Useful Writing Books

I’m reading a lot of books and sources on writing or on things that might be useful to writers. As I find them and have time I will list them along with a brief blurb about them here. I will bold the author’s names of books I recommend.

Writing (Craft)

Ackerman, Angela and Becca Puglisi. Emotion Amplifiers. This is how externalities such as cold or illness affect emotions.

Ackerman, Angela and Becca Puglisi. The Emotion Thesaurus. Good for when you’re feeling lazy and want some ideas for body language that expresses emotions.

Ackerman, Angela and Becca Puglisi. The Negative Trait Thesaurus.

Ackerman, Angela and Becca Puglisi. The Positive Trait Thesaurus.

Bell, James Scott. Conflict & Suspense. This book is split into two sections, Conflict and Suspense. Conflict is basically about getting the readers emotionally involved in the characters and suspense is about structuring the book to keep the readers from putting it down. He has some good advice for creating conflicts of different kinds and stretching/fine-tuning tension.

Bell, James ScottPlot & Structure. I read this book immediately before reading Conflict & Suspense, which it overlaps. The two are just different enough to both be useful reads, though some info overlaps. Bell describes splitting a novel into 3 acts and explains what occurs in each act and why. He talks about what characters need to demonstrate in Act 1 to make people like them and how to plot/structure a novel to conclude properly.

Bell, James Scott. Write Your Novel From the Middle.

Bickham, Jack M. Scene & Structure. This book is an excellent companion to Dwight Swain’s book and the foundation upon which Jim Butcher wrote his livejournal advice. It explains how to structure a book from sentence level all the way up to the master plot. It contains advice on how to make chapters and it shows annotated examples of everything he discusses or describes. Bickham’s prose is easy to follow, though the book is so tightly packed with information that the 130 pages took me several hours to get through. I took copious notes. I highly recommend this book.

Butcher, Jim. Jim Butcher’s Livejournal. This livejournal blog is about 95% writing advice, broken into sections, much of it taken from Bickham and Swain. I cut and pasted the entire thing into an MS Word document and frequent it–it’s well-written, clear advice from a prolific and best-selling commercial author. I am apparently not the only person who thinks this; Karen Woodward has devoted a page of her blog to Butcher’s craft-of-writing articles.

Card, Orson Scott. Characters & Viewpoint. Considered one of the better books on character.

Dixon, Debra. GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.

Duncan, Kat. Telling Details.

Ellis, Tim. The Writer’s A-Z of Body Language.

Ennis, Stacy. The Editor’s Eye.

Hall, Rayne. Writing Vivid Settings.

King, Stephen. On Writing. A cross between a memoir and a craft book, and worth reading for both.

Kovalin, Val. How to Write Sexy Descriptions and Sex Scenes. Much more than a how-to; this book describes in detail the six stages of attraction, from simple awareness to actual sex. It also lists all the words used for various body parts and breaks them down by what sort of book you’re writing (standard lit, romance, or erotica). Useful for all people whose books contain some sort of romantic element.

Kovalin, Val. How to Write Descriptions of Eyes and Faces.

Kovalin, Val. How to Write Descriptions of Hair and Skin.

Kress, Nancy. Beginnings, Middles, & Ends. This is an excellent book on plot and structure that is unlike Bell’s books on the same. Kress talks about implied promises, formal structural design, through lines, and the like–a lot of meta-information. I found her book very useful in conjunction with Bell’s and Swain’s more concrete advice.

Kress, Nancy. Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint. This book is split into 3 major sections, plus a chapter at the end which gives basic advice about handling things like writer’s block and your inner critic. The first section is Characters. In this Kress discusses where you get characters from, how to pick names, why appearances and homes matter, motivation, backstory, how to handle things like flashbacks. It then goes on to motivation, character change, genre protagonists (what sorts of characters work best in each genre, and why), and humor/comedic characters. The second section, Emotions, describes how to use emotions in dialogue and thoughts and how to further use metaphor, simile, and sensory information to convey or sharpen emotional states in characters. She includes a chapter on emotions in fight, death, and love scenes and briefly discusses sex scenes. She concludes with a whole chapter on frustration. Her third section is about point of view. I didn’t read past the first chapter of this section, but it appears to be the standard info on points of view.

Lyon, Elizabeth. Writing Subtext.

McCollum, Jordan. Character Sympathy.

McNair, Don. Editor-Proof Your Writing.

Renner, Jodie. Fire Up Your Fiction.

Renner, Jodie. Writing a Killer Thriller.

Saylor, Chris and Marcy Kennedy. Grammar for Fiction Writers.

St. John, Cheryl. Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict.

Swain, Dwight V. Techniques of the Selling Writer. This is the book all the other books reference. It’s also clearly written (except for the first chapter) and well worth buying and reading. Swain’s book takes readers through the absolute fundamentals of writing–specifically what words ending in -ing do, in what order characters react to stimuli, etc. Swain published this book in 1965 and just about every other book I’ve read either directly references him or contains the methods he lays out.

Writing (Writers)

Lamott, Anne. Bird By Bird. Lamott’s life as a writer.

King, Stephen. Misery. Yeah, this is fiction, but it’s fiction about a writer, written by a writer. Also, it’s good.


Editing (Craft)



Editing (Editors)

Fisher Saller, Carol. The Subversive Copy Editor.

Norris, Mary. Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. Insights into being a copy editor, what copy editors do and don’t do, how copy editors approach manuscripts, and what it’s like to work with a grammatically incorrect style sheet. Written in an amusing and engaging voice.



Bell, David. Location Is (Still) Everything.



Clement, Jeffrey. The Lieutenant Don’t Know. Details the life of a truck convoy lieutenant from training in the States to time in Afghanistan. A fun read.

Grossman, David. On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Grossman is a Colonel, a historian, and a psychologist and he’s devoted his life to studying the psychological effects of killing. He approaches killing from a scientific yet compassionate viewpoint. A must-read for anyone whose books include any sort of killing.

Grossman, David. On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace.

Navarro, Joe and Marvin Karlins. What Every BODY is Saying. The master of body language breaks down what each gesture and stance means, which are cultural vs. which are universal, and why and when people use them.

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