There’s no denying it – story is king. Agents from Chip MacGregor to Donald Maass have said it. Books like Hunger Games prove it. You have to have a great story. That story, however, needs to be as well-written (and edited) as possible to get anyone to read it, whether traditionally or self-published.
Over the past five years I’ve read a LOT of writing books, all valuable in so many ways. They are not, however, going to help each writer in the same way. We all struggle in different areas. Here are some of the best books (in my opinion) for various writing needs. (Please note: you’re not usually a good judge of your own work – find a critique group or trusted writer/editor, not friend, to help you identify the areas that need strengthening).
Good foundation, needs work: You’ve got a good plot idea, good character ideas, basic understanding of fiction, but there are a lot of common mistakes – punctuation, telling, passive voice. When you understand the basics but need a little more help, I recommend Jeff Gerke’s The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction. He touches on everything, from Point of View to swearing. This will help you solidify the foundation so you can keep building.
Another book that fits well in this category is Self-Editing for the Fiction Writer by Renni Browne and Dave King. I waited until I had a finished manuscript before I read this book (thinking I needed something to edit first). This book, however, written by two editors, is so full of great tips and editing exercises that I wish I had read it years ago. Then, instead of correcting mistakes, I could have avoided a few of them.
Flat characters: You’ve created interesting character concepts, but it’s not coming across on the page. Try Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins. With a background in theatre, Collins brings a unique perspective to writing believable and engaging characters. Some of her suggestions might challenge your limits of comfort, but it will be worth it.
Plot holes and believability issues: The story grabs your reader, but it also raises a lot of questions – would that really happen? What ever happened to this person/subplot? Wouldn’t it make more sense if this happened? Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell helps you look at the big picture, then he guides you through different techniques to help identify and fill in these holes.
Motivation: Writing is hard work – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Sometimes it becomes so difficult for so long that it’s easy to get discouraged and stop writing. Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott and The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises by James Scott Bell both provide wonderful practical writing tips, but they also give a little extra motivation. Maybe it’s the unique styles of each book, but I found both of these to be as inspiring as they are instructional.
Finding the right craft book to help you with your specific writing needs can make the publishing process less stressful and expensive (you won’t have to pay a freelance editor as much if it takes her less time to edit a well written manuscript). Instead of struggling again and again with the same issues, you can correct these areas and focus on creating your next best story. Plus, you gain the confidence of knowing you’ve submitted your best possible work.
Karin Beery is a freelance writer, editor, and coach. With over 300 articles published, her work also includes blogs, novels, guide books, and more. An active member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association and the Evangelical Press Association, Karin enjoys writing and editing in all forms, as well as helping others achieve their writing goals. Karin lives in northern Michigan with her husband, aunt, and two cats.
Web site: www.karinbeery.com
Facebook: Karin Beery – Writer/Editor/Coach