Tool Box

Five Books Every Writer’s Tool Box Should Have

Whenever somebody puts out a must have a list of things somebody else should have to do any thing, you should be suspicious. This list is no different.

Having said that I’ll say that three of the five books I am about to suggest you add to your writer’s tool box usually don’t show up on the radar screens of people writing such posts. I’ll also say I am not an affiliate here trying to get you to put some money in my pocket. (I wanted to add that because that’s something I’ve seen happen too many times with such posts. I also reserve the right to change that should this post go ungodly viral. Hey, I’m human.)

Now that we’ve got the disclaimers aside, let’s look at the books.

1.) Strunk, W. Jr., and White E.B. (1979), The Elements of Style, fourth edition. Massachusetts: Pearson Education.

If you call yourself a writer you have this book even if you suck, because if you suck it helps you get better. Strunk and White first published in 1935 and it still lands in the hands of writers interested in with crisp, crunchy clear precision. The book is only 105 pages long, can fit in most blue-jean pockets, and is dirt cheap.

I honestly don’t know if Strunk and White has a digital version, to me its one of those books that I want to have in my hands flipping pages when I’m reading it. Plenty of grammar books have come and gone, none have earned a place on so many writer’s desk as Strunk and White.

2.) Hacker, D. (2004), Rules for Writers, fifth edition., Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

When I decided I wanted to be a writer I knew I had a long road to go. My grammar was in a word, terrible. There wasn’t a document I wrote that didn’t contain run-on sentences, splices, poor subject verb agreement, and plenty of other basic grammar problems. Rules for writers was my constant companion for a year or so while I learned my way.

Rules for Writers serves up nine sections of grammar rules with examples of common problems and their corrections in each section. There is also a companion website were readers can go for more information. Ms. Hacker list Prince George’s Community College below her name on the title page, I have to assume she teachers there.

Being familiar with the community college experience I understand why this book appeals to me. It is a solid, no-nonsense reference to finding, correcting, and learning to avoid common grammar mistakes.

3.) Campbell, J. (2008), The Hero With a Thousand Faces, third edition, Novato, Ca.: Joseph Campbell Foundation.

If you’re familiar with the Star Wars franchise you already have a feel for this book. George Lucas made no issue of reflecting that Joseph Campbell was an inspiring influence in the franchise’s creation when he launched an interview with Campbell at the Lucas Ranch discussing the influence of the Campbell’s work on the Star Wars Films.

Campbell lectured as a professor of mythology at Sara Lawrence University. He spent his life traveling the world and studying cultural mythology of different groups of people. From that work he developed the idea of the Monomyth that describes the similarities of all religious and cultural traditions across the human race.

The Monomyth is a sequence of transitions found in heroic renditions of cultural storytelling. The hero, says Campbell, begins a journey where he/she encounters various challenges and perils to overcome. During these challenges and perils the hero undergoes change resulting in their elevation to a higher understanding of themselves and their relation to society and the universe. The hero then brings this light of revelation to the people of society for their own redemption.

A notable mention here is Christopher Vogler’s work “The Writer’s Journey”. Vogler created his work on the foundation of Campbell’s in a white paper for the Disney studio executives. The executives loved the concept and adopted the white paper as the foundation for many Disney movies, something often criticized as creating very similar plot arcs in all Disney adventures.

4.) Jung, C. G. (1968), The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious, second edition, New York: Princeton University Press.

Jung was a pioneering psychiatrist studying under Sigmund Freud. After disagreeing with Freud on a number of issues, Jung launched his own respectable professional career arc with the ideas of archetypes and the collective unconscious.

Archetypes, according to Jung, are cultural symbols of man’s unconscious which have accumulated since the dawn of man. These archetypes, if properly understood, work to uncover the condition of society and man, through them Jung set about analyzing his patients in light of his studies.

Though many of the pioneering psychiatric studies have been widely discredited, particular those of Freud, some of Jung’s work survives into the 21st century in the study of personality types with the Jung and Briggs typology test.

The typology test evaluates the subject through a series of questions and relates the answers to typical characteristics of similar personalities and how those personalities relate and react to others and their environment. The Jung and Briggs typology test is currently in use for career placement evaluation and other social structure evaluations.

5.) Hoffman, J., Murphy, P (ed) (2005) Essentials of the Theory of Fiction, third edition, Durham/London: Duke University Press.

Essentials of the Theory of Fiction is a collection of essays written by some of the western world’s most notable writers. People such as Henry James and Virginia Woolf are among the essayist collected in this book.

The world has many how to books on creating plot, scene, character, and other elements that go to create the elusive suspension of disbelief in writing. Many of these books are written by notable authors and certainly are with merit. I have quite a few.

But getting as close as you can to the actual academic experience of creating fiction is without question a powerful exercise to practice. That’s what Essentials of the Theory of Fiction does for me, along with a number of other works I’ve collected.

Final Words and Notable Mentions

The books on this list are not intended to be read in any chronological order as a collection or within their covers as chapters. Instead, they work together as excellent inspirational references and muscle work for the brains of those interested in writing not just fiction, but any form of writing intended to move opinions and convey ides, something I can’t imagine any writer wouldn’t be working to achieve.

I have found a number of other books that have helped me understand the meaning and method of human communication through the written word. Below I give a brief listing in no particular order.

1.) Coste, D. (1989) Narrative as Communication, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.
2.) Pinker, S. (1999) Words and Rules, New York: Harper Collins.
3.) Pinker, S. (1994) The Language Instinct How the Mind Creates Language, New York: Harper Collins.
4.) Luntz, F. (2007) Words That Work: it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear, New York: Hperion.
5.) Orwell, G. (1946) Politics and the English Language, Digital Resource

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