

Paradoxically, I will recommend the one book that made me realize I had wasted time reading craft books:

https://www.amazon.com/Writing-into-Dark-without-Outline/dp/1561466336

(Caveat one: I am a "pantser", as in I don't like outlining, because knowing what will happen takes the fun out of writing. If you prefer planning and structuring up front, my advice is probably not for you.

Caveat two: It may be that reading all those craft books made me internalize stuff about structure and character that I needed to know in order to fully appreciate 'Writing into the Dark'.)

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  • Thanks for the answer.
    – garbus
    May 20 '21 at 22:02
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Learning your Craft Matters

The sources that I'll refer to in a second and I agree with you: simply being exposed to writing is not enough to master the craft of writing. You also need clear concepts.

Learning Classic Style

Some of the answers here refer to 'style' guides. Most of these texts assume that style is superficial, in that changing words or their order can define a style.

This definition of style, as something superficial, is evaluated critically in Clear and Simple as the Truth by Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner. They propose that style is fundamentally about the answer to a series of questions such as "Who is the speaker?" "Who is the audience?" "Is truth knowable?" "Is language able to convey truth?". Different answers to those questions define different styles, which they touch upon. But they do so mainly in contrast to Classic Style, which they help you develop by having clear thoughts regarding what it is(!) and exercises at the end of the book.

For what it's worth, I discovered this text via this Steven Pinker lecture. He also praises Classic Style for its benefits regarding clear communication.

Writing's Relationship to Knowledge Communities and Value

But even if you master Classic Style, that does not guarantee your writing will be valuable to your audience. Hence University of Chicago's writing program and the excelent Larry McEnerney. This lecture manages to cover epistemology, style, value, the craft of writing —all delivered in a way to make your writing valuable to a community.

If storytelling, learning about Story

Finally, if you're interested in storytelling in any form (movie scripts, novels, even storified advertisements), I'd recommend reading Robert McKee's Story. He lays out a view of how humans tend experience the world, how stories exploit that, and how they may subvert that experience tendency and story conventions. But apart from laying that evolutionary/experiential basis, he gives clear instruction as to how to develop dramatic stories, how to analyze other stories, how to analyze genres and subvert them, how to avoid clichés and create meaningful stories.

Every single one of these sources changed my life, both in the sense in which I think about many subjects, but also in the sense of changing my writing. They will give you clear concepts and tools that are sometimes broadly applicable and other times the perfect tool for a job that would've otherwise been hard if not impossible. They also give practical advice on how to apply their views of the world.

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  • Thanks for the answer.
    – garbus
    May 21 '21 at 5:50
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Here are some books which I read.

The Elements of Style

Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace

Building Great Sentences

Spell-Binding Sentences

Sense of Style

etc

I did not give the full title of each book since I don't know them off the top of my head.

I have some books on fiction writing but I can't remember their titles since it's been a while since I actually read one.

I have a hard time getting myself to practice but maybe others will be able to use these books.

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