- Meg Opperman
- March 5, 2018
Seeking help from these writerly guides is a no-brainer.
I am a certified writing-resource junkie. I adore reading about writing: personal accounts, how-to books, research guides, self-help, and even grammar for writers. You name it, I’ll read it.
Perusing the bookshelf that I dedicate to such writings, I began pulling off books that I thought others should know about. I ended up with almost two dozen to choose from. Since I’m a genre writer, I’m going to highlight books that primarily relate to mystery and romance, though many of the books are equally useful for other genres (or non-genres). I’ve also loosely grouped them by category.
(And if your favorite book isn’t on the list, it may be that I’ve never read it or just didn’t have room to include it.)
Personal accounts and advice: My very favorite book from this category is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It’s humorous and inspirational at the same time. Whenever I feel insecure or go through a rough writing moment, I pick up this book and it always makes me feel better because it’s so very, very human. I’ve also found Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft to be both entertaining and useful. His path to becoming a bestselling author is fascinating, and his advice is sound. Elizabeth George’s Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life has many suggestion for writers and also offers a look at how she became a writer. I’m a pantser, and George is pretty much on the waaay other side of the spectrum, but I still found much of her advice useful.
Grammar for writers: All writers should own a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. It’s thin, yet it packs a wallop. And it’s stood the test of time. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss is another handy resource. It’s saved me from many, many hilarious punctuation errors.
Self-editing for writers: Is it weird that I adore reading about editing? Well, I do. Two of my favorite self-editing books are Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile and Renni Browne and Dave King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print. Both offer lots of sage advice and strategies for strengthening your manuscript. I debated putting Chris Roerden’s Don’t Murder Your Mystery: 24 Fiction-Writing Techniques To Save Your Manuscript From Turning Up D.O.A. in this category, but there are so many tips and editing suggestions that transcend the mystery genre that I included it here.
Mystery-specific resources: There are so many good books on how to write a mystery that it was hard to choose just a few. The ones I’ve found the most useful are Hallie Ephron’s excellent Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock ’Em Dead with Style, Gillian Roberts’ short but powerful You Can Write a Mystery, Carolyn Wheat’s How to Write Killer Fiction, and last but not least, Writing Mysteries, edited by Sue Grafton, with chapters by many bestselling and much-beloved authors.
Crime-specific research: I’m always interested in facts about crime. A great place to start is Lee Lofland’s Police Procedure & Investigation: A Guide for Writers. Lofland not only spearheads the fantastic annual Writer’s Police Academy retreat, but is a former police detective who tries to keep us crime writers from baking too many egregious errors into our drafts. Geoff Symon’s Autopsies and Crimes Scenes are both great reads for the fiction writer. Symon is a former federal forensic investigator and polygraph examiner. He’s worked on many high-profile cases and he’s a fantastic speaker. I could listen to the guy talk forensics all day. (The way I tune in, it’s almost like he’s talking dirty to me. Seriously. He’s that good.)
Romance-specific resources: There are three books that I would highly recommend to anyone wanting to write a romance. The first, GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon, is a must-read. Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels by Gwen Hayes is helpful for sussing out what a romance reader is looking for in a book. I wish I’d read it when I first started writing romance because my experience with mystery/suspense writing meant that I focused more on external conflict than internal. I mean, throw in a dead body, and you’ve got the basis for a plot, right? For romance, it’s important to become a master of internal conflict. This book helps you do it. Finally, every romance writer should keep a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi on their shelf. Because so much of romance is internal conflict, it’s important to have many ways to approach emotions. This book offers a solid jumping-off point.
Other useful references: While I don’t actually outline, every so often I convince myself to pick up a book on outlining. I’ve found K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success to have great take-aways. And any resource list would be incomplete without Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great. Maass is known for his enthusiasm and ability to cut to the chase. This book has both in spades. Anyone who hasn’t checked out James Scott Bell’s books is really missing out. My favorite is Write Your Novel from the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers, and Everyone in Between. It’s short, but it really makes an impact. Finally, I decided to include one self-help book for those who suffer from writer’s block. Stephen P. Kelner Jr.’s Motivate Your Writing: Using Motivational Psychology to Energize Your Writing Life is a thought-provoking and surprisingly practical read.
And there you have it: my list. Do you have one? If so, I’d love to hear about it! I’m always looking for another good book…