When I began writing novels, a friend who works in publishing gave me this advice: “You’ve been reading ABOUT writing for a year. Isn’t it time to start writing?” Yes, I do cop to a certain amount of insecurity before I started my first book. My office shelves are filled with writing resources, but three in particular have proven priceless. They didn’t come out last year.
One of the best purchases I made was buying a copy of The Synonym Finder (Jerome Rodale, editor, 1978.) I remember reading about this book in a blog post. Weighing in at 1361 pages, it could be used also for weightlifting. Its synonyms are much richer and more numerous than those in any thesaurus I’ve used. Sometimes Rodale’s tome even lists synonyms for phrases. For example, “drive a hard bargain” equals negotiate or haggle, along with a paragraph of other possibilities. It also lists slang, sometimes from other languages. In Scottish, the synonym for “drive a hard bargain” is “argle-bargle.”
Chris Roerden’s book, Don’t Murder Your Mystery is absolutely an essential read for any mystery writer. Published in 2006, it has “24 Fiction Techniques to Save Your Manuscript from Turning up D.O.A.” She discusses what you can do wrong with hooks, back stories and prologues. But her book delves even more deeply into dialogue, tags, POV, and settings. She covers, in twenty-four chapters, all the mistakes you will undoubtedly make with your manuscript—errors that will push it off the publisher’s desk and into his wastebasket.
One of my favorite resources for grammar, syntax, and usage is Strunk and White’s, The Elements of Style. It’s been around since 1935 and has gone through numerous revisions. It clearly explains and gives examples of usage rules and composition rules (like active/passive voice, needless words, and words that are commonly misused.) This timeless notebook of writer mistakes (which, that, further/farther, subject/verb agreement, lie vs. lay, etc.), is written in clear and succinct English. A paperback, it’s petite and contains 85 pages plus a glossary and index.
I don’t think you can go wrong using any or all three of these resources. They are well-organized, easy to follow, and have clear examples.
By the way, none of these books were thrown across the room or injured in either the writing of this post or my books.