Books on writing

These are books on writing craft and business that helped me a lot when I first started writing, so many of these are rather old. I haven't read all the different writing books out there, and I haven't read many of the newer writing books, so this list isn't comprehensive, it's just a list of the books that helped me the most. (Updated 11/21/2019)

Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain

Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein

Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon

Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors by Brandilyn Collins

45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress

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

Finding Your Writer's Voice by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall

Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman's Guide to Igniting the Writer Within by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

The Writer’s Brainstorming Kit: Thinking in New Directions by Pam McCutcheon and Michael Waite


Techniques of the Selling Writer
by
Dwight V. Swain

This book helped me understand the principles of solid plotlines and scenes that hook the reader to the end. He’s a bit long-winded at times, but easy to read. It’s a classic, and can probably be found in your local library or through inter-library loan, and it's now also available as an ebook.

I also wrote a series of articles based on Swain’s book.

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Scene and Structure
by
Jack Bickham

This is almost all the same stuff as in Techniques of the Selling Writer, but written in a different style that's a bit easier to read than Swain.

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Plot and Structure
by
James Scott Bell

This is a terrific, more modern alternative to Swain’s book. Bell lays out the basics of solid novel structure that can be used by Pantsers or Plotters. Very easy to read with useful exercises.

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Stein on Writing
by
Sol Stein

Some people find Swain difficult to read, and many writers suggest Stein’s book as a good alternative. They both cover the basics of good, solid writing.


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Goal, Motivation and Conflict
by
Debra Dixon

This is the classic book on characterization. Many of the character weaknesses I see in contest entries include lack external or internal goals, believable motivation, and/or sufficient conflict to carry the story.

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Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors
by
Brandilyn Collins

I tend to find that the underlying values and traits of my characters drive the plotline. Brandilyn’s method is one of the most unique ways to create truly three-dimensional characters. It was amazing how this book helped me add more depth, believability, consistency and intriguing behavioral traits to my story people.

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45 Master Characters
by
Victoria Lynn Schmidt

This is another method for character development using mythic models as archetypes. This book also goes into both the Hero's Journey and the Heroine's Journey, which are different from each other. The Heroine's Journey, especially, was described in excellent detail. I found this book very useful for both bringing out the interesting extremes in my characters, and also for ideas on how to make them unique by turning the archetype on its head.

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Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
by
Renni Browne and Dave King

Writing today differs from when Jane Austen was accepted for publication, or even a few years ago when Nora Roberts was just starting her career. Editors look for certain technical aspects that separate the amateur from the professional. These techniques helped me tighten my writing and bring it to the next level. It especially helped that my critique partner also read this book, so I had two sets of eyes going through the same editing processes.

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Writing the Breakout Novel
by
Donald Maass

This book really brought my writing to the next level. Maass focuses on the common essences of the breakout novels written, both past and contemporary. His principles applied to an outlined novel can kick it up a notch and add depth. I especially like the Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, which has excellent exercises to help me draw the most conflict and interest out of my storyline and characters. Using the workbook is a lot like going to one of his all-day workshops.

Writing the Breakout Novel:
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Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook:
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Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint
by
Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress is a well-known and highly respected writing teacher, and this book is one of the most comprehensive I’ve seen on viewpoint. It shows how character and emotion are tightly woven together with viewpoint, and how a skillful understanding of all three concepts makes for great fiction. She goes into a lot of detail on different aspects of character and viewpoint, and the exercises at the end of each chapter are also useful.

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

This is a fantastic guide for a variety of writing topics. It’s meant for screenwriters, but his philosophy is that screenwriters need to write for readers first, since that’s the first gatekeeper to getting a script bought, so his principles are applicable to novelists as well. He has a good chapter on hook—what can make your book unique and original—and also one on theme that’s one of the best I’ve read yet.

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Finding Your Writer's Voice
by
Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall

This book gave great exercises for developing my writer’s voice further. Not all the exercises resonated with me, but most of them were terrific to help me define and emphasize my voice more. I can’t stress enough how writers need to develop their writer’s voice to allow them to stand out from other manuscripts in the same genre, especially if they’re writing for a currently hot genre like romantic suspense.

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Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman's Guide to Igniting the Writer Within
by
Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

This is one of the best books I've read on how to find both time and motivation to write, and it also has some fantastic writing exercises that you can do in fifteen minutes. This is a great book to read a chapter and jump-start your creativity or work through writer's block, and the short chapters are perfect for a busy writer to read during a short break or while waiting for something (or someone). I thoroughly enjoyed this book as a source of inspiration and encouragement.

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The Writer’s Brainstorming Kit: Thinking in New Directions
by Pam McCutcheon and Michael Waite

Based on Debra Dixon’s “Goal, Motivation, Conflict,” this book and card deck provide hundreds of ideas. Randomly chosen cards can then create innovative, unique characters or plotlines. This can also serve to jump-start creative avenues for enhancing cliché plot devices or suggesting depth to cardboard characters.

The ebook is available, but the card deck (and hardcover book) can only be ordered directly from Gryphon Books for Writers (http://www.gryphonbooksforwriters.com/, ISBN 0965437140)

In lieu of the card deck, you can also use a random number generator, since each of the sections is numbered (I actually lost my card deck recently so that's what I do when I'm fishing for ideas).

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