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:
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 – 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 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 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 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 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.
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 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!
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 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 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: Map Your Way to Success – by K.M. Weiland
Ideal for plotting beginners, and pantsers wondering “Why should I, really?”
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 Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print – by Rennie Browne and Dave King
Story: 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.”
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 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 – by Steven Pressfield
A great motivational book on overcomming inner resistance, putting that
lazy fine ass in that chair AND WRITING.
Violence: 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 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 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.
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!).
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 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
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)!