Seven unique books for writers

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The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing: Everything You Need to Know to Create and Sell Your Work by the Editors of Writer’s Digest is, as the title suggests, a great all-around guide to writing novels. It’s divided into five parts:

  • The Art and Craft of a Strong Narrative (divided into subsections “Inspiration and Ideas,” “Plot and Structure,” “Characters,” and “Craft and Style”)

  • The Writing Process (divided into subsections “Getting Started,” “Rituals and Methods,” and “Revision and Editing”)

  • Exploring Novel Genres

  • Finding and Cultivating a Market for Your Work (includes information on writing queries, writing synopses, and self-promoting)

  • Interviews with Novelists

The great thing about this book is that it covers the entire process— from idea inception to publishing and everything in between.

6. The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus

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The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus: An Interactive Guide for Developing Ideas for Novels and Short Stories by Fred White is great for writers who love prompts. The book lists twenty basic plots (for example, “The Adventures of X,” “The Clash or Competition between X and Y”, “Descent into X”, and “Journey or Pilgrimage to X”) in a well-organized table of contents, then further breaks down those plots into more specific. For “The Adventures of X,” some examples of further breakdowns are:

  • Adventures in an Alternate Universe or Reality

  • Adventures with Defectors, Deserters, Mutineers

  • Adventures in a Magic Land

  • Adventures of Rebels, Rogues, and Crazies

  • and so on.

Each of these breakdowns, then, has multiple situations/prompts that fall within that category, all with writing tips sprinkled throughout! I highly recommend this book for anyone who’s not sure where their next idea is going to come from, or who loves big pictures but needs help with narrowing ideas down.

5. On Writing

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On Writing by Stephen King is a classic, and one I recommend all writers read at some point in their life. On Writing is divided into two sections— the first is a memoir about King’s life and writing journey, and the second is a technical discussion about the art of writing. Part two is valuable for writers, especially for those who are fans of King’s style and prose. It’s honest and straightforward. Part one, though, is the part that stuck with me. King discusses his failures (yes, he had lots of those) and his successes, and it was illuminating as an aspiring writer to see how someone like Stephen King got his start.

4. A Kite in the Wind

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A Kite in the Wind: Fiction Writers on their Craft edited by Andrea Barrett and Peter Turchi is a collection of essays on writing by twenty different authors. It covers topics such as Narrative Distance and Voice, Revealing Character, Seeing and Setting, and the Pattern and Shape of Genres. I recommend this book for authors who want an in-depth, literary study of the craft of writing. (It also has an article called “Comic and Cosmic Distance” by my creative writing professor from college. Thanks, Professor Hribal).

3. Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction

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I love, love, love this book. Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction: How to Create Out-of-this-World Novels and Short Stories by Orson Scott Card, Philip Athans, and Jay Lake is like the speculative fiction writers’ bible. The book is divided into four parts:

  • Part 1: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (Summarizing technical aspects like World Creation, Story Construction, and the technical aspects of writing)

  • Part 2: The State of the Genre: Fantasy and Science Fiction in the 21st Century (You know how agents and editors always talk about that pesky “market” business? This section of the book will help you understand what they’re talking about).

  • Part 3: The World of Steampunk

  • Part 4: The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference

While the first three parts are really cool, Part 4 is absolutely amazing, and why I recommend this book to all the fantasy writers out there. Part four gives breakdowns of traditional fantasy cultures (explaining things like feudalism, manorialism, knighthoods, social orders, and political entities) as well as other world cultures (Egyptian, Chinese, Mughal, Mayan, Aztec, Maori, Incan, and more). There’s a whole chapter on magic— different types of magic, the history of magic, secret magical societies, etc. There’s a chapter— my personal favorite— called “Commerce, Trade, and Law in Contemporary Fantasy.” There’s a reference list of almost sixty different mythical creatures. Almost every chapter in this section also includes an index of commonly used terms. There are chapters on fantasy dress, armor and armies, the anatomy of castles, and fantasy races. Seriously, this book has everything. If you write fantasy, seriously consider buying it. It’ll save you a lot of time on research.

2. The Emotion Thesaurus

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The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is a lot of fun, and very helpful if you have a hard time showing and not telling character reactions and emotions. It looks at eighty different emotions, listing physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, and writer’s tips for each. It also contains brief guides for avoiding common problems in writing nonverbal emotions and further recommended readings.

1. The Wonderbook

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Saving the best for last. Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer, is my all time favorite book on writing— and I’ve read a lot of books on writing. The Wonderbook is a beautifully-illustrated, marvelously-written guide to fiction writing. It discusses everything: inspiration, narrative form (one of the best writings on narrative form I’ve ever seen), beginnings and endings, characterization, worldbuilding, and revision. The thing I love about it is it’s not just another reference guide or textbook: it’s interactive. Reading the wonderbook is an experience, and the wild and creative format of it makes you forget you’re doing homework, of sorts. I’m afraid my review of it isn’t doing it justice, but that’s because it’s such a strange work of art in itself that explaining it without visuals would be extremely difficult. Just take my word for it: check it out.

Emily Hainsworth