Friday, October 14, 2005

My Reference Shelf

A writer friend asked me recently what reference books I use. I had to laugh. I have three serious addictions: (1) My love of the television show House; (2) My love of Mexican flan; and (3) My love of books on the craft of writing.

I have shelves and shelves of reference books on writing. However, there are only seven that I depend on to live (and to write). Here they are in the order of their importance to me:

1) Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language -- my father gave me this book as a birthday present when I was fourteen. Although it would have been cheaper to replace it, I spent a small fortune a few years ago to have it rebound. This book has moved with me from state to state, from undergraduate school to graduate school and from career to career.

2) The Chicago Manual of Style -- At $55, this book is a serious investment. I got mine via a gift certificate to B&N, a coupon and my B&N membership. Until I purchased it a few years ago, one of the websites I visited most frequently was the CMOS website: Misc/Chicago/cmosfaq/cmosfaq.html.

3) Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon -- If you don't know your characters' GMC, you don't know your characters. I go through the exercises to develop GMC every time I start a new tale. For several months after learning of the book, I tried to buy a used copy. I had three different used book services alert me whenever a copy came available. Unfortunately someone always beat me to the purchase. I finally broke down and ordered the book new from Gryphon Books for Writers.

4) The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever & Sue Viders -- Tami Cowden came to speak to my RWA chapter last fall. She has developed sixteen master archetypes. If I get into trouble with a character, I go back to the archetypes and try to decide which one fits my character best. I usually find that I have one type in mind, but am writing about a different type's GMC. If you want to get a feel for the book, Tami Cowden has been generous enough to list all the archetypes on her website:

5) The Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale -- I recommend using this book with extreme caution. You NEVER want to use esoteric terms that scream "thesaurus" to your readers. I rely on this book when I cannot remember the word I want. I think of a similar word and look that one up to back into the word I'm trying to remember.

6) On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King -- This remains the best overall book on writing that I have found. I re-read it every couple of years (except when I'm on one of my adverb binges; then I re-read the section on adverbs over and over). King's lack of personal boundaries (he even talks about his bouts of impotence) makes me wince, but the book itself is a little gem.

7) Writing the Fiction Synopsis: A Step by Step Approach by Pam McCutcheon -- This is really a companion book to Debra Dixon's GMC. McCutheon refers back to Dixon again and again in her explanations. This book is also available from Gryphon Books for Writers.

With these seven books, I can manage my writing career.

What books are most important to you?


Sherrill Quinn said...

Hey, Maya. I have tons of books on my shelves, but those you listed are some of the ones I refer to regularly. I just recently re-read Stephen King's On Writing. You're right, it's a gem.

Kate Lang said...

I haven't read Christopher Vogler's Hero's Journey but I've gone to at least half a dozen talks based on the book. I find that the journey helps me with the pacing of my story and gives me a rough template of where I'm going...

Maya said...

Hey, Sherrill: Yeah, I go back to On Writing every couple of years and find something new each time depending on where I'm at as a writer. Some things he said went over my head the first time I read the book. Have more meaning to me today.

Maya said...

Hi, Kate: I'm in an online class this month based on the "Hero's Journey." Very similar to Joseph Campbell's "Power of Myth," which has been an important influence on me. Thanks for writing.