There’s no shortage of people who want to help writers. Googling ‘how to write a book’ produces over 46 million results. Change the term search to the slightly more cynical ‘so you want to write a book?’ gets you close to 3 million results.
Try searching Amazon with ‘how to write a book’ and you have almost 10,000 book covers shouting (you can almost hear some of them) written by people who promise you’ll learn everything you need to know in 30 days. And it’ll be a best seller. Their book is the answer to your prayers.
It’s a jungle out there. So what’s a writer to do?
You could just hunker down with your WIP and listen to no one but your characters. On the other hand you can read dozens of writing books, take writing courses, join forums and critique groups and end up finding yourself more confused than ever.
Roz Miller wrote a great blog post at ‘Nail Your Novel’ called “I rewrote my novel through a critique group but I’ve lost my way” which is well worth reading.
I’m not saying not to seek advice. Far from it.
But how do you find a good one? I love referrals and always ask around if I need a doctor, electrician, or plumber. So here’s my recommendations of books that have helped me immensely and I would highly recommend to any writer, beginning or advanced.
- The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christoper Vogler
- Plot & Structure: Technique and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that grips readers from start to finish, by James Scott Bell.
- Nail Your Novel, by Roz Miller
- Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks
The first two books I used in writing Guardian Cats. The second two I’m incorporating into my current writing project.
The Writer’s Journey helps me understand character arc in a clear and entertaining way by the use of movies to illustrate his points. It also provides a basic road map of major plot points that have stood the test of time. The Writer’s Journey was the starting point of my own journey.
Plot and Structure was my next field guide and is my go-to book for detailed instructions on the craft of story structure, just like the title says. I love how this book is laid out for easy referencing and I like how he illustrates the three Acts and the Doorways of No Return. This book dovetailed with and expanded what I learned in The Writer’s Journey.
Nail Your Novel is one of my newest road maps for creative ways to develop and actually finish my book. I’m still reading this one, but I’ve already incorporated her ideas for focused research and the hat game technique for gathering ideas. I also love how Roz lets me know what to aim for, and what to ignore, in each stage of the journey. This was a great stress reliever for me because it helps me tune out things I don’t need to be concerned with at this point.
I’m still reading Story Engineering, but I’m recommending it because it struck a chord in my writer’s soul. It is a masterful presentation of how to break down a story into what he calls the Six Core Competencies, and then put them all back together in seamless flow. It’s just what I needed right now. I have loads of ideas for my next book, probably too many, and am kind of overwhelmed as to how to weave it all together. Larry covers a lot of aspects of writing I want to improve upon, such as Concept, Theme, Scene Execution and Writing Voice.
(Note: I almost didn’t buy this book because some Amazon reviewers didn’t like Larry’s delivery of the material; complaints of it being too wordy, too arrogant, etc. I was prepared to have to overlook a lot, but find I’m really enjoying the read and am not bothered by a forceful delivery.)
Here’s some tips to choosing your field guides:
- Are you learning from someone who is a master at the craft of writing? If you’re still working off of what you learned in your high school creative writing class, it’s time to bump it up. It seems almost silly to say, but be sure to choose mentors who are successful, published authors.
- Does their advice resonate with you? If you find it pedantic or less than inspiring or helpful, move on to another guide. Trust your instincts.
- Don’t expect one book or resource to do it all. Each of the books I have chosen give me a valuable piece of the puzzle and complement each other.
- Don’t choose books that make it look too quick and easy. Writing is a journey. What’s the rush? Enjoy the ride!
I hope I’ve helped you with these references. Be sure to leave a comment and let me know what you think.