Helpful Books on Craft

Yesterday, I managed to convince my toddler to play in one of the aisles in the library so I could peruse the fiction writing section. Previous attempts to get her to stay with me have resulted in her running off. I have yet to master the ability to hold a 30-lbs squirming toddler and sift through a book. Her staying close to me was a major accomplishment. The toddler has dropped her nap and can devolve into a cranky mess unexpectedly any afternoon. And this time, instead, she played hopscotch on the carpet squares. Win!

Of the two books I brought home, I’ve started Nancy Kress’s Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and exercises for crafting dynamic characters and effective viewpoints and I’m really liking it so far. I’ve skipped to the section on viewpoint since that is something I’m currently working on. She explains multiple options for viewpoints, including a few I didn’t know anyone ever used, like second person. (You are in my story!) She also expands on the advantages and limitations of the two most-used point-of-views (POV), first and third person, and gives examples. I liked the section on why you would choose each POV. Super, duper helpful.

So, here’s a short list of some of my favorite books on fiction writing. I’ve also included a genre-specific recommendation for romance.

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. I probably mention this book in every other blog-post, so it is definitely worth mentioning again. This is a book on screenwriting, but it absolutely applies to fiction writing. Snyder’s approachable style, mixed with humor, is a great way to learn story structure, or narrative arc. I’ve read it several times now and base my sorta-outlines on his template, or beat sheet. When I plot, I’m sure like many writers, I think in terms of those beats, even analyzing my favorite tv shows and movies, looking for Six Things That Need Fixing, Bad Guys Close In, Dark Night of the Soul, and, of course, those Save the Cat moments. Great book!

I’m also a huge fan of James Scott Bell’s books on writing. (Ooh! I believe I’ve read four of his! Huh. I guess I’m in fangirl status.) Okay, so one of the first books I read when I decided to sit down and try to write a novel was his book, Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish. I’m glad I read it when I was just getting started. I had written a few thousand words. (*cough, okay, maybe almost 20k.) It helped me find a major plot hole(s) and I then went back and started over. It was frustrating at the time, but it was better to start from a point of structure, than hold on to a few scenes that weren’t going to go anywhere in the middle of the book. Additionally, scenes need conflict to be interesting to readers, and, frankly, the writers writing them. I loved how Bell broke down ways to progress through scenes keeping that in mind. Fan-ta-bu-lous book. Something useful is on every freaking page.

I also keep Bell’s The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies,Tactics, and Exercises on my nightstand. I’ve probably read it twice and I keep picking it up for useful tidbits of advice, especially since that is how it is organized. It’s a motivating resource, one that encourages writers to Just Keep Writing.

This fall I read K.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story. This was the book that taught me what scene and sequel mean in writing. Think of them as action and reaction. Necessary and cool, right? I adore Weiland’s blog, so I was really looking forward to reading one of her books on craft. There was a lot to take in. I really liked it and will be turning to it for both plotting and looking at big picture edits.

Bonus Romance-Specific Rec:

I’m a huge Emma Holly fan, so when I saw that she had a novella-length reference for writing sexy scenes, I had to buy it. Steaming Up Your Love Scenes: (a how-to for romance writers and others) is like a mini-story structure lesson from Holly for writing a sex scene. Yes, there is an art to it, with an underlying structure, or stages of a love scene. Learn from one of the best.

This is a teeny, tiny list, basically of what I would recommend as have-to-reads for a friend interested in writing romance. What books would you include on a must-have rec list?

Happy Writing (and Reading)!

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    • ainsleywriter

      LOL! Thanks, Patchi! That is a good one–although I’ve only skimmed mine so far. I’m planning on reading it before I sit down for some major editing. I want to get the other two too: The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus.