Hello, hello! A few days ago, I was bored and skimming through Facebook when I came across a friend’s post about how she had finally gotten back to writing after a pretty long break. Being bored makes me nosy, so I read through the comments and noticed someone who is admittedly new to writing ask for some tips on how to improve her writing beyond practicing each day. Let’s be honest, practicing every day is great, but if you don’t know the basics and how to push yourself beyond your limits, you’re not going to get very far. How do you learn the basics of writing? Surprise! There are instruction manuals for basically everything, including writing. We just happen to call them craft books.
If you’re like me, you despise craft books because all of your English professors made you read the most boring literary ones they could find. When you just want to write about demons and serial killers (or dragons and fairies for the fantasy crew/aliens and far away galaxies for the sci-fi crew/etc.), these books get old fast. So, here’s my quick list of crafty type books for genre writers.
1. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. It’s based around Joseph Cambell’s Hero’s Journey (the basic structure of Western mythology and the different archetypes of the characters and all that). My favorite part is that it’s aimed specifically at genre writing, so you won’t run across any random derogatory remarks about your chosen field like I have in other craft books.
2. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss. I don’t care if you’re the smartest grammar Nazi in the world, we all need a little help with punctuation sometimes. If you like dry British humor and concise explanations, this is the punctuation rulebook for you. Yes, there are certainly more comprehensive and technical books out there, but unless you’re an English professor or an academic writer, I don’t really find them necessary.
3. Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder. Okay, so it’s not your traditional craft book, but it’s helpful with things like structure and dialogue. Plus, it might just encourage you to try your hand at screenwriting. It’s one of those books that explains a lot of the same things traditional craft books cover, but it comes at them from a different perspective. So, if other books aren’t working for you, give this one a shot.
4. Danse Macabre by Stephen King. This one is more of a history of horror than it is a craft book, but there’s a ton of useful information in here for horror writers. I’ll also mention that On Writing by King is supposed to be a wonderful, more general craft book if you’re not looking for something specifically horror related. I haven’t read the latter yet, but it’s on my to-be-read list.
5. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway. I have no idea which edition I read (I believe it was the 8th), but I do know that she insinuates that genre fiction is common and lowbrow while lauding literary fiction. Why would I suggest this book then? Mostly because the writing exercises were worthwhile. Plus the technical parts are short and to the point instead of super repetitive. So, if you want a decent version of the undergrad go-tos, pick this one up, just be prepared for derogatory remarks toward genre fiction.
I’m sure I forgot a lot of great craft books, and I’m definitely trying to forget a lot of bad ones, but I think this is enough to start with. What about you? Do you have any favorites that aren’t on this list? Do you think they’re important to keep around even if you’re a seasoned writer? I admit to selling most of my undergrad craft books, but I’ve kept all of the ones from Stonecoast (even the ones I hated), because there’s always something they can teach you.