Nothing revs my editorial engines higher than a new way of explaining a storytelling or writing technique. My family gets put out with my workaholic ways when they find me curled up on the weekend with my craft book TBR (to be read) pile instead of a “recreational” fiction title. (Shh, don’t tell them I’m analyzing the fiction stuff, too.)
The craft books I like the most are tough, analytical tomes that give me new ideas for attacking recalcitrant manuscripts. But the ones I keep on the lowest shelf just past my teacup (Earl Grey, hot) are the gentle, nonthreatening introductions to story theory and writing techniques. These are the books I turn to again and again for help shepherding new novelists down the road.
These books provide a gentle, author-friendly introduction to story structure and the conventions of narrative technique for fiction. You won’t find any stiff, unforgiving systems or stuffy, academic approaches on this author’s reading list. I update my recommendations frequently based on the ideas that are resonating with my clients. These are my current favorite craft titles.
Author’s reading list
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A manuscript that lacks a compelling concept will either fail to rise or come tumbling down midway through. These are my current favorite craft books that include strong discussions of concept.
- Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole—For authors of all types of fictions, not just children’s and YA. Agent Mary Kole offers some of the smartest advice for writing contemporary commercial fiction out there today.
- The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein—Another book by a children’s book editor that hits all the right notes for all commercial fiction. Expect to see quotes from Cheryl B. Klein popping up in your editorial reports.
- Story Physics by Larry Brooks—Plainspoken story coach Larry Brooks has a sharp sense for creating saleable concepts and premises for commercial fiction. You’ll definitely take away a sense of how to get at the kernel of your story.
- Anatomy of a Premise Line by Jeff Lyons—Few writing experts acknowledge the value of a smart situation-based plot. Not script and book doctor Jeff Lyons. He explains the difference between story-based and situation-based novels and how to write each.
Plot and story structure
These books on plot and story structure will help you get a handle on story structure without driving you batty with terminology and procedural hoops.
- Wired for Story by Lisa Cron—Why humans crave stories to make sense of their world.
- The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson—A straightforward explanation of classic story structure without too much lingo to wade across.
- The Plot Whisperer Workbook If you’re a fan of workbooks, this companion workbook makes a neat way of working through your own plot.
- The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne—If you’ve done an edit with me involving book maps, Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid system won’t look entirely unfamiliar. This system is for you if you like spreadsheets and charting and complexity. The book’s not currently available for sale on Amazon, but its contents are all posted for free on the author’s website. The author’s podcast is a favorite among many authors.
When you need a little troubleshooting.
- Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft by Janice Hardy—Diagnose weaknesses from story to writing, plotting to language. Best of all, this guide suggests real solutions worth using.
- Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It) by Janice Hardy—Stop blindly chanting show, don’t tell and learn when each technique is the right choice.
Highly recommended reference for any author’s shelf.
- The Magic of Fiction by Beth Hill—If you buy one craft book about fiction writing, this is the one you want. Everything you need to write a novel in one comprehensive reference book. Author Beth Hill is a working editor, so her advice is both current and practical. This book covers basic narrative techniques as well as writing advice and the basics of self-editing.
The writing life
Kick motivational and process issues with less woo-woo and more writing-fu.
- The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp—Know how everyone raves about Stephen King’s On Writing? I’m a Constant Reader, too. But this is the book you want—yes, written by a choreographer, not an author—if you’re looking on concrete help becoming a productive creative professional.
Let’s make your book a book other authors will want to read. Looking for an editor or book coach? That editor could be me. Email me and let’s talk about your novel.