Writing Advice Books – I Read Them All (I’d wish..)

Hey everyone! Long time, no post, eh? Well, you know how it goes, the holidays happened, monkey family business, life, procrastination — the lot. But I’m back, and to flex my blogging fingers, here’s a list of all writing advice books I’ve read so far.

I sprinkled them with my own opinion, but regardless of that, all of these books were a big help and each has something unique to offer. So give them a try!


 

First, the writers who sold me on more than just one writing advice book:

Chuck Wendig

250 Things You Should Know About Writing 500 Ways To Be A Better Writer - ChuckPrint500 Ways To Tell A Better Story

 

 

 

 

250 Things You Should Know About Writing  |  500 Ways To Be A Better Writer  |  500 More Ways To Be A Better Writer  |  500 Ways To Tell A Better Story

The Kick-Ass Writer

The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience

You can find most of Chuck’s advice on his blog, but these books occasionally contain advice that’s not online and that makes some things click in your brain machine. Good stuff, even if it’s a bit repetitive.

 


 

James Scott Bell

Elements of Fiction Writing - Conflict and Suspense Write Your Novel From The Middle The Art of War for Writers

 

 

 

 

Elements of Fiction Writing – Conflict and Suspense  |  Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between  |  The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises

From the master of suspense and tight plots come these two gems packed full of eye-openers. The plot-tightening tips in Conflict and Suspense were clear and easily applicable (can’t get enough of those), and the concept of the “Mirror Moment” was a huge help in untangling my messy middle.


 

Larry Brooks

Story PhysicsStory EngineeringStory Engineering  |  Story Physics: Harnessing the Underlying Forces of Storytelling

I love technical explanations, break-downs of processes and/or structures, logical splitting of hairs and (almost) graphic depictions of systems and functions. Give me that about fiction, and I’ll eat your pages. That said, Larry Brooks should get a doctor title in Structural Engineering of Stories.


 

Les Edgerton

Finding Your VoiceFinding Your Voice: How to Put Personality in Your Writing

A great, great book on elliminating the suffocating cacophony of voices of all those authors you’ve ever read and loved, and just being yourself, writing authentically and sounding natural in the process. It’s full of examples and exercises and AHA moments.

 

Hooked

Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go

This is definitely a must-read. Everyone knows your first chapter (or pages) matter, but HOW to make them grab a reader by the throat? With examples? And concise, you-cannot-refute-this-for-it-is-the-truth-that-will-save-your-fiction advice? This book has it. I love it. GO BUY IT.

 



The rest:

Advanced Plotting

Advanced Plotting – by Chris Eboch

Very useful for fine-tuning; but not really recommended if you’re just trying to figure out what “plot” means.

 

 

Bird by BirdBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – by Anne Lamott

I bought this books because of its many wonderful reviews, even though I don’t gain much from “personal story” types of encouragements; but maybe you will.

 

 

Elements of Fiction Writing - Characters & ViewpointElements of Fiction Writing – Characters & Viewpoint: Proven advice and timeless techniques for creating compelling characters by an award-winning author – by Orson Scott Card

Holy title-length, Batman! If you didn’t think Card was a bit insufferable before, you do now. But regardless of him otherwise being a douchebag, his advice on viewpoint is brilliant, and it has greatly enhanced my understanding of POVs and characters. Totally recommend this book.

 

Elements of Fiction Writing - Scene & Structure Elements of Fiction Writing – Scene & Structure – by Jack M. Bickham

Bought this book upon Les Edgerton’s urging and I’m super greatful I did — it’s one of those “technical” books that explains how scenes work, how story structure works, and why you’d be a fool not to harness their power to make your story hit home. Easily one of my favorites.

 

Emotional ThesaurusEmotional Thesaurus – by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

I’ve used this only rarely, as a way to find synonyms to “he frowned,” “she pursed her lips,” “his palms were sweaty.”

 

 

Fiction First AidFiction First Aid – by Raymond Obstfeld

Mildly useful, though if you buy any of the awesome books on structure & characterization in this list, this one here becomes pretty much obsolete.

 

 

Fire up Your FictionFire up Your Fiction: An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Stories – by Jodie Renner

I really liked this book. Exceptionally clear techniques to tighten your narrative (the book is chock-full of examples!) and “take your story to the next level” (argh, how I hate saying that, but it’s true).

 

How Not To Write A NovelHow Not to Write a Novel – by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman

Funny and enlightening, especially if other people’s mistakes make your chest inflate by two sizes. You won’t suck without it, though.

 

 

How to Write a Damn Good NovelHow to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling – by James N. Frey

Highly acclaimed as a “classic” in terms of writing advice, but frankly, I found it boring and stale.

 

 

How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake MethodHow to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method (Advanced Fiction Writing Book 1) – by Randy Ingermanson

This man’s articles on writing (available on his blog) have greatly helped me understand how telling stories really works, how characters are built, how plot develops, how scenes are best structured, how to bake chocolate-chip and rainbow cookies that will make you fly, and how to win at life. Forever. Ahem.

BUY THIS BOOK. And don’t be deterred by the fact that it is, in fact, a story itself. “Goldilocks writes a novel.” Fucking genius!

Nail Your NovelNail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence – by Roz Morris

This was among the very fist books on writing I ever read, and I remember thinking it’s good, but I don’t remember much else about it.

 

 

On WritingOn Writing – by Stephen King

Of course. It has no practical writing advice, but plenty of living-as-a-writer advice. It’s also encouraging.

 

 

On Writing HorrorOn Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association – by Mort Castle

A collection of essays. Some are useful, some are interesting, some are… filler. You choose which ones fit which description, because depending on your needs, your opinion might greatly differ from mine.

 

Outlining Your Novel

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success – by K.M. Weiland

Ideal for plotting beginners, and pantsers wondering “Why should I, really?”

 

 

 

Pitch Anything

Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal – by Oren Klaff

This book has nothing to do with writing fiction, and it has nothing to do with writing pitch lines or queries. Instead, it has everything to do with making sales pitches to boards of business decision makers, in person. It bears a shitton of insight into being assertive, interesting, intoxicatingly enthusiastic and utterly persuasive. And you will be glad about having mastered even 1/3 of these skills by the time you’re (proverbially) stuck in an elevator with an agent or editor of your dreams. Not to mention it will greatly improve your power when you say to your spouse or cohabiter (for the hundredth time) that you’re working hard to make your goddamn dream come true, here, okay?

Self-Editing for Fiction WritersSelf-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print – by Rennie Browne and Dave King

If you haven’t lived under a rock or in your own freakin writing shed, you probably heard of this book. It’s highly useful. ‘Nuff said.

 

 

StoryStory: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting – by Robert McKee

It’s a screenwriting book, but damn if I haven’t highlighted 80% of it. Nicholas Cage wasn’t kidding when he said this book is “extremely helpful.”

 

 

Story Trumps StructureStory Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules – by Steven James

I think what Steven James wants to say is that pantsing can be very rewarding, and that Story should take front seat to preset structure (I think we can all agree on that). But what he actually does say is that your story will only be the best it can be if it has internal coherence. If you… structure it along the way. Which is basically an argument in favor of structure. Attempted rebellion: FAIL. But the book is very useful nonetheless.

The Plot WhispererThe Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master – by Martha Alderson

Meh. Didn’t finish it. As one reviewer put it, “too little plotting, too much whispering.”

 

 

The War of Art

The War of Art – by Steven Pressfield

A great motivational book on overcomming inner resistance, putting that lazy fine ass in that chair AND WRITING.

 

 

ViolenceViolence: A Writer’s Guide – by Rory Miller

This book was absolutely awesome! It’s not written by a fiction writer (100 points for that!) but by an expert in violence (1000 points for that!) who’s lived with it, fought it, survived it, taught it, and trained to master it all his life. Top that with a psychology degree, so many black belts he could rappel down the Empire Building on them knotted to each other, and a crisp, clear, sometimes gut-twisting writing style, and you’ve got yourself set up for a trip into the non-Hollywoodian, actual reality of violence. You’ll never see, read or write fight scenes the same way again.

Absolutely one of my favorites in this list.

Wired For StoryWired For Story – by Lisa Cron

Very insightful glimpse into the workings of the human mind, and how to USE that kowledge to tell better stories. Applied psychology for fiction writers. Kinda cool.

 

 

Woe Is IWoe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English(Third Edition) – by Patricia T. O’Conner

Hilarious and refreshing approach to grammar, and absolutely a favorite. If only I could somehow embed all that knowledge into my neoronal network forever, that’s be great.

 

Word PaintingWord Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively

This book will teach you everything you’ll ever need to know about writing compelling descriptions that make your readers experience the story, not just read it. It’s helped me a great deal, and I’m still trying to apply everything I’ve learned from it (ganna read it yet again soon!).

 

Writing for Emotional ImpactWriting for Emotional Impact: Advanced Dramatic Techniques to Attract, Engage, and Fascinate the Reader from Beginning to End – by Karl Iglesias

Another screenwriting book, but a very very very good one that will teach you how to seduce the reader and ensnarl him/her into a long-lasting, satisfying relationship with your story.

 

Zen In The Art Of WritingZen In The Art Of Writing – by Ray Bradbury

You fans out there — don’t kill me, but I found this book incredibly boring. Most of the advice and/or quotes from Bradbury related to writing leave me cold. I just don’t feel it. NEXT.

 

 


 

Writing books I bought, but haven’t read yet:

Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction (Busy Writer’s Guides) – by Marcy Kennedy

Trough of Hell: How to Wrap Up the Middle of Your Story with Maximum Impact (Story Structure Essentials) – by H.R. D’Costa

30 Days In The Word Mines – by Chuck Wendig

Do you have any suggestions as to what else I should add to my TBR list?

 

If you’ve already read any of the books I mentioned (and I bet you have) — which was your favorite, and why? Also, which did you find a waste of time?

Hope you had a great start into the year (or at least a non-shitty one) (or at the very least one that motivates you to get up and kick some major ass this year)!

13 Replies to “Writing Advice Books – I Read Them All (I’d wish..)”

  1. I’ve read many of the ones listed and many more not listed–around 50 over a ten year period and I still read several craft books a year. How I did it was at first one a week, ( 0r at least one after the other) later one a month and now one every few months. I found that most of them say the same things but stated in different ways, or emphasizing different aspects of craft, which is helpful for warping your mind around it. At this point I could write one myself but I continue studying to keep my mind on craft and my heart in the game. Load the left brain and let the right brain rip. Works for me. I’ll mention a favorite of mine, Deb Dixon’s, (Griffin press POD) Goal, Motivation and Conflict.

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  2. I’m probably in the minority here, but I’ve read none of those. Except maybe a few chapters of King’s On Writing and Emotional Thesaurus (the blog version). To be honest, I don’t think I’ve missed out on something. I’m short on money to buy anything anyway. (Library is not an option either.)

    I have “Beginnings, Middles & Ends” by Nancy Kress and “Description” by Monica Wood (Elements of Fiction Writing series), and Science Fiction Writing Series edited by Ben Bova (“Aliens and Alien Societies”, etc.) These were somewhat helpful, but mostly during times when I was procrastinating and needed to find motivation to get my ass in chair and actually write.

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    1. Right, there’s plenty of free advice online, so buying books about it is definitely not a must. In fact, it can be quite a waste of time and a good way to procrastinate endlessly, since reading about writing techniques feels productive when, in fact, it isn’t. 🙂

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  3. Hey Veronica,
    Thank you so much for the shout-out of my little books–I really appreciate it and am just glad you found them useful. I’ve got most of the others you posted and saw some new ones I’m gonna glom onto! You rock!

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  4. Hi Vero,
    What a great list–thank you for reviewing these. I love the books that really teach story structure and technique. . . the autobiographical ones, not so much. Some of them are interesting, but others are “all about me the writer”. My current favorite is The Anatomy of Story, by John Truby. Caroline Leavitt uses it to teach an online class I’m taking through Stanford U.

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  5. I recommend the Wendig books. Although I don’t agree with all of his advice, he keeps reiterating that we shoud “Shut the fuck up and just write”. Which is pretty much the only information an author should pay attention to.

    If you’re dabbling with Dramatica Pro and don’t find the theory easy going, they provide a very useful, large and free explanatory book on their website. They also offer a free cartoon version if you can’t stand reading dense literary theory.

    If you’re new to writing, then stick to Veronica’s article on character arcs: it’s pretty much all you need to know.

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  6. Coming a bit late into this post, but just wanted to add Alexandra Sokoloff’s Screenwriting Tricks for Authors to the mix. I love her movie-breakdowns at the end of the book.

    I really liked Deb Dixon’s Goal Motivation Conflict as well.

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