As a fiction writer for the past twelve years, I’m always searching to improve. Beta readers, specialized courses, and above all reading about the craft.
Mostly, over the past decade, I’ve built up a collection of resource books from professionals in the writing field, from authors and agents alike. I’m sharing the best of my crop with you today, including a link to the novels and my personal review of each. I hope you enjoy, and if you find these useful, let me know!
“20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them”, by Ronald Tobias,
and 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters, by Victoria Schmidt
20 Master Plots and 45 Master Characters, I literally do not leave home without these when I plan to be writing! I’ve taken them with me from Maine, to Wisconsin, to Texas! Some of the contemporary suggestions might be a little out of date at this point (example for Archetype ‘Hera’ include characters from Roseanne, Friends, and Malcom in the Middle). It might need a new edition to update with character that are relevant to newer tv show or movie culture. But the building of plots and the character references are well-spelled out for the audience in timeless references as well, particularly if you know a bit of mythology. These books are straight-forward and to the point.
This was the first book to spell out for me exactly what I was doing wrong when it came to writing, grammar, structure and so forth. It has become such an invaluable tool for me. I have this one annotated with sticky notes. I will note though that, like with anything out there giving suggestions on writing style–as it does in parts–it comes down to YOU. Stay true to your own voice. But I guarantee there are things this book will point out to you about your writing that you never would have noticed otherwise.
This book is hilarious and humbling. Ever take yourself way too seriously? You NEED this book! With rules like “Take the Prozac”, telling you that your muse is not because you are crazy and that being healthy will HELP you, and ” Go for Broke”, telling you to STOP saving your “best material” because you’re not helping it you’re just letting it lose much of its vitality. This book, as one reviewer put it, speaks to the uncertain beginning writer in all of us. And it does so while educating, entertaining, and enlightening.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King
This book appears on so many lists of “writer must reads”, and with good reason! It’s not often that you can take lessons from a prolific author like Mr. King. He is certainly a good mentor to have in book-form if you don’t have one in person. Like many of the non-horror fiction books I’ve read by King, this part-reference book part-memoir by my fellow New Englander made me wish it would never end. I wanted to spend a little more time with the narrator, learning from him. King has a lot of great, steady insight about writing, and a very real take on the publishing process.
How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide, by Howard Mittelmark
The perfect answer to any writer’s shelf filled with too many dry self-help books. How Not to Write A Novel provides hilarious examples of “yer doin’ it wrong” and explains WHY. Which any writer–but especially ones new to the world of editing and seeking publication–need to read. I re-read this one every year or so to remind myself not to take the whole publishing thing too deadly seriously. If you don’t enjoy the REST of your life, your writing life will definitely suffer. Beyond the swift kick to reality, this book is genuinely a great source of tips and tricks to keep any writer working through their first, second, or final draft.
Writing the Breakout Novel: Insider Advice for Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level, by Donald Maass
A well-known literary agent, Donald Maass presents advice for writers here that is very earnest and doesn’t bullshit you. I read this while revamping a story and I would like to “blame” it for helping the novel reach some of the last stages with two of the largest publishers in the US business. Mr. Maass helps you dress your novel, upping the ante where it needs it, and trimming the fat that–while interesting to you–might not be so interesting to respected professionals in the field. Not for everyone, for sure, but great for people writing commercial fiction.
There is also a Workbook of the same title, so double-check that you grab the right one!
No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days, by Chris Baty
National Novel Writing Month, or Nanowrimo, founder Chris Baty gives folks the opportunity to use the his methods at any month of the year. Hundreds of thousands of writers and authors every year take the month of November and finish a 50,000 word story. If you have the self-discipline, this will work wonders at any month. If you need more intensive and writing buddies, the forums on the site are always open!
Book in a Month: The Fool-Proof System for Writing a Novel in 30 Days, by Victoria Lynn Schmidt
By the same woman who wrote 45 Master Characters, this is the more recent book I purchased for writing before I had that total writing meltdown. It was like a last-ditch effort to keep me writing. And it worked for a while but ultimately my own miserable time and being obsessed with getting things done won out. Which is unfortunate because this is a great book. It had helpful exercises, different ones than from the Nanowrimo book which was nice to see. I recommend this for people who like their advice or resource books to be a little more interactive!
And a bonus 10th book:
The Nasty Little Writing Book: Longtime New York Publishing Insider Reveals Secrets Only Best-Selling Authors Know, by Madelyne Simone Rovenhauer
I have yet to check this one out, but I’m posting it here as a reminder to myself. It’s been a while since I last bought a new reference book and since I’ve experienced great results using writing books, this is what I plan to purchase next. I will give it a review once I’ve seen how it works out. The title is entirely intriguing and sparks the right tone! It looks to be biting and harsh, and I hope I can find some interesting tidbits in it.