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The "how-to-write" books here are especially for genre writers, not for thrillers, domestic dramas, mysteries, or mainstream fiction. They teach everything those foolish "one style fits all" books do, plus the special attitudes and tricks we need. Even the best of us have bad days when that rule for something complex in language eludes us. Everyone needs some grammar reference, and if yours feels shaky there's some very lightsome ways of buffing up your commas here.

Any of these will be good for our Keys writers, but we've got some special how-to's just for them.

The Chicago Manual of Style : The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers 2010 edition

A reference for grammar and punctuation, preferred by some.

Available 1 September 2010


Oxford English Dictionary: CD-Rom for Windows
Oxford University Press 2nd edition

This multiple CD-ROM set contains the entire 20-volume unabridged in an easy-to-search format. Price makes your hair stand on end, but consider the savings in not having to rent a larger apartment.
Allen, Moira The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals
Allworth Press, 2001

Since the objective for any professional writer is to get published, it behooves us all to know how to write a decent proposal for works of fiction and for non-fiction. Since these queries differ vastly, you need to know how to write them for the market you want to sell to. 

This is one of the better guides for writing proposals that stand out from the crowd and convey your work in its best light.

Attebery, Brian Strategies of Fantasy
Indiana University Press, 1992

Concentrating on the works of Le Guin, John Crowley, Tolkien, Diana Wynne Jones, Gene Wolfe, and others, Attebery studies the construction of fantasy for both the writer and the reader. One of the more pleasant introductions to modern literary theory, too.

Still available from Amazon


Burchfield, R. W. (editor), Fowler, H. W. The New Fowler's Modern English Usage
Clarendon Press (3rd ed., 1996)

Basic reference on style and usage. Has been slammed by some for admitting more common usages in the place of older "correct" ones, but this may suit you fine.
Card, Orson Scott How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy
Writer's Digest Books, 1990

Simply and well written, with guidelines to both the writing and building the surround. Many readers find it an excellent book on the art and craft of writing in any genre.


Costello, Matthew J. How to Write Science Fiction
Shooting Star Press, 1995

A solid reference on both writing and the genre, if the WDB party line makes you twitch.


Dozois, Gardner,  with Tina Lee, S. Schmidt, R. Strock, S. Williams, L. Strock Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy
St. Martin's Press, 1993

A collection of twenty essays on aspects of the field, from comedy to characterization, like Heinlein's "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction" with a bias to the short story.


Gordon, Karen Elizabeth The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed
Pantheon, 1993

Sly, gothic, witty, accurate, and deliciously illustrated. Keep an eye out for the original version, The Transitive Vampire. Lots more fun than Strunk, White, Fowler's, or anyone else in grammar.


Gordon, Karen Elizabeth The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed
Karen Elizabeth Gordon, Ticknor and Fields, 1993

Another cheerful, elegant, accurate and attractive seduction of the reader in a field usually left to very dry rules lists.


Gordon, Karen Elizabeth Torn Wings and Faux Pas: A Flashbook of Style, a Beastly Guide Through the Writer's Labyrinth
Pantheon Books, 1997

Now Gordon takes her Gothic menagerie into advanced matters, from the split inifinitive debate to parallel construction, dangling modifiers.
Lefanu, Sarah Writing Fantasy Fiction
A&C Black, 1996

Especially geared to building the fantasy world, the conscious use of archetypes, with special chapters on dark fantasy, comic fantasy, and fantasy for children. Good on the importance of rewriting.


Roget, Peter and Kipfer, Barbara Ann Roget's International Thesaurus
HarperCollins 6th edition (2002) 

A thesaurus, if you are not familiar with it, is far more than a dictionary of synonyms and antonyms. Roget's brilliance lay not in compiling words, but in laying out ideas in relationship to each other. In a dictionary form, if the only word you can think of is "refulgence" you are probably lost. You have to have one of the listed words before you can find any others, and by the time you have thought of one, you don't need it. A thesaurus, on the other hand, lets you find words when you don't have any word, just a vague idea. You go to the right area of ideas and browse. A must for serious writers and serious learners.
Russ, Joanna To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction
Indiana University Press, 1995

Noted novelist Russ explores the presence of women in science fiction as authors as much as characters, and how the genre shapes and is shaped by the writer's and protagonist's gender. Recommended for those wanting to move beyond what they think they know about it.
Scott, Melissa Conceiving the Heavens: Creating the Science Fiction Novel

A more advanced approach for you who have already read everything else, but perfectly good for a first how-to book, too.


Stableford, Brian Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction: And Getting Published (Teach Yourself)
Teach Yourself, 1998

Excellent new book by a most admirable writer.


Strunk, William and White, E.B. Elements of Style
Allyn & Bacon, 3rd ed (1995)

One of the top standard books on English usage, grammar, and punctuation, and cheap, too!
Vogler, Christopher The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters, 3rd Edition
Michael Wiese Productions (2007)

Vogler has taken the outlines of The Hero's Journey by Campbell and recooked it for writers creating myths, rather than readers analysing them. However, you had better already know or be willing to look up a lot of technical jargon like "archetypes" and such. We have seen this applied to contemporary thrillers and mysteries; it certainly provides a viable structure for our field, if sometimes a little too familiar.


Williamson, J. N. (editor) How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction
Writer's Digest Books, 1991

Contains writing advice from notable authors like Robert Block, Ray Bradbury, Dean R. Koontz, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Charles L. Grant.


Especially for The Keys
Bauer, Marion Dane What's Your Story?: A Young Person's Guide to Writing Fiction
Clarion, 1992

Good for beginners, and not likely to be over your head and leave you confused. Written for junior high or a little younger. Certainly worth reading at the library.


Gardner, John C. Art Of Fiction: Notes On Craft For Young Writers

A very good book for the intermediate, sometimes intimidating for the beginner. Makes the old-fashioned assumption that the writer can always be addressed as "he."


Henderson, Kathy Market Guide For Young Writers

Lots of tips and useful market information for hopeful young writers. Actually a pretty good how-to, getting down to the nitty-gritty of ms prep. As there are not many "young writer specific" markets, this is not a hefty market section. However, there are some periodicals where they only want teen writers. Includes e-zines.


Phillips, Kathleen C. How to Write a Story (Speak Out, Write On)

A good young adult's book on putting a story together. A real emphasis on craft.


Policoff, Stephen Phillip & Skinner, Jeffrey Real Toads in Imaginary Gardens: Suggestions and Starting Points for Young Creative Writers

An excellent book aimed at high-school teens. Out of print but still available used.


Seuling, Barbara To Be A Writer: A Guide for Young People Who Want to Write and Publish
Twenty-First Century Books, NY. Hardcover

As the author says, "For kids who like to write and want to be really good at it. It's got information on how to get ideas, what to do when you have an idea, how to plot your stories and draw realistic characters, how to use dialogue and description effectively, how to share your writing with others, which contests to enter, writing software, what to do if you want to go to a writing camp, and how to get your work published. Kids online and off helped with this book, so I think young people will find it fun and helpful, too." Listed for grades 4-8, or ages 9-12 (they did it, we didn't)