Books on Writing

Getting Started

Reassurance

Theory & Technique

Genre

Utility

Getting Started

Writing Down the Bones

By Natalie Goldberg

This is a good primer for anyone just starting out. Metaphorical scenarios confront readers with their own fears, tackling myths, misconceptions, and mental blocks that prevent a fledgling writer from getting started. Techniques focus on jump starting the writing process, rather than refining the skills.

Reassurance

For Writers Only

By Sophy Burnham

Despite the title this is actually a good book for any artist. Where most books focus on technique or theory, this book focuses on comfort and encouragement. On every left page readers find inspirational quotes, while the right page is filled with simple stories that demonstrate how to live a happy life while struggling to write, placing a strong emphasis on self-patience.

Writing Theory & Technique

Characters & Viewpoint

By Orson Scott Card

While the book focuses on characters, it also provides a brief overview of all four aspects of writing (characters, plot, setting, and ideas), sometimes referred to as the MICE quotient. This helps contextualize the information. The material is very practical, offering hands on techniques in how to create a character, match them with a suitable story, or develop a story around the character, and how to use and change the character over the course of the story.

I recommend reading Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead first, as examples of strong characters. See if anyone you know has also read them or would like to, particularly someone who enjoys discussing stories. Or write an analysis/review of the story. Start with what you liked/didn’t like, and why. This is a good way to solidify your own ideas before comparing them to those of the author.

Plot & Structure

By James Scott Bell

This book briefly touches upon the big four (character, plot, setting, and idea), before focusing on plot. It’s a straight forward, practical outline of the more common patterns and mechanics that provide structure to a story. Topics include linear, circular, and spiral plot patterns, the four types of scene, as well as common problems and how to fix them. Most of the information will feel familiar, but I found it helpful to have the information spelled out so plainly.

The Anatomy of Story

By John Truby

Mr. Truby offers a perspective on stories and storytelling that I have not seen before. He emphasizes the relationships and connections between elements, proponing that every aspect can only be defined and developed by how it compares to and relates to others. His book includes numerous lists of steps or phases, both for developing a character or story idea, and how the character or story itself should evolve over the course of the experience. He consistently provides half a dozen well known examples, ranging from Shakespeare to popular movies, and places a strong emphasis on what one “should do”, which helped me realize how often writing advice relies on “don’ts” (don’t use adverbs, don’t tell, etc.). I highly recommend this book to anyone who finds themselves recognizing what makes a specific story strong, but has a more difficult time recognizing the underlying patterns that are common among most strong stories.

Steering the Craft

By Ursula K. Le Guin

A concrete look at the mechanics of good writing; sentence structure & length, grammar & word choices, and an assortment of exercises to help audiences understand.

Genre

The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy Volume 1

Edited by Darin Park & Tom Dullemond

Writing Monsters: How to Craft Believably Terrifying Creatures to Enhance Your Horror

By Philip Athans

Utility Books

Books that feature an index of information that one might consult, rather than read cover to cover.

The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws

By Angela Ackerman

A very useful index of character flaws, complete with suggestions for “other character flaws” that would naturally come into conflict with “this one”, a good way to build conflict into characters that surround the main protagonist or antagonist.

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