If you didn't already know, I have a MFA in creative writing. So, obviously I have read a ton of books on writing because that's what you do to get that signed slip of paper. Books about style, voice, grammar, plotting, setting, character, publishing, marketing, etc. Since I have read so many good ones as well as duds, I thought I would share with you the writing books that I go back to over and over; the ones that have made a difference in my writing. These 5 are books that you should consider spending your money on, if you are a writer and need a little help or inspiration.
Tara Maya is a successful self-published author. She wrote this ebook specifically for NaNoWriMo but it really works at any time. Her ideas for planning, mapping and graphing out your storylines to avoid giant gaping plot holes are particularly helpful and extensive. I like to plan out my story down to the scene before I start to write anything and Maya really takes you step by step in a process that will help you streamline your story so it makes sense for your plot, genre and themes. She also gives you tips on increasing your word counts and preventing writer's block. This little e-book is the one I go back to the most because her writing style is fun and light while being informative. You can skip around if you want to or read it front to back because if you need to outline and plan your novel first, you are bound to find something useful in this book.
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I saw Hallie Ephron speak at a writer's conference a few years ago, and I had to get this book. It's very simple and easy to understand how Hallie comes up with and organizes her ideas. She gives very specific examples and there are tons of references available in this book. She also lays out ideas on making your novel sellable and marketable from the beginning. And she provides a nice and easy schedule for completing your first draft in 6 months and sections on what to do after you type "the end." But the main reason I go back to this book over and over, are for the sections on writing character, setting and dialog. She has some great ideas that are great to review while you are writing to make sure you haven't fallen into any traps, tropes and cliches. I recommend this book for new writers that are thinking about starting their first novels. Take the time to read this all the way through and you will be confident and inspired to start your draft.
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Ok, so this book is about screenwriting but many of the principles that he talks about are valid in fiction writing as well. Plus his ideas are loaded, and I mean loaded with examples from films. Sometimes it helps to visualize your book as a movie to make sure your readers can "see it" right along with you. Although Robert McKee is a little pretentious in voice and assumes that all great works follow the same formulas, he does give thought provoking perspective on setting, dialog, voice and character. I like to read through the Elements of Story and the Principles of Story Design when I am feeling stuck, uninspired, or just unhappy with a section of writing. I would recommend you read through this book first all the way through because he builds on ideas mentioned in the beginning in later chapters, but then you can go through it later for inspiration or clarification or maybe if you are feeling like you need to change it up and write a screenplay instead.
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This book is incredibly useful for when you have an idea but you can't figure out how to get it into a workable story arc. Stern provides what he calls "shapes" of fiction that work kind of like prompts to get you thinking about your idea in a certain light. There are 16 shapes that correspond to a great glossary in the back of the book that explain many terms that you would only study in advanced writing courses. But the best part about this book is the "Don't do this" section where it spells out some of the biggest 'no no's' in the publishing world. From cliches to deceiving the reader to bad character names, it's worth a look over to make sure that you're not falling into these categories and if you are, do you have a damn good explanation for doing so? Read this book when you are planning your novel or are stuck with plot direction. Then come back to it during your revisions and go over the "Don't do this" section, just to double check.
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