Books on Writing

I’ve just finished reading the autobiography of Anthony Trollope.  It’s a delightful memoir told by a man who may have written and published more lines of English prose than anyone before him.  It’s instructive in equal parts on the economics of writing in the 19th century (which probably haven’t changed all that much), and the craft of writing itself.  I recommend it–it’s a free ebook on Amazon.

When I’m between books (Lucifer’s Promise is now with the publisher and The Nun’s Dowry Is still being (endlessly) revised), I often go back and re-read books about writing, an exercise that refreshes me and reminds me what I’m trying to do.  When I first started writing fiction, I read both of John Gardner’s books, The Art of Fiction and On Becoming A Novelist.  Both are a little dense, in the sense of a thick or closely packed structure, but worth the while of anyone who wants to write prose fiction.  Fiction Writer’s Handbook by Hallie and Whit Burnett (preface by Norman Mailer and epilogue by J.D. Salinger) is easier to digest.

Anatomy of Criticism, by Northrop Frye, on the other hand, is a book for critics and English professors.  Erudite and opinionated, it presents Frye’s conceit that criticism of a book is on a par with writing it, if not more so.  How Fiction Works, by James Wood, is a good little handbook on the mechanics of fiction, addressing questions of style, form and rhythm.

My favorite book on writing is E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel, which was first presented as a series of lectures at the University of Cambridge in 1927.  Some of the books he mentions are lost to (my) time, but his broad outline of what a novel should be is timeless.  I have it on my kindle, and read a few passages at odd moments.  Other, shorter pieces are Robert Lewis Stevenson’s The Art of Writing and Henry James’s essay The Art of Fiction.  Both are available on the web.

There are hundreds of tomes purporting to explain how fiction and novels work.  The best of them don’t try to tell the reader how to write–instead, they describe the multiple effects a writer should seek, and illustrate their advice by reference to great works of literature.  Standards like those are hard to meet, but just the effort will make your work better.

The New Hope Tour (cont’d)

The Chancellor’s House plays a prominent role in Lucifer’s Promise and A Hollow Cup, and has cameos in The Kingfishers and Gods and Lesser Men.  It is actually the residence of the President of The University of North Carolina (all campuses).  I don’t know if it has an actual name or not.


The Chancellor's House

The Chancellor’s House

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