Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Best Writing Craft Books

Caitlin here. :) I think it’s so easy to get caught up in thinking that this next craft book will open the door for you and make writing a cinch! I’ve had periods in my life where I read more craft books than any other kind of book, which, by the way, I don’t recommend at all. To be a writer, you need to read widely!

So, I enter into this blog post warily and with a big disclaimer: DON’T GET TRAPPED IN THE CRAFT BOOK CYCLE. There are many ways to become a better writer—I’d rate reading (non-craft books), writing (oh, yeah, the actual craft), critiquing (both receiving and giving), and observing (you know, the stuff that you will be writing about) as more important activities than reading craft books.

But that isn’t to say there aren’t some great craft books out there.  Here are a few that I find especially helpful and that I recommend again and again.

The Basics
You need to know the rules before you break them. So, what are the rules?

On Writing Well, William Zinsser
The Elements of Style, Strunk and White

Getting at the Heart of Writing
Why do we write? And how can we get past the fear and other mind traps that keep us from writing?

Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
The 90-Day Novel, Alan Watt (Note: you don’t even have to follow the day-by-day guide [I didn’t! :-P], but the soul-nurturing advice helped me get through a lot of mental obstacles. I don’t think I would have written my first novel if I’d never read this)

Working Out Plots
What is a “story” anyway? And why do readers burn the midnight oil (or Kindle back light) on some books and toss aside others?
Story Engineering, Larry Brooks
Wired for Story, Lisa Cron

What about you? What are some craft books that you think are utterly indispensable?

Dan: I try to be selective in the writing-craft books that I pick up, because I know in my heart that each one is a considerable time investment that I'll "count" as writing time. And while I may learn some valuable things, the word count won't move while I'm reading. I second your recommendation of Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. I've just been working through that stuff, and find it very useful for structuring my novels.

I'm a little surprised you didn't mention On Writing by Stephen King, which is both a memoir and a book about craft, enjoyable even if you don't read much King. If you've ever done NaNoWriMo or just like the idea of writing a novel fast, then I recommend Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem! Finally, for SFF authors I thinkThe Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells is essential.
that reading Ben Bova's

Karlie: I really love The Negative Trait Thesauraus: A Writer's Guide to Character Flaws by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. The companion book, The Positive Trait Thesaurus, is also invaluable. Not only do these books help create a well-rounded and believable character, they also help show how certain characters would react to those with different traits. I highly recommend them.

As far as plot goes, Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell is an exceptional resource. Brandilyn Collins' Getting Into Character is one of my personal favorites as well.

Lisa: Okay, are you ready for this? I've never cracked the spine of a craft book. I do read craft blogs ALL the time, and I have my favorite websites for character research (especially Myer Briggs personality test Just no craft books. Isn't that crazy? So, don't look at me as an example on the right direction to take as far as developing writing skills. However, I am a huge participant of active reading (not that I'm against craft books at all). I learn by example what I'd like to do or not do, what works and doesn't work. For me and my style of learning, this is a much more effective approach. We'll soon see if my approach is a sink or swim.

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