“Eat the meat, spit out the bones.”
It’s a valuable piece of advice most of us have heard more than a few times. It also applies to the plethora of available “how-to” resources for writers—not all of whom agree with each other.
It’s a good idea for aspiring authors to read as many different voices as possible, but in the end, you’ll have to decide for yourself which ones qualify as meat and which are bones.
That’s why it’s difficult to say which books should be on an aspiring author’s “must-read” list. Every genre has its own unique personality, and what might make obvious sense in one may be incomprehensible gobble-dee-gook* in another.
*highly technical writer’s term
That being said, there are a few books which I’d suggest are indispensable, regardless of genre, sub-genre, and/or the unique and twisted personality of the would-be writer.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk & E.B. White
It’s a tech manual for writers.
It’s worth its weight in gold, diamonds, and assorted other gemstones. Why? Because it will persuade grammar nazi’s (and editors) to put their long knives away.
Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin
The craft of story-telling as recounted by a true master of the skill.
Subtitled “a 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story”, Le Guin’s book is a pleasure to read. The writing exercises she includes are a challenging and fun way to immediately put her recommendations into practice.
On Writing by Stephen King
I’ve re-read this one several times. It’s just that good.
King includes his own journey as a writer, which is as entertaining a read as any of his works of fiction.
Nuggets of wisdom are sprinkled throughout—including his famous (and oft-debated) axiom: ‘the road to hell is paved with adverbs’. In a word: inspirational.
I’ve read quite a few additional tomes on speculative fiction, world-creation, character arcs, dialogue, etc., but I keep coming back to these three.
That’s not to suggest I don’t “spit out the bones” at times (with the exception of Elements—ignore it at your peril), but any aspiring author should give these three books a permanent place of honor on their desk.