The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught X 101.
There are a lot of different ways you could go with this. In fact, I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone’s lists this week. I think I’m going to host a pretend Creative Writing course this week. Talent can’t be taught, of course, but there are certain books that can provide instruction, inspiration, and guidelines. So these are some books I would share with a writing class were I actually a successful writer myself.
For the first half of the class, some excellent technical and theory books:
This slim book has some of the most inspiring writing advice I’ve ever come across.
2. The Elements of Style/The Elements of Grammar
You have to know the rules before you break them. You have to know the rules before you break them. Say it again, as many times as you need to get it through your head. You have to know the rules before you break them.
3. Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter- What If?: Writing Exercises For Fiction Writers
This is the first prompt/exercise book I was ever exposed to, and it has a ton of great starting points for stories
4. Christopher Booker- The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories
A bit of a heavy academic tome, but once you learn that all stories come from the same place, it kind of takes the pressure off, in a way. Great for general book nerds, too!
5. Jeff Vandermeer- Wonderbook
There is so much going on on every page of this book that it personally gives me a bit of sensory overload. But it’s a great way to kickstart creativity.
For the second half of my class, I would turn to actual fiction. If you want to write good fiction, you should be able to tear it apart and see what makes it tick. Now “good fiction” and “sale-able fiction” can be different things for different people. And obviously each writer brings their own likes and dislikes to the table, and is looking for different things in a class. But shut up, it’s my hypothetical writing class, so I’m going to teach you the fiction I want to teach you.
6. Robert Penn Warren- Short Story Masterpieces
It’s overwhelmingly white and male and midcentury. Read it anyway. Useful for: learning how to craft a short story.
7. The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov
Useful for: drowning in beautiful language, learning to be playful with form.
8. George R. R. Martin- A Game of Thrones (just, and I cannot stress this enough, just book one. My hypothetical class has no time for discussion on bloated series that overstay their welcome.)
Useful for: learning how to juggle multiple narrative perspectives. Who knows what, when do they know it, what does the reader know, and do they really know what they know, or anything at all? Also useful for: creating character and subverting tropes.
9. Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility
Useful for: writing comedy, character and relationships, turning a small family drama into a centerpiece of action.
10. Daphne du Maurier: Rebecca
Useful for: learning unreliable narrators, creating an atmosphere (in this case one of suspicion and dread), writing some fucking excellent prose.
Because my hypothetical writing class is also endless, and because I’m so very cool, we would also watch the entire runs of Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Battlestar Galactica, because those three shows taught me new ways to look at stories and storytelling that I’d never even conceived of.
What do you think is essential study for aspiring writers?