Books on Writing: Some go-to greats

Source:, by Lin Kristensen from New Jersey, USA source Wikimedia license CC

As with most writers, I’m also a reader, which is why I probably am just as likely to buy a book about writing and the writing life as a work of fiction. This week, I wanted to share some of my favorite go-to writing books, especially the ones I return to again and again when I need a pick-me-up, or sometimes just a reminder of why it is writing is important. In the weeks following, I’ll be looking at some ideas from one book in particular in a series of blogs. Just to be clear, these are simply my opinions, which haven’t been solicited, but I find I’m always interested in other writer’s sources, techniques, and work life, so I’m sharing mine with you.

But, enough preamble. Let’s get to the books!

Books on technique and particular writing needs (this category became a bit of a catchall, for which I apologize:

  • Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (and Writing the Breakout Novel workbook)

The first of Donald Maass’ very successful books, like the follow-up (The Fire in Fiction), it aims to help you fix the problems that may be getting you rejected, and to help you produce the best book you can. I find the workbook especially helpful, since it’s a lot like a workshop (or several workshops) in a book, and can be used on its own, or for some stubborn scenes or chapters when nothing else works.

  • The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass

Why this book? It’s inspiring, makes you think about your reasons for being a writer, and suggests ways to make your writing better. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if I’ve ever completely finished it, because I often hit a section that has me running to the computer to write, abandoning the book!

  • Break into Fiction by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love

Another interesting book with tips and guides to what worked for these authors and others, and again, ways to make your own writing shine. (As you might be able to tell, I’m often searching for different options, some which work better for some manuscripts than others and vice versa.)

  • The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines:  Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami D. Cowden, Cara LaFever, and Sue Viders

Perhaps one of my favorite plotting tools since I discovered it. This is especially useful when you’re just starting to flesh out your story, searching for inherent conflicts, what direction the plot may go, etc. Very interesting and fun to use, and just read.

  • Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D.

Another great plotting book. This book proposes to break down all the different types of plots, and then divides them into the Act structure, with questions as prompts to fill in “what happens now” – at least, that’s how I use it. 🙂

  • Breathing Life into Your Characters by Rachel Ballon, Ph. D.

Pretty interesting book, helpful for fleshing out characters, and sometimes for working out the issue if you’re worried characters are coming across as flat, or in character and plot development to help you understand GMC (goals, motivation, and conflict).

  • The Element Encyclopedia of Birthdays by Theresa Cheung

Nope, not technically a writing book, and I confess, my husband and I purchased it on impulse a few years ago. BUT, it has been fun not only to look up friends and family, but also assign specific birthdays for your character, and essentially look up their horoscope and reading, based on the date of birth. It can help flesh out a character (and again, lots of fun!).

  • The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease

Another not-technically-a-writing book, but a very fascinating one just to read. It’s helpful in writing to remind you to watch the body language of characters, and how mood, emotions, character, relationships, etc can be conveyed through a way of holding one’s arms, feet, etc.

Writing Productivity:

  • Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt

Just as the title suggests, this is an actual plan (with a full plan to full in, and calender of actions, etc) to complete a first draft in a month. It’s also helpful for helping speed up your writing or boost your productivity, even if you don’t have the time (or inclination) to get an entire book done in a month. I find the method of planning and plotting interesting, and something I’ve incorporated into my own writing.

Because this post is getting quite long, I’ve decided to divide it into two. Next week: books on the writing and artist way of life – may favorite category. But meanwhile, have I forgotten some books here? Any that you find it difficult to live without? Please, leave a comment and let me know (my husband will forgive a few extra books on the shelves – it’s Christmas soon anyway. :)) Thanks for reading, and have a great week.