Making a Literary Life, by Carolyn See. A wonderful book, ferocious and funny. Like this: “…plots are like wooden hangers in a closet. You don’t refuse to hang up your shirt because that hanger’s already been used a few times.” See offers plenty of writing advice, but a subtext makes the book ring like a gong and feel more like a story than a writing manual.
On Writing, by Stephen King. This one is more memoir than writing manual, harrowing and hilarious (he had the worst babysitter ever), and (like the See book) a great read at 4:00 a.m. King does include writing advice, like: “The adverb is not your friend.” And he takes a few pages to rant about the passive voice: “…everyone is entitled to his/her opinion, but I don’t believe With a hammer Frank was killed will ever replace He killed Frank with a hammer.”
Storyteller, by Kate Wilhelm. With her husband Damon Knight, Wilhelm was one of the guiding lights behind Clarion West, an ongoing writing workshop for science fiction and fantasy writers. Much of this book is the story of Clarion West, with writing exercises throughout that she compiles at the end of the book for easy reference. Wilhelm is one of the few people to give specific exercises on how to write fiction from an image in your head as opposed to an idea — from a picture and a feeling instead of a thought.
Steering the Craft, by Ursula Le Guin. This is a straightforward writing manual, set up like one of her writing workshops, with the benefit of asides. Le Guin covers point of view, sentence length, how the writing sounds, punctuation, etc., and gives lots of detailed exercises to “consciousness raise” the writer; the book is all about stretching. She includes plenty of examples from literature, but it’s the commentary around the exercises that gets her points across.
The New Diary and Your Life as Story, by Tristine Rainer. These two books are specific to writing diary and/or memoir, but they are full of writing prompts that could work for fiction as well. Rainer includes writing from her students and from published authors that inspire on multiple levels, and both books are full of eye-openers. Her brief history of autobiography, for instance, says that the first memoirs were of the pharaohs; their stories were carved in stone and written in the first person, after their ‘authors’ were dead. How’s that for a literary device?
Okay, these are the writing books I enjoy most, and I don’t remember anything in them about story arc, although the Rainer one, Your Life as Story, does talk about structuring a story. So a theory about character flaw and story arc may well be there. But even if it isn’t, what the hey, these are all good books.