Writing Wednesday — 10 Essential Books on Writing

Books, Crooks, and Councelors

I’m continuing the 10th anniversary celebration of Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Linden/Quill Driver Books), winner of the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction.

This week, a list of ten books that should be on every writer’s shelf – with a cracked spine and plenty of page markers!

The Emotional Craft of Fiction, Donald Maass (2016) – We read in part for emotional experience, and Maass, one of my teachers, is a master at showing writers how to evoke emotion in the reader.

Plot and Structure, James Scott Bell (2004) – crammed with practical approaches

Writing A Woman’s Life, Carolyn Heilbrun (1988) (she wrote mysteries as Amanda Cross) – I discovered this book long before I started writing, when my interest was in women’s history, but it’s just as applicable to novelists

Scene & Structure, Jack Bickham (1993) – these days we want our “sequel” or reflection interwoven with the action, but Bickham’s breakdown of scene and its function is enormously useful

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them, Francine Prose (2007) – the name says it all

The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets, Ted Kooser (2005) – a guide to working with the language, as important for novelists as for poets

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Natalie Goldberg (1986) – half inspiration, half therapy

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (I’ve got the 2012 edition but it’s since been updated)

How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America, Ed. by Lee Child with Laurie R. King (I’m a contributor!)

and of course, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure, Leslie Budewitz (2011)

Obviously I’ve left off basics like a dictionary and thesaurus. Grammar guides, whether you’re partial to The Elements of Style or Sin and Syntax, and Garner’s Modern American Usage, Bryan Garner (3d ed., 2009). In the inspiration category, I chose Goldberg because I discovered her early in my own writing journey, but you can’t go wrong with Ueland’s If You Want to Write, Brande’s Becoming a Writer, Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist, or Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Books on creativity and on medicine, psychology, and police procedure fill another shelf. (Hmm, I sense another list coming on!)

What essential writing books would you add?