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Favorite Books on Writing Craft

By C.V. Lee
May 21, 2021

In October 2017, I sat down at my computer to begin writing my first novel. I quickly learned there’s a whole lot more to writing than having a great story idea and and a desire to share it with the world. There were so many things, and still are, that I needed to learn: outlining, character arcs, and plot structure, just to name a few. So I found myself devouring books, articles, and videos, about writing. Even accomplished writers realize they can hone their craft by learning from others. So I asked our Paper Lantern Writers to share their favorite go-to books on the craft of writing.

Linda Ulleseit, author of Under the Almond Trees and The Aloha Spirit, has several books (of course) that she uses for inspiration, reference, or craft tips. She highly recommends:

  1. Writing Dialogue by Tom Chiarella. “I write pretty good dialogue, but Chiarella’s book offers nuances like a chapter on Dialogue and Character, which talks about the importance of finding a character’s voice.”
  2. The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction by James Alexander Thom. One of my favorite chapters in Thom’s book is Modifying the Truth, which discusses how human perception and memory affect truth.

Lynn Downey, author of Dudes Rush In, and several non-fiction books about the West, says: “When I think about go-to books on the craft, I reach for:

  1. Stephen King’s On Writing. King’s book is both a memoir and a toolkit; the story of his struggles is very moving and makes his writing advice even more powerful. I don’t have my own copy of On Writing at the moment because I keep giving the book away to other aspiring writers.
  2. Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Goldberg sees writing as a practice, like the Zen meditation that informs her life and work. She approaches writing with both practicality and a sense of wonder. I still have my original copy.

Kathryn Pritchett, has found great advice and inspiration for her writing in the following books:

  1. “I’m a Bird by Bird girl,” Kathryn declares. “Anne Lamott’s classic book on writing has not only helped me write crappy first drafts and finish short assignments, it’s also provided useful lessons for a writing workshop I teach in a foster children summer program.”
  2. She also likes Lisa Cron’s Story Genius for adding emotional depth to a story, and
  3. She turns to Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees for practical and encouraging advice on craft and publication. As Lerner says, “Your job is to marshal the talent you do have and find people who believe in your work.”  

Mari Christie, author of Blind Tribute, set during the American Civil War, recommends:

  1. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield. This book is a fascinating journey into the heart of the creative process, with an emphasis on overcoming resistance to making art.
  2.  Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott is more about the spiritual exercise of writing than the craft, and brings an extra dimension (or two) to discussion of the writer’s life.

Ana Brazil, author of the mystery, Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper is a sucker for story structure, especially since she writes historical crime fiction, which follows certain rules. (Although not all of these rules, anymore.) Her go-to list includes:

  1. All of the Save the Cat books for great detailing on how stories work & entertain. “I don’t think I could write stories that make sense without understanding the structures identified in this book.”
  2. On the other hand, Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story is not about structure. It’s about how people need stories to survive. Which means that everything you write needs to be about survival.
  3. Finally, she likes Don Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook because it is a workbook, giving you space to experiment with exercises to tighten up your character and plot development.

Edie Cay, author of A Lady’s Revenge and The Boxer and the Blacksmith, has read countless craft books over the years including Stephen King’s On Writing, Annie Lamott’s Bird by Bird, (I’m seeing a few repeats here) Ron McKee’s Story, and Carolyn See’s Making A Literary Life. But these are the ones that are helping her these days:

  1. Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes. If you sign up for her newsletter, she also gives you free downloads that help with structuring!
  2. For actual author life, about getting books written and published, she turns to Dear Writer, You Need to Quit by Becca Symes.

While I have many craft books on my shelf and on my kindle, these three have very practical advice, especially for a newer writer like myself. The advice is succinct and easy to follow.

  1. Put the Cat in the Oven Before You Describe the Kitchen by Jake Vender Ark. It provides great advice on how things like how the placement of details to makes them more interesting and impactful.
  2. How to Write a Swoon-Worthy Sweet Romance Novel by Victorine E. Lieske. Most stories have some kind of romantic subplot even if that isn’t the genre of your novel. So knowing how to write a believable love story applies to more than just romance writers. In this book, Victorine writes a short romance novel and includes commentary at each step on how she is building the attraction, pulling the lovers apart and bringing them together again.
  3. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is a handbook that I don’t know what I would to without. I keep it close to my desk and refer to it often. It’s invaluable for my ‘show, don’t tell’ writing.

If you’re a new writer, or even a seasoned veteran of the trade, I hope we’ve provided some valuable resources to help you improve your craft. Happy writing!

C.V. Lee
Written by C.V. Lee

C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction featuring forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Alli, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can find her on Facebook @cvlee.histficwriter and on Instagram @cvleewriter.

View CV’s PLW Profile

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