Including the aforementioned Chicago Manual of Style and Strunk & White, here’s my list of indispensible reference material written by the professionals.
While it’s obtainable via them internets, I have a lovely hardback copy my wife bought me for a birthday of Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. While I don’t always follow his rules to the letter, there is something comforting and reassuring to be able to crack this book open now and then to re-read the master of dialogue’s take on this thing of ours.
Plots and Characters, A Screenwriter on Screenwriting is by my late friend Millard Kaufman, best known as the screenwriter of bad day at Black Rock. Millard also produced and directed several movies, co-created Mr. Magoo, and had great stories about his time as a marine in WWII to his travails in Hollywood. You don’t have to want to writer screenplays to dig the insight Millard brings to matters such as pacing and character development, helpful hints to any type of writer.
The Story is a Promise by Bill Johnson. I don’t have many “how to” write books on my shelf but Bill’s is one I always recommend to people. Using examples from various novels, Bill lays out how writers build structure, use metaphor and symbolism to tell their stories – to fulfil the promise to the reader to deliver an emotionally satisfying resolution.
James Baldwin’s The Devil Finds Work isn’t about the writing process per se but rather a book-length essay about the racial and social context of movies. His often wry commentaries also include him talking about how he got fired from writing the screenplay of Che! This the ‘60s studio version with, and I kid you not as I’ve seen the flick, Omar Sharif as the famous revolutionary and Jack Palance as Fidel Castro.
Raymond’s Chandler’s classic essay on “The Simple Art of Murder” should be re-read each year by mystery and crime storytellers.
My wife and her mom gifted me many Christmases ago this wonderful honking mother of all dictionaries I’m always looking up words and their correct iteration in; the 2,400 some odd page The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, Unabridged. When I get loopy from writing, I take a break and do come curls with it.
And just because I think it helps if writers can think visually when putting scenes to paper, the late great comics artist Gil Kane wrote an article years ago, “Bypassing the Real for the Ideal” that’s worth reading He explores the dynamics of comics art and offers samples in his trademark style of what he’s talking about. Click this link here to check it out. There’s also the well-illustrated book Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner (who wrote and drew the Spirit among many other creations) that goes further in depth on the power of visuals...all to the good in helping craft memorable stories.