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Staff Picks - Books on Writing

Authors often ask us for writing book recommendations. So, we took our old "best of" list, dusted it off, and polled the editorial staff for their recommendations.

(note: there are affiliate links on this page, which will help us cover the cost of our morning Starbucks).

The Compass of Character: Creating Complex Motivation for Compelling Characters in Fiction, Film, and TV by David Corbett. He knows what makes people tick and when and how to introduce it in a novel.

The Crime Writer's Reference Guide (updated) by Mark Roth. Not for the faint of heart! Everything you ever needed to know to commit murder...on the page.

The Forest for the Trees (Revised and Updated): An Editor's Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner. A lifelong NYC book editor gives tips on writing and offers insights into the publishing world.

How to Be a Writer by Barbara Baig. These are the exercises I have been following this year to improve my own craft.

How to Write a Damned Good Novel: A step-by-step no nonsense guide to dramatic storytelling by James N. Frey. I looked on my shelf for the book with the most Post-Its. This one was it.

Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands by Michael Chabon. An essay collection by a speculative fiction author who truly walks the edges.

Master Lists for Writers by Bryn Donovan. Need a better description for your character's hair? Go to page 31. Enhance your setting by describing the scents your characters smell (page 62). Need your character to show (not tell) animosity? Page 126. Spend a few minutes getting familiar with the lists, and this resource will always be by your side while you draft.

Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative by Jane Alison. This book is for everybody sick of hearing about the plot "arc." She introduces design patterns from nature and walks through how they are used in real books and stories. Ideal for intermediate authors hoping to level-up their skill with plot.

On Editing, How to Edit Your Novel the Professional Way by Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price. When an author asks me why I thought her manuscript needed a developmental edit, I often refer them to a chapter in this book.

On Writing by Stephen King (2012 edition). A hands-down favorite of most of the staff, this is definitely a book we feel should be on every author\'s bookshelf.

Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World by Maryanne Wolf. Wolf taught me how to code-switch between deep reading and digital-friendly reading instead of maligning one for the sake of the other. This is mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand how reading is being transformed by technology, and I think writers will find it far more relevant to how they structure their books than they might assume at first glance.

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Originally written for screenplays, but absolutely fantastic for storytelling in general. There’s also a fiction version now, which I have not yet read. It’s called Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody.

The Sense of an Ending by Frank Kermode. This one has influenced me greatly when I was a student/teacher of literary theory. It’s not so much about the craft of writing as it is about a theory of what makes literature everlasting. Kermode was a teacher, editor and critic. I met him once. I wanted to follow in his footsteps. Ha!

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee. This is actually a screenwriter’s manual, but McKee exquisitely illustrates concepts of story with movie examples we all know.

Story Fix: Transform Your Novel from Broken to Brilliant by Larry Brooks. This book does the best job out there at hammering home the meaning of a "strong concept" and how to revise with a stronger story concept in mind. His tone can be a bit self-congratulatory, but the advice is solid. Ideal for genre fiction authors who can't seem to find the right words to pitch their projects to readers, agents, or editors and generate real excitement.

Telling Lies For Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block. Block covers topics not often found in other books on creative writing, including successful procrastination and when you need to go outside and water the rhododendrons.

This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosely. Talks about commitment and stick-to-itness. If you want to be a professional writer, you have to be writing.

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. Merges storytelling and neuroscience.

Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy. Even though written in the breezy Dummies’ style, this book is jam-packed with actionable advice and concepts defined by some of the most popular books of our time.