In honor of NaNoWriMo: My favorite books on writing better

I’ve been writing since college – full-length novels and trilogies – with the aim of becoming published.

I know I’m not the best writer, especially when it comes to character development and worldbuilding. But I’m eager to learn!

Over the past few years, I’ve read/studied a number of books on the craft of writing, everything from tension & conflict, to character development, to the 3-part story arc.

Here’s a list of the best books I’ve read on how to develop and hone your writing. I’ll keep adding to this list as I read more exceptional writing books.

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction: 6 Steps to Writing and Publishing Your Bestseller! by Philip Athans

Rating: 5/5 stars

Science fiction and fantasy is one of the most challenging–and rewarding!–genres in the bookstore. But with New York Times bestselling author Philip Athans and fantasy giant R. A. Salvatore at your side, you’ll create worlds that draw your readers in–and keep them reading!

Just as important, you’ll learn how to prepare your work for today’s market. Drawing on his years of experience as one of the most acclaimed professionals in publishing, Wizards of the Coast editor Athans explains how to set your novel apart–and break into this lucrative field.

From devising clever plots and building complex characters to inventing original technologies and crafting alien civilizations, Athans gives you the techniques you need to write strong, saleable narratives.

My Review: This isn’t just great for writing sci-fi and fantasy, but it does draw its examples from books of those genres. This one was very good at learning the how-tos of writing, including techniques on worldbuilding, plotting, and characterization. It’s an all-in-one reference guide that I found helpful and marked up with a ton of notes and highlighting.

Amazon Link

Write Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget: A Toolkit for Emerging Writers by Stant Litore

Rating: 5/5 stars

I just don’t care enough about your character.

“Write Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget” is a toolkit for addressing that issue. Packed with 30 exercises, abundant examples, and practical strategies, this guidebook will help you write unforgettable characters who “come alive” on the page, create compelling dialogue, and chart a more breathtaking emotional journeys for your characters.

Stant Litore is the author of “The Ansible Stories, The Zombie Bible, The Running of the Tyrannosaurs, ” and “Dante’s Heart.” Best known for his weird fiction, alternate history, and scifi, he has taught frequent courses for writers across the genres and has served as a developmental editor for Westmarch Publishing. His own fiction has been acclaimed by NPR, has served as the subject of scholarly work in “Relegere” and “Weird Fiction Review, ” and he has been hailed as “SF’s premier poet of loneliness.” He lives in Colorado with his wife and two daughters, and is working on his next book.

My Review: This one was GREAT! and convinced me to buy other Stant Litore books on writing. I learned a ton from this smaller guide, which is no-nonsense and PACKED with tips on how to improve your skills. I highly recommend this one. I also marked this one up with a ton of notes and highlighting.

Amazon Link

Writing Monsters: How to Craft Believably Terrifying Creatures to Enhance Your Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction by Philip Athans

Rating: 5/5 stars

Monsters are more than things that go bump in the night…

Monsters are lurking in the woods, beneath the waves, and within our favorite books, films, and games–and there are good reasons why they appear so often. Monsters are manifestations of our fears and symbols of our society–not to mention they’re a lot of fun–but each should serve a purpose and enhance the themes and tension in your fiction.

In Writing Monsters, best-selling author Philip Athans uses classic examples from books, films, and the world around us to explore what makes monsters memorable–and terrifying. You’ll learn what monsters can (and should) represent in your story and how to create monsters from the ground up.

Writing Monsters includes:In-depth discussions of where monsters come from, what they symbolize, and how to best portray them in fiction Informative overviews of famous monsters, archetypes, and legendary creatures A Monster Creation Form to help you create your monster from scratch An annotated version of H.P. Lovecraft’s chilling story “The Unnamable” Whether you write fantasy, science fiction, or horror, your vampires, ghouls, aliens, and trolls need to be both compelling and meaningful. With Writing Monsters, you can craft creatures that will wreak havoc in your stories and haunt your readers’ imaginations–and nightmares.

My Review: This was also a really helpful book – focusing on monsters, but the skills can be used to create characters in general. Another one marked up with notes and highlighting.

Amazon Link

How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript by James Scott Bell

Rating: 5/5 stars

You may know the fundamentals of how to write fiction. You may be more than competent in plot, structure and characters. But if your dialogue is dull it will drag the whole story down.

On the other hand, if your dialogue is crisp and full of tension it immediately grabs the reader. And if that reader is an agent or editor, sharp dialogue will give them instant assurance that you know what you’re doing as a writer.

Writing a bestseller or hot screenplay is no easy task, but dazzling dialogue is an absolute essential if you want to get there.

The best part is, the skills of the dialogue craft are easy to understand and put into practice. #1 bestselling writing coach James Scott Bell has put together and expanded upon the dialogue lectures from his popular writing seminars. In How to Write Dazzling Dialogue you’ll learn:

  • What fictional dialogue is … and isn’t
  • The 11 secrets of crafting memorable dialogue
  • The 5 essential tasks of dialogue
  • 5 ways to improve your dialogue ear
  • 4 can’t-miss methods to increase conflict and tension in any dialogue exchange
  • The top 10 dialogue issues, and how to resolve them

My Review: Great for learning to pay attention to the nuances of real conversation and bringing your character dialogues to life. I found this helpful in thinking about how people/characters speak and how to leverage that understanding in my writing. I found my dialogue improving as I learned to add in body language and other nuances, and bring focus to what the character is really saying, even if they’re not speaking at all or saying something they don’t mean.

Amazon Link

The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma by Angela Ackerman, Becca Puglisi 

Rating: 5/5 stars

Readers connect to characters with depth, ones who have experienced life’s ups and downs. To deliver key players that are both realistic and compelling, writers must know them intimately—not only who they are in the present story, but also what made them that way. Of all the formative experiences in a character’s past, none are more destructive than emotional wounds. The aftershocks of trauma can change who they are, alter what they believe, and sabotage their ability to achieve meaningful goals, all of which will affect the trajectory of your story.

Identifying the backstory wound is crucial to understanding how it will shape your character’s behavior, and The Emotional Wound Thesaurus can help. Inside, you’ll find:

• A database of traumatic situations common to the human experience
• An in-depth study on a wound’s impact, including the fears, lies, personality shifts, and dysfunctional behaviors that can arise from different painful events
• An extensive analysis of character arc and how the wound and any resulting unmet needs fit into it
• Techniques on how to show the past experience to readers in a way that is both engaging and revelatory while avoiding the pitfalls of info dumps and telling
• A showcase of popular characters and how their traumatic experiences reshaped them, leading to very specific story goals
• A Backstory Wound Profile tool that will enable you to document your characters’ negative past experiences and the aftereffects

Root your characters in reality by giving them an authentic wound that causes difficulties and prompts them to strive for inner growth to overcome it. With its easy-to-read format and over 100 entries packed with information, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus is a crash course in psychology for creating characters that feel incredibly real to readers.

My Review: The writer’s thesaurus books are a staple for anyone who’s serious about their writing skills. I found this one helpful in thinking deeper about each character’s wounds and why they behave and think the way they do. I thought I was already doing that, but realize I wasn’t going deep enough after reading this book.

Amazon Link

Write Fight Scenes: Six Simple Steps to Action Sequences That Will Wow Your Readers by Christine Haggerty

Rating: 3/5 stars

Your Badass Guide to Writing Fights Right! These six simple steps will shift your fight scenes from good to great

Assess your audience
If you are including a fight/action scene, you are writing genre fiction, NOT literary fiction
Prewrite, this should probably also involve pictures and toys and maybe some movies or video games
Consider the amount of training and experience your character has, what is their relationship with violence?
“The point of the set-up is to create context for the fight so that the actual fight can be written as nothing but a nitty gritty sequence of action measure in heartbeats.”
Emotional fallout is the point of a fight scene in a story.  How does this situation affect your characters?

My Review: Gives a raw foundation of where and how to start thinking about things, but if you’re looking for something more in-depth, this isn’t the book you need. However, I learned how to begin approaching fight scenes, so the book did its job.

Amazon Link

Cover Image taken from MarcellaPurnama

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