My Favorite Writing Craft Books
Most of the tools that I've used in my digital marketing career didn't exist when I graduated from college, so like most people in the field, I've gotten scrappy at independent learning.
When I set out to write a novel, I took the same approach. I joined the online communities, I asked questions, I scoured blog posts, I attended workshops, and I read craft books by people much smarter than me -- people who'd been there before and were kind enough to pave the path.
Here are some of those smart people.
STORY GENIUS: How to Use Brain Science To Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel* (*Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere)
By Lisa Cron
Why I Loved It:
The (comically long) title alone had me hooked, even if I hadn't read and enjoyed Cron's previous book, Wired For Story, a few years earlier.
One of the reasons I want to write is because I believe in the magic of empathy, the power of stories to teach lessons and change perspectives. She lays out a system that helped me move into outlining my WIP confidently. The scene cards helped me focus on the emotional "why" of each scene.
Cron teaches how to write the plot, of course, but then explains how to tie plot to the ever-important emotional third rail that powers the novel. Within each scene, she encourages you to map not only what happens, but why it matters. Not just the consequences of the action, but the realization garnered. And finally, propelling you into the next scene, the so what. Her templates are available to download online, but having the book really does help.
SAVE THE CAT! WRITES A NOVEL: The Last Book on Novel Writing You'll Ever Need
By Jessica Brody
Why I Loved It:
Story Genius focuses on making each scene emotional, and Save the Cat helps you figure out how to string them together for the most impact.
If you've come across the term beat sheets, this is your comprehensive guide.
There are different structures for genre types, complete with in-depth examples of stories you've likely read to see how the beats work in action. The examples also helped me realize that the stories, while wildly different, all shared basic principles of storytelling that make them compelling.
Some might feel like following a set story structure a bit constricting, or even creativity killing, but I really disagree. If I asked you to draw me the best picture ever, you might sit and stare at a blank page for a while. Should it be a landscape or a portrait? Should you use paint or makers? How big should the paper be? Too many decisions! But if I give you clear directions to paint me a cat, you can get right to work being creative. And in the end, it's your art, break the rules! But having even a loose roadmap can keep you headed in the right direction.
THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface
By Donald Maass
Why I Loved It:
I read this most recently and it was exactly what I needed. After focusing a lot on scenes and story structure, this is a beautiful book about the actual techniques to emotionally connect with readers within the prose. It helped me rethink how to make each beat higher/lower and more impactful.
Each chapter ends with Emotional Mastery exercises. I particularly liked the Third-Level Emotions section which encourages you to acknowledge the big (perhaps obvious) emotions of your characters, but keep pushing to identify the more complex underlying emotions -- then write to those.
For me, this was a last-mile book. A set of techniques that I could identify in my favorite books, but needed a recipe card to attempt to execute in my own writing. It's a good-to-great book. The difference between a rough chiseled smiley face, and David's smooth cheekbones.
Have you read any of these books?
What are your favorite craft books?