Monday, October 6, 2008

Craft Writing Book Recommendations

The Five Scribes have come together to recommend our favorite craft books for writers. We hope you find some new titles in here to inspire you in your craft, but we also hope you'll leave a comment with some of your own favorites.

Drum roll!

KL: I have a book addiction that extends far beyond the fiction aisles. Over the years, I've collected more books on craft than I care to admit. Here are my recommendations to every writer regardless of experience who wants to learn something new or to strengthen writing:

  • Plot & Structure. James Scott Bell
    An excellent guide to structuring a story.

  • Goal! Motivation! Conflict! Debra Dixon
    A must-have for anyone who wants to be sure all characters have depth and an impact on the story.

  • Self Editing for Fiction Writers. Renni Browne and Dave King
    'Nuff said.

  • The Elements of Style. William Strunk, Jr and EB White
    Also, 'nuff said.

  • Writing the Breakout Novel. Donald Maass (I also recommend the workbook.)
    This book is better if you've already written a first draft and can analyze what you've crafted, but I've used a few of the entries in the workbook to help me craft a more exciting plot.

  • In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop. Steve Kowit
    I didn't purchase this book to help me with my fiction writing. However, I've definitely found myself using some of Kowit's exercises in my novels.

  • Techniques of the Selling Writer. Dwight Swain
    I wasn't really interested in this book since I figured the advice was probably outdated. Then I took a workshop based around Swain's techniques, and I was sold. I think the world of fiction has evolved since this book was written, but its ideas are sound and the techniques can definitely be used to strengthen writing.
Wow, KL, DB here. Great writing minds think alike, and there's some on your list I've never heard about. Without being redundant, I'll list a few of my favorites:

  • Getting the Words Right How to Rewrite, Edit & Revise by Theodore A. Rees Cheney (the book I use by far as it is all encompassing and I so struggle with word choice.)

  • The Writer’s Journey, Mystic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler (As told by the master)
  • Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing by David Morrell (Inspiring and a keeper on my shelf)
  • The Career Novelist by Donald Maass (For anyone serious about his profession)
  • The Fiction Synopsis by Pam McCutcheon (Clear and concise with examples that make sense)
  • Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook Second Edition by Sherrilyn Kenyon (All I can say is: Where has this book been all my life?)
LA here, I guess I'll be redundant on few too, but that's okay, you'll be fairly safe if you decide to add them to your shelf. I've listed these in no particular order, just the way they came off my shelves.

  • Strunk and White's, The Elements of Style, A great little book about style, composition, form and lists of words and expressions commonly MISUSED. My copy was given to me by my Aunt Leslie who's had it since 1964
  • The Synonym Finder, JI Rodale, one of the best thesaurus type books out there. Again my copy is from Aunt Leslie and is dated 1961
  • Save the Cat by Blake Synder. It's got a lot of tabs on it and the pages are dog-earred. It's a fun book and while I'm not sure it is the last book on screenwritig I'll ever need, he brought a fresh approach to some sticky issues and really helpful hints if you write yourself into a corner, though none of us has ever done that, right? This is not just for screenwriters!
  • Story by Robert McKee. An incredibly dense tome. I haven't read it from cover to cover, but have the majority of it over the last few years. McKee has created new terms for some basic principles, but once you get past that, it can help you write a better story. Hollywood studios consider this a bible for their writers.
  • On Writing by Stephen King. Wow, not only is it a tale of his struggle to write, his doubt and his angst, the second part is an incredible how-to. Couldn't put it down and actually will re-read it this fall.
  • Screenplay by Syd Field. It was the bible for more than a decade. People tend to dismiss old standby's for the new kid on the block, but I still recommend this book as a primer for someone who wants to learn the basics of screenplay format and structure.
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. Mr. Swain is sadly no longer with us, but this book, again, an older book was invaluable to me when I started writing. And remember, I started as a novelist.
  • The Secrets of Action Screenwriting by William C. Martell. Another well tabbed book. It might be hard to find, but is worth the search. It leads through "popeye points" to "rug pulls." I learned a lot about building tension in action and making it pay off.
  • Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. When I read this book, I was really shying away from "how to" books. I'm SO glad I didn't shy away from this one. I kept having little "ah ha" moments. I knew most of what he was talking about, but he clarified points that were still slightly shrouded in the mists of "not quite nailing it."
  • The Anatomy of Story by John Truby. I love this book, I'm not finished with it and had I attempted to read it early in my career, I wouldn't have gotten as much out of it as I am now. Lucky for me it wasn't written then and I had Swain and Field to help guide me into the world of fiction writing. But even as I reread Swain and Field periodically (we all should you know, b/c we pick up stuff we didn't or couldn't get the first time around) this book takes me many levels deeper.
I have many, many other books on my shelves, most have not yet been read, so I hope we do an update on this in a year or so.

T: So this is the disadvantage of going nearly last, all the good stuff's taken--and let's not forget that I introduced you guys to James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure, so that's my contribution. Since I'm not as enthusiastic about collecting these books as the others, my few finds need the recognition. And yes, this is third grade. I'm feeling very immature today.

Unlike the other ladies, I usually only look for new writing books when I have to revise and learn a new technique, like writing flashbacks well, and my old favorites, GMC, The Writer's Journey and the others listed by my brilliant buddies, aren't inspiring enough. Or if I'm taking a break after completing a work and am in between revisions, I'll often return to my tried and true writing books. Here are two books not listed by the others that I find very helpful: Dare to be a Great Writer: 329 Keys' to Powerful Fiction, by Leonard Bishop- This covers a LOT of craft points with excellent examples of what to do and what not to do. And I love the index in the back that categorizes the 329 keys by topic.

The Making of a Bestseller, by Brian Hill and Dee Power: Success stories from authors and the editors, agents, and booksellers behind them-- This book is really more inspirational and informative about the business than craft oriented, but often I really just need this to help keep me going. And its 2005 copyright makes it fairly relevant to selling books today.

Now it's your turn - what are your faves?


Liz said...

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and anything by Natalie Goldberg, especially Writing Down the Bones are great. The entire Howdunnit searies by Writer's Digest books are great for suspense writing.

Donnell said...

Liz, thanks for the suggestions. I've heard of Writing Down the Bones. I'll have to check it out. And you're absolutely right, I forgot to mention the Howdunnit series. I own several of these; they're a must for mystery writers.

Debra Dixon said...

Thanks for adding GMC to your list of books! Most people don't know it's still available from the original small publisher. Don't pay Amazon's high prices. Go to I just shudder everytime someone tells me they paid $75 for it!!

KL Grady said...

Liz - I like Bird by Bird and Writing Down the Bones, as well. Good books to nudge you into action.

KL Grady said...

Thanks for the link, Debra! I loaned my copy to a friend years ago and never got it back, and then it went out of print. I'm glad to know I can finally afford to replace it. LOL

WriteGirl said...

One of my all-time favorite resources is No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing A Manuscript That Sells by Alice Orr. Her approach to creating characters is one of the best I've seen.

Donnell said...

Deb, Like KL Goal Motivation and Conflict is definitely on my keeper shelf. I'm looking forward to your workshop in Colorado Springs on Oct. 18th. I attended a brief sampling in Memphis a few years back when I was a newby writer; can't wait to be re-inspired now that I've learned a couple more things.

WriteGirl, thanks for the tip on Alice Orr and No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to a Manuscript that Sells. I definitely plan to check this book out!

Leslie Ann said...

Welcome to Five Scribes. I'm so glad your book is still available. When I read our posts I realized I hadn't added GMC b/c it wasn't on shelf. So I thought and worried and remembered I'd taken on a trip to my mother's recently...a great place to read.

Anyway, phew found the treasure in my satchel and can now relax.

Liz, I've never read Bird by Bird or anything by NG (I have Thunder and Lightening, but haven't yet read it), but I'll make a point to start on NG's book soon.

Writegirl, Alice Orr sounds really familiar, so I'll check my shelves and see if I have that book...if not, I'll borrow it from D when she's done :)