My Top Craft Book Recommendations

When I first decided to write seriously, I went to the library to check out some books about the subject, as you do.

My youngest son was still a toddler, and we managed to make about three trips before we got kicked out, because he was in his stroller, singing. Softly. To his toes. Apparently, you can’t sing to your toes in this library unless you’re in the children’s section.

Yes, I have considered going back to that library, plopping down in the easy readers, and singing to my toes. Instead, I just go to a different branch.

You learn to pick your battles.

But I did get to check out a few craft books before we were banished, and that was the beginning of a love affair – the obsessive, unhealthy kind. I can never get enough craft books. EVER. I read them between projects and edits. I read them at the pool. I even listen to them to fall asleep (more on that tomorrow). For now, here are my top six, in no particular order:

How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author by Janet Evanovich

This was the first book on writing I picked up. I’d discovered Janet Evanovich (Stephanie Plum series) while living in Florida, and I’d never laughed out loud at a book until hers. I figured if anyone could make the process less intimidating, or at least funny, it was Janet.

I was right! The advice is well organized, easy to understand, and the reader doesn’t feel overwhelmed or like the process is insurmountable. It’s definitely a “get your feet wet” instructional book. Lots of basics, and lots of laughs.

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

Okay, I’m going to try to keep my evangelizing of this book to a minimum, but if you are new to the craft, or even revisiting it after an extended vacation, you want this book. James Scott Bell not only instructs, he becomes the voice of encouragement that whispers in your ear. He tells you that you CAN do it, and then tells you HOW to do it. This book is college curriculum worthy, but don’t think it’s dry or stuffy. There’s humor, there’s warmth, and most of all, knowledge a writer in any stage can apply.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Ann Lamott

Anytime I get mopey or neurotic or discouraged, I pull this book out. For me, the charm lies in the life lessons. It’s less about writing, and more about the writing life. Something different speaks to me every time I read it. One of my favorite quotes:

“Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.”

As wonderful as this book is for the novice, it’s even better for those who might have PPTSD (publishing post traumatic stress disorder), and who need a reminder of the joys to be found in creating books.

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

I have read this book no less than twenty times. I’ve also read Save the Cat Strikes Again, and Save the Cat Goes to the Movies. The knowledge here is logical, solid, and basic, and it’s actually a screenwriting book, but my very favorite thing about it is that is provides BOUNDARIES. I need boundaries for my first drafts, or they get all kinds of patchwork quilt crazy, and Snyder’s Fifteen Beats give them lines to color inside, even though I don’t have to (Google 15 Beats and be prepared for the awesome, and then buy all the books).

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler

This is based on Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, which (everyone probably knows) is what George Lucas used to build the Star Wars stories. Thing is, Campbell’s a little bit of a wingnut, and there’s a lot of philosophy in his works. Read them, most certainly, but if you want those principles broken down into manageable chunks, this is your book. It’s a doorstop-sized, but worth every page. It’s also a screenwriting book, but don’t let that put you off. We’re all telling stories here. 

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

This is one of my most recent finds, and I love it so much it goes everywhere with me in my computer bag. It lists seventy-five emotions and gives you body language/internal thoughts to go with EVERY ONE. I am so glad I bought a paper copy, because I’ve written all over this thing, making notes when I think of my own examples! It makes me feel smug and proud (while I cross my arms and tilt my chin).

WARNING: Check your surroundings before reading this book in a coffee shop, because without fail, I read the body language suggestions and then act them out. The good news is, it’s a really easy way to get the table by the electric outlet.

More tomorrow!

Myra McEntire is June's second Affiliate Blogger. To find out more about our guest author positions here at the League, click here.

Myra McEntire knows the words to every R&B hit of the last decade, but since she lives in Nashville, the country music capital of America, her lyrical talents go sadly unappreciated. She’s chosen, instead, to channel her “mad word skills” into creating stories.

She’s an avid Doctor Who fan and will argue passionately about which incarnation is the best.

by Myra McEntire

For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn't there: swooning Southern Belles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents' death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She's tried everything, but the visions keep coming back.

So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson's willing to try one last cure. But meeting Michael Weaver may not only change her future, it may also change her past.

Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says? Why does an electric charge seem to run through the room whenever he's around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should've happened?

JULY: Polly Holyoke
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Angela Ackerman said...

WOW. It's pretty dang cool to discover Myra-freaking-McEntire uses The Emotion Thesaurus! *fangirls*

Thank you so much for giving the book a shout out! I am glad your copy has been ravaged by scribbles--that's exactly how it should look!


Becca Puglisi said...

Holy moly! So excited that you're a fan of The Emotion Thesaurus :) Thanks for spreading the word!

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