February 19, 2015

What Are Your Favorite Writing-Related Books?

Shadow of reading glasses create a heart on a book with text: What Are Your Favorite Writing Books?

I spent a couple of hours yesterday playing with a plugin my Tech Guy installed on my site. (If you’re hosted with TechSurgeons as well, you might be able to get it on your site too if you ask Jay, our very own tech genius.)

The plugin is called MyBookTable and allows me to list books in different categories and offer buy links. Useful plugin for authors, right? *smile*

In my For Writers section, I created a page to list my favorite writing craft and reference books. I’ve added several books that I thought of off the top of my head, but I know I’m forgetting a bunch too.

When we start down the writing path, we have a lot to learn. We might have to learn story structure or the basics of grammar. Many an author has had to learn about point of view options or techniques for showing instead of telling.

And that’s just covering some of the basics of writing craft issues. We might also want to study query writing, how to self-edit, or how to self-publish—and there are books to cover all those topics and more.

So let me share the books I thought of yesterday (and more importantly, let me share why they were useful enough to be top of mind), and let’s see what others have to add as suggestions. *smile*

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression

Emotion Thesaurus coverThis book has been my #1 Go-To Writing Help book ever since it released. With 2 full pages of ideas about how to show character emotions for each of the 75 different entries, we can learn endless options for the physical signs, internal thoughts, and internal sensations (visceral reactions) for every emotion, whether the character is the point-of-view character or not.

I could go on for pages and gush about the awesomeness of this book. *grin* Instead I’ll just point you to my post about how we can use this resource to improve our writing.

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

Positive Trait Thesaurus coverNegative Trait Thesaurus coverFinding the perfect mix of strengths and weaknesses for our characters can be difficult. We need to choose the right blend of strengths that make them admirable and worth rooting for—without making it too easy for them to succeed—and we need to figure out which flaws best fit our characters.

These books, cousins to the Emotion Thesaurus above, are great tools for creating three-dimensional characters. Check out the guest post by Becca (one of the co-authors) for more about how these books can be used in our writing.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself into Print

Self-edit Book CoverIn this book, two editors step us through the process of editing our own work. They cover most of the major issues all writers—and newer writers especially—tend to struggle with in the pursuit of better writing.

No matter how we plan to publish, we should strive for a cleaner manuscript. If we’re taking the traditional publishing path, quality writing craft makes it more likely an agent will request our pages. If we plan to self-publish, I wouldn’t recommend relying only on our own editing abilities and skipping an outside edit, but improving our prose the best we can on our own ensures that a freelance editor will be able to focus on the issues we can’t fix ourselves.

The Power Of Point Of View: Make Your Story Come To Life

Point of View Book CoverMany writers struggle to understand the differences between distant and close third person point of view, or when first person might work better than a close third (or vice versa). This book will make us a POV expert. Learn about the different styles of point of view, from omniscient third person to close first person—and everything in between.

This book is perfect for those of us unsure about the differences between point-of-view styles or those who wonder which style is right for our story. Most of what I learned about POV started with this book.

Story Engineering: Master the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing

Story Engineering coverYes, this book has a strong anti-pantser (writing by the seat of our pants) bias, and I’ve pointed out before that story failures are more often a symptom of not understanding story structure than with pantsing methodologies. Pantsing and plotting strategies can both fail or succeed, and in either case, those who understand story structure will be more likely to come out with a coherent story.

Pantsers able to ignore that naysaying, or those who plot in advance, will find a great discussion of story structure within these pages. Don’t miss my post or worksheet to help writers of any length stories use this structure.

Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need

Cover image of Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat"This book isn’t my favorite for learning story structure (and it’s geared toward screenwriters rather than novelists), but it is a classic that literally “wrote the book” on many story structure ideas and strategies (like the concept of beats and beat sheets).

It reveals audience (or in our case, reader) reasons for why stories are structured the way they are, and that’s good for every writer to understand. Don’t miss my post about how writers of any length stories can use this structure.

Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go

Hooked Book CoverWe’ve discussed the importance of story openings many times here before, from how to avoid first-page clichés to what makes readers close a book. Grabbing readers’ attention is an important skill because if our story has a bad beginning, no one will keep reading. Period. The end.

Whether we traditionally publish or self-publish, a great beginning is a necessity. This book covers the elements inherent to any great beginning and can help us overcome weak openings.

That’s a start for a few books that I’ve read and appreciated, but I’m missing loads, I’m sure. I don’t have any grammar books up there. Or any publishing industry or self-publishing books. Etc., etc. So I suspect this page of recommendations will be a work in progress. *smile*

What are your favorite writing-related books? What makes them your favorites? What books have helped you the most in your writing journey? How have they helped? Is there an area that you still struggle with and want recommendations for books in that specialty?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Lara Gallin
Lara Gallin

I’m pleased to say I have five of those 🙂 I’m feeling a little reluctant to buy any more right now, I’m overwhelmed with what I’ve got!


Jami, you are too good to Becca and I! This plug in looks great…I will have to snag it to convert my suggest reading page, too. You and Jay find the best stuff, I swear.


Goal, Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon

This book has been invaluable to me. Amazon has copies at outrageous prices, but you can go to the website and get a hardback copy for $20 bucks.

SJ Holmwood

Jami, here are a few of my favorites:

– Writing Alone And With Others, by Pat Schneider
– Novel Ideas, by Shoup and Denman
– The Plot Thickens, by Noah Lukeman
– Page After Page, by Heather Sellers
– Chapter After Chapter, by Heather Sellers
– Writiing The Wave, by Elizabeth Ayres

Laurie Evans

I just finished Shoot Your Novel: Cinematic Techniques to Supercharge Your Writing by C. S. Lakin.

Loved this book!

Ron C. Nieto

I love MyBookTable. After a hundred iterations through my website, that’s the one plugin I will swear by. I use it to showcase my own fiction, but I really like what you’re doing: it’s a wonderful way to recommend your favorites!

Also: The Emotion Thesaurus. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and after an author friend sang its praises, I finally relented and ordered my own print copy. It’ll be here my Tuesday! I hope it’ll be as cool and useful as everyone says 🙂

Thanks for sharing!

Julie Glover

I share several of the same favorites. Also on my list are:

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. One I recommend often! Great insight on what keeps a reader reading.

My Story Trumps Your Story. Written by a screenwriter, but this one made so much sense to me about character arcs and plot points. I’m currently using some of the perspectives on my WIP and feel like it’s flowing better in the first draft.

2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron. By no means do I write 10k words a day, but I appreciated the tips Aaron gave and use several to make sure my writing is on track.

Thanks for the list, Jami! I will definitely be checking out the POV book you mentioned.

Kait Nolan

Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, and Conflict (Now available on Kindle after being almost impossible to find in print) and Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering.

Jami's Tech Guy (Jay)

Thanks for the mention Jami! I’m happy the plugin is working well for you! 🙂



Thanks for the list, Jami. I can second your recommendation of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Another good one for revising is Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon, who also wrote A Writers Guide to Fiction, which is really good. Other favorites: Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel, and Morrell’s Between the Lines: Master the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing.

Robert Doucette
Robert Doucette

This is a good list and I also like some of those listed by fellow commenters. My first best book on writing is an impossible to find Air Force manual called Tongue and Quill written in 1977. Even though I went to a good high school, this is where I first learned about the errors of passive voice, run-on sentences, and stilted, overly “academic” writing styles. It taught me to write to my audience in an appropriate conversational style.

But, Jami, when are we going to see your book on writing?

Addy Rae
Addy Rae

I’ve found many writing books useful some of which are listed in the comments or your post, but my other favorites right now are:

Writing 21st Century Fiction – Donald Maass
The Fire in Fiction – Donald Maass
Writing with Emotion, Tension, & Conflict – Cheryl St.John
Structuring Your Novel – K.M. Weiland

I will admit that my writing book collection is getting out of hand. My husband has limited me to one shelf only, and I am slowly stuffing that shelf to the gills. 😉

Karen McFarland

All excellent books! I happened to have several, although I really like Self Editing for Fiction Writers. That is an invaluable tool. And for some reason, any craft book written by James Scott Bell resonates with me. I guess it’s how my brain is wired. lol. Let’s not go there, okay? And I find your post on craft very helpful too! Thank you Jami! 🙂

E.G. Moore

I’m currently reading hooked and let’s just say that I am! haha. I’ve heard of the emotional thesaurus but haven’t got a copy yet. Might need to add the rest of these to my goodreads list.

Thanks for sharing!

Renee Regent

HA! I had JUST gotten off of Amazon where I was ordering craft books, two of which were on your list!
You are starting to freak me out, Jami! lol


The book that probably influenced me most in thinking about story is Al Zuckerman’s “Writing the Blockbuster Novel”, which has a lot of advice that’s simultaneously practical and adaptable – even though it’s all about “mainstream blockbusters” and I write fantasy fiction.

On the fantasy front, Jeff Vandermeer’s “Wonderbook” was a fantastic reminder to indulge your creativity.

Julie Musil

I’ve read a few of these. My absolute go-to book when prepping for a new book is Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. And once I’m on draft 2 or 3, the Emotion Thesaurus is a must.

becca puglisi
becca puglisi

Gah! I’ll be honest. I never get tired of seeing our books in such good company :). Thanks for the shout out, Jami. And I really need to check out Hooked.

becca puglisi
becca puglisi

Oops! Forgot to mention that one of my favorites is Structuring Your Story, by KM Weiland. I’d also like to second Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Save the Cat :).


I’m a huge fan of Holly Lisle’s writing aids (full disclosure: affiliate link). I’m particularly fond of her “Create a […] Clinic” guides. The Create a Language Clinic enabled me to quickly produce the rules for several conlangs for my epic fantasy series, with notes about tweaks dependent on dialect.

I bought the first edition of the 4-book set, years ago, and then bought them again when she updated and revised them. She more recently released a new one in the series—Create a World Clinic—which is on my to-buy list.


Good reference books; I own three or four of them. I’d have to check my book shelf.

Jeanette O'Hagan

Some great books there 🙂 I’ve also enjoyed

Stephen King’s On Writing;
Rayne Hall’s Word-Loss Diet for Writers
James Scott Bell Write Your Novel from the Middle
Jill Elizabeth Nelson Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View

Kathryn Goldman


A crowd-sourced list of the best writing craft books. What a great way to showcase the plug-in. And what a great plug-in.

I think we should add Strunk & White, The Elements of Style, just because, you know . . . Strunk & White.

Also, here’s a time-turner. *hands over small golden box with dials and knobs* So now you can write a craft book for us.



The Elements of Style by Strunk & White is not a good reference. Beg pardon for yelling, but it was designed as a house style guide for a specific university, to apply to nonfiction, and has outright errors in it.

Jennifer M

Those all sound like some handy books! Right now, I’m going through Self-Editing for Fiction Writers with my manuscrip, and it’s quite helpful!

Here are some other favorites of mine:
The Nighttime Novelst by Joseph Bates
Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg
Worlds of Wonder by David Gerrold


I’d like to add Super Structure: The Key to Unleashing the Power of Story, by James Scott Bell. I found his take on structure to be very useful – a 14-point analysis that includes such fun signposts as “Pet the Dog,” “The Q Factor,” “Lights Out,” and at midpoint, “The Mirror Moment.”

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