Friday, March 28, 2014

Reader Friday: The Writer's Craft Library

A Kill Zone regular, Steve Hooley, asked about sharing favorite writing craft books. Sounds like a good idea. So list two or three from your library and why you'd recommend them (for purposes of today's comment section, please exclude the writing books by any of the blogsters here at TKZ. We don't want you to feel obligated!)


  1. "Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg, "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott, and "On Writing" by Stephen King. I enjoy books that are as much biography as tips or instructions for writers.

    1. Natalie Goldberg's book is great and one of the first writing books I read. Great tips.

  2. Since James Scott Bell's Revision & Self-Editing is the craft book I recommend most to my editing clients, followed closely by Conflict & Suspense and Plot & Structure, it's impossible for me to answer this question without including them! :-)

    1. And by replying to your comment, I can totally agree with your choices, and also compliment you on your own wonderful books on writing which I enjoy immensely. ;)

  3. Well, I'm with Jodie. My James Scott Bell collection makes up at least half of my writing craft library. :) And I've got Jodie's books as well!

    So, excluding those, others I've found helpful are:
    ---Writing the Breakout Novel and The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass
    ---20 Master Plots by Ronald B. Tobias
    ---The Writers Idea Book by Jack Heffron
    ---How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn

  4. Jack Bickham's Writing Novels That Sell was key for me.

    I'll also give a shout out to The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass.

    1. I really like Jack Bickham's The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them).

  5. How to Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat. Met her when she was teaching a SleuthFest workshop early in my career and found her book a very practical guide to craft. She's good at articulating the differences between thriller and mystery.

    On Writing by Stephen King. I re-read it regularly.

    The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. Essays about how exhilarating and absurd our chosen course is. Here's one of my fave quotes: "“A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely domesticated."

  6. - How to Grow a Novel by Sol Stein
    - On Writing by Stephen King
    - The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
    - Screenwriting Tricks for Authors by Alex Sokoloff
    - Writing Mysteries, a collection editied by Sue Grafton

    Then again, a lot of the "lessons" I've learned from writing have come from blogs like TKZ, Murderati, The Outfit, Murder She Writes, First Offenders, etc.

  7. I highly recommend Chris Roerden's Agatha Award winning book, Don't Murder Your Mystery. It is great because it identifies specific writing issues that plague many manuscripts, and provides technical fixes to correct those issues, including examples. It's a great book for both experienced and new writers.

    1. I must check this one out, Kathryn. Does some of the advice apply to other genres, too?

    2. Chris has an updated version out now "Don't Sabotage Your Submission" There is no Kindle version but I've heard good things about the book - It's in my basket now all I have to do is checkout :)

    3. Outside of Strunk and White, Ms' Roerden's was the first writing book I bought and it opened my eyes to the basics of what good craft is in that genre.

  8. ON WRITING WELL, William Zinsser
    THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, Strunk & White
    ON WRITING, Stephen King

    I'm currently reading something about starting to write your story in the middle. I know, it sounds crazy. Some guy named Bell came up with the idea. We'll see if this concept goes anywhere.

    1. I'd be wary of that last guy, Joe.

    2. I'm enjoying it, Joe - inventive and innovative way to write a novel - it actually makes sense :)

  9. Gosh, so many great books, but there are two missing from the list -
    Writing a Killer Thriller
    Fire Up Your Fiction
    both by Jodie Renner.

    Both are lean and mean and full of great stuff.

    1. Awww, thanks so much, Brian! I'm glad you find my books helpful! :-)

  10. All of Chuck Wendig's ebooks (Language warning, if you are a dainty flower, you'd be better off the the "My Little Pony Giant Tome of Poems.") His latest, "The Kick Ass Writer" is a bit more subdued. But, only a bit. Otherwise, well, you've been warned.

    On Writing, well . . . duh . . .

    An online essay series by Stephen J. Cannell about the three-act story arc. I have yet to find a more concise explanation and guide:

    And all my goodies from TKZ.


    1. The Stephen J. Cannell online essay series sounds good. I'll check it out. Thanks.

  11. Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King. The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman. Goal, Motivation & Conflict, by Deb Dixon.

    1. I'd definitely agree with those first two - both are excellent books. I'll also add Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Mass, a very readable book with some great tips...

  12. The Writer's Journey, by Christopher Vogler, helped me understand the story cycle.

    How Fiction Works, by James Wood, helped me understand that writing fiction isn't just making stuff up from the cuff.

    Creating Character Emotions, by Ann Hood, helped me understand the importance of emotions in your characters and how to achieve them in your writing.

    I have more, but these three I remember front and foremost because they really struck me as different, not just the "this is how you write fiction" type books.

  13. An oldie but a goodie is Technique in Fiction, by Robie Macauley and George Lanning. It was first published in the late 80s, but its wealth of examples makes it hard to beat for anyone interested in writing literary fiction. Macauley was the fiction editor for Playboy during the magazine's Golden Age of fiction publishing. He then went on to serve as executive editor of the trade division at Houghton Mifflin. Without a doubt, he knew what he was talking about.

  14. Fiction is Folks Michael Newton.
    The Fiction Writer's Silent Partner Martin Roth
    On Writing Fiction Lawrence Block

    1. Forgot to list the whys.
      Fiction is Folks taught me that your character is everything.
      Silent Partner helps me when I'm stumped.
      Writing Fiction grounded me in how to develop a story.

  15. There are a few that have really helped me.
    -"On Writing" by Stephen King, "The Fire in Fiction" by Donald Maass, "How to Write a Damn Good Mystery", James N. Frey and back in the good old college days, the creative writing "Bible" was "The Art of Fiction" by John Gardner. He is rather pretentious and caters mainly to literary fiction rather than commercial, but he makes a lot of helpful points nonetheless.

  16. EVERY SINGLE one by James Scott Bell. And I'm not just sucking up. It's the truth. Explains craft in a way I can immediately apply. Thank you James!

  17. Aside from our own experts (JSB and JR) I have found these books helpful. I've tried a few others and picked up a few tips, but found these to be the best.

    Margaret Atwood - Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing
    Les Edgerton - Finding Your Voice: How to Put Personality in Your Writing
    Stephen King - On Writing
    Donald Maass - Writing the Breakout Novel
    Rory Miller - Violence: A Writer's Guide Second Edition
    Alicia Rasley - The Power of Point of View: Make Your Story Come to Life
    K.M. Weiland - Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success

    More to come. These are on my list:

    Colleen Collins - How Do Private Eyes Do That?
    Colleen Collins - How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths
    Barnaby Conrad - The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction
    Dr. Linda Edelstein - Writer's Guide to Character Traits
    Becca Puglisi - The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes
    Becca Puglisi - The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Emotion
    Becca Puglisi - The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Flaws
    Katherine Ramsland - The Criminal Mind
    John Truby - The Anatomy of Story

  18. This one made the biggest impression on me ever:

    The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life is a seminal sociology book by Erving Goffman. It uses the imagery of the theatre in order to portray the importance of human social interaction.
    -- From Wikipedia

  19. So many to choose, and so many I have that have been mentioned, including Jodie's and Jim's. But here are some I didn't see that were great help to me.

    The Novel Writer's Toolkit by Bob Mayer
    Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham

    and for you plotters out there (like me)
    First Draft in 30 Days by Karen Wiesner
    Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron.

  20. Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life, edited by Barnaby Conrad and Monte Schultz: insights and advice from over 30 authors including John Leggett on setting and place, Jack Canfield on rejections, and Sue Grafton on advice.

    Room to Write by Bonni Goldberg: open to any page for an informational invitation to write.

    Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury: I love this guy and the way in which he puts words together.

    On Writing by Stephen King: the man knows how to get to the heart (and guts) of writing.

  21. Thanks for all of these great references. Right off the bat Sylvia Ney listed my same top three. King for showing you don't have to have the perfect desk in the perfect study to write a good story.

  22. Wow! Thanks, Jim for using this subject for a post. And thanks, everyone, for all the suggestions. I will definitely bookmark this blog.

    I would add a few books that I didn't see:
    Lisa Cron's WIRED FOR STORY

    And my go-to books, on top of my stack, continue to be Jims and Jodi's.

    Thanks again, Jim.

  23. Well since I can't give a shout out for JSB's Write Your Novel from the Middle, which was excellent. I'd like to nominate Chris Roerden's Don't Sabotage Your Submission, it was easy to read, informative and from a manuscript editor. It was one of the best editing books I've read.

  24. I have an entire bookshelf of writing books so it's hard to choose, especially since we can't mention JSB and JR *wink wink*

    I really enjoyed "Manuscript Makeover" by Elizabeth Lyon. Very, very helpful for revision, both macro and micro.

    Anything by Donald Maass. Fire in Fiction, Writing the Breakout Novel, they're all amazing.

    Anything by Jessica Page Morrell. Thanks, But This Isn't For Us, Between the Lines. Awesome.

    Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain leveled up my writing something fierce. Very densely packed full of information.

    The Artful Edit by Susan Bell is wonderful. Clear, concise advice that's very easy to understand with lots of helpful examples. If you have any issues all all with line editing, this book will make a huge difference.

    While we're talking line editing, I also really enjoyed It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences by June Casagrande. This book surprised me by being funny and enjoyable to read in addition to having lots of good advice.

    I'll stop myself there. Great topic!

  25. I'm late to the party - work intervened, and writing.

    My list includes, in no particular order:

    William Zinser - On Writing Well
    Dwight Swain - Techniques of the Selling Writer
    Dwight Swain - Creating Characters
    John Gardner - The Art of Fiction
    John Gardner - On Becoming a Novelist
    How to Write Funny, edited by John Kachuba

    Also mentioned by others, Bird by Bird, Writing Down the Bones, On Writing, Zen and the Art of Writing, JSB's books.

  26. Larry Brooks' "Story Engineering" helped me immensely with understanding plot, structure, and his Six Core Competencies.