I like reading about writing. I like catching up on what I didn’t take in school back when I had the chance. Here are my favorites over the last six years of my Do It Yourself MFA journey:
- How Fiction Works by James Wood
Grandiose title, but an excellent compressed spin through all the major elements of fiction with good examples and reading list.
- Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative by Jane Allison
Deep dive into structural alternatives to Aristotle’s Poetics. Another excellent generator for the reading list.
- Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern
A compressed almost reference guide of the shapes narrative can take followed by an A to Z section on various components.
Sometimes known as the screenwriting teacher, McKee’s books are actually dedicated to all forms of Storytelling.
- Graywolf’s The Art of:
- The Art of Perspective: Who Tells the Story by Christopher Castellani
- The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between by Stacey D’Erasmo
- The Art of Time in Fiction: As Long As it Takes by Joan Silber
- The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot by Charles Baxter
- The Art of Description: World into Word by Mark Doty
- The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story by Edwidge Danticat
This is a great series published by Graywolf Press that includes even more than the ones listed here. Each one is a class of its own with in depth exploration of the topic at hand including samples and reading lists.
- Attack of the Copula Spiders: Essays on Writing by Douglas Glover
Crazy title, but a great essay collection. The first two chapters are worth the price alone. The first is a class on novel concepts we used in a week long novel class at Iowa Summer’s Writing fest, and the second is one of the best essays I have read on short story theory.
- The Erotics of Restraint by Douglas Glover
Another crazy title, but another great essay collection. Again, worth it alone on the strength of one essay, here a 60 pager on the “Anatomy of the Short Story.” An even better coverage than the one in Copula Spiders.
- The Craft of Writing by William Sloane
Eight “lectures” documented by his wife after his death based on material he taught at Breadloaf.
- On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner
I prefer this one to Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. He sometimes runs the risks of suggesting there is only one right way to do things and he knows that one way better than anyone, but On Becoming a Novelist has good material for the elements of a novel as well as the mental approach to committing to novel writing.
- Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
Excellent scope including chapters on Words, Sentences, Paragraphs, Narration, Character, Dialogue, Details, and Gesture. Dives into specific examples to explore different ways the greats have written before. Somewhat limited in terms of writers she uses for sampling, but definitely one that has changed how I read and revise.
- Narrative Design by Madison Smartt Bell
Great class on Design of Short Stories which encompasses , many elements in his context: Plot, Character, Design, Theme, Imagery, Point of View, Dialogue, Tone, and Time Management. Presents full short stories with notes and then discussion of each element after.