Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Learning the Craft of Writing a Novel: What’s on Your Shelf?

 For today’s post I decided to share three books I think every writer attempting to draft a novel should read.

Book Number 1
The first, without a doubt, is James Scott Bell’s Super Structure: The Key to Unleashing the Power of Story. (When I was in graduate school we said you could tell if a book or article was worth the read if it had a colon and a subtitle.) You may recall, I mentioned this book in an earlier post when I first heard of it at a writers group. I had ordered the book at that time, but now I’ve read it. Twice. 

I think I will be reading Bell’s book over and over. Why? Because I get into a project and lose sight of the direction I was taking. I sometimes get bogged down in the middle or lose steam.  Super Structure is far more than fourteen (14) signposts to guide you through a good plot. It is a GPS for writing a novel that connects with readers on an emotional level.

When to read Bell's book? Although Bell contends you can apply the fourteen signposts at any time in the process of writing, I suggest you read the book before you start your next project, then use it as a reference point from that point on.

Book Number 2 
The second book I think all novelists should own is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglis. This book is extremely helpful in finding ways a character might express a particular feeling he or she is having through body language and so forth. Though it is possible it does not have the exact emotional response you were going for, it is likely to trigger the action or thought you need.

When to use The Emotion Thesaurus? This is one you need to have at the ready, during the drafting process. 

Book Number 3
The third book I want on my shelf is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Rennni Browne and Dave King. The one I have came out in 2004. Oh how I wish I had read it then! Or not. It is not the easiest book to read –almost textbookish. I may not have had the notion I needed it back then. Now that I’ve been down the publication road, I’m more open to what I call deep self-editing. I’m not talking misspelled words or grammar/sentence construction. I’m talking about developmental editing.

I didn’t know the book existed until 2016. Fortunately, my editor, Bethany Kaczmarek walked me through much of what you find in these pages: show don’t tell, POV (point of view), and elements of writing great dialogue. There’s more, of course. And although some of the examples are not exactly stellar, stay with the book. The exercises are excellent and there is much to be gained within these pages. The information is limited as our understanding of story and our audience grows and changes. For example, while discussing POV, the authors neglect what we now view a “close third person.” You can read more about that by clicking on this LINK.

Still, the self-editing book is a good start with a broad spectrum of topics. How I use it? Each chapter has a checklist at the end. I read the checklist and try to see how my manuscript measures up. If I find I’ve missed the mark, I read the chapter again. As Browne and King note, you can hire an editor –but before you do that, make your writing as strong as you can first on your own.

When to apply the Self-Editing text? Although you'll want to familiarize yourself with the basic principles in the book (saving you time later), this is a book you will pull out about three weeks after your completed first draft has been in a drawer for at least three weeks. You need that time to separate yourself from the story before you take a deeper look at your manuscript.

Bell also has a book on self-editing I want to read. It is called Revision and Self-Editing. Why another book? Because learning your craft is never a "one and done" experience. If you are serious about writing to get published then part of what you do is invest in education yourself. These books will be a great start to your fiction writing career.

You have ideas. You have a story to share. I am convinced your writing will be made better with these three books. I know mine will.

So…what’s on your shelf? Share what you think and other tools you find helpful in the comments below.


  1. I have read all three and totally agree. These are must haves for writers.

    1. And you would know! You are a fantastic writer and mentor, Tamera! Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Replies
    1. There you go, Nancy...a birthday wish list in the making! Thanks for the read and thanks for the comment!


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