There are some worthwhile books out there on writing. I am often asked which ones are my favorites, if any. Such books usually fall into two catagories – the craft of writing and the business of writing. Few seem to combine both topics. The most important thing about writing and becoming a writer is to actually write. And then write some more. It's a muscle that needs to be exercised repeatedly. There are, however, a few books I would recommend that can provide helpful information to any writer, new or experienced.
Here is a list of my five favorite books on writing:
The Devils' Guide to Hollywood – Joe Eszterhas. Both a novelist and highly paid screenwriter, this outspoken Hungarian penner of movies (Flashdance, Basic Instinct, FIST, Showgirls, etc.) doesn't mince any words. Great behind the scenes tidbits and writing advice. The epilogue, detailing the Hollywood rollercoaster ride of a script he wrote called “Sacred Cows”, about the president of our good ole US of A getting caught...well, let's just say, getting too up close and personal with a certain farm animal, is alone well worth the price of admission.
On Writing – Stephen King. What needs to be said? The master. While this contains much autobiographical information, including his struggles with alcohol and drug abuse, the writing advice it contains is precious. Honest, insightful and practical advice on everything from word choice to editing to creating back story. He also provides examples of his own bad writing.
Hollywood Animal – Joe Eszterhas. This book concentrates on – at nearly 800 pages! - the experiences of his early years as a novelist and journalist, but the bulk details his years as a Hollywood screenwriter from an insider's perspective. Hilarious stories about the studio system, agents, star egos, etc. For example, when he wrote FIST, Sylvester Stallone was trying to take credit as “co-writer”. However, when the film bombed, Stallone then tried to distance himself from the story. A thick book, but a quick read.
Save The Cat! - Blake Snyder. This author, who passed away last year, breaks down scriptwriting to a formula. His beat sheet explains when certain events should happen (set-up, catalyst, debate, midpoint, dark night of the soul, etc.) and on what pages. He provides examples of movies that successfully used this formula. His produced scripts include Blank Check and Stop, Or My Mom Will Shoot – not exactly classics – and he gets down on Momento for not following “the formula” and makes notw of it's low box office take, but Christopher Nolan has done rather well for himself. Overall, however, an interesting book with good pints and great advice on what to avoid in a script.
The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters – Karl Iglesias. Very helpful book that details, from the mouths of successful writers, advice on getting an agent, creating a writing environment, perseverance, writer's block, networking, etc. Though it's focused on screenwriting, much of the advice is applicable to fiction writing.
Until next time, in the words of John Steinbeck, “Writers are a little below the clowns and a little above the trained seals.”