Consider the following scenario: You’re grappling for a description your brain flatly doesn’t want to visualize. Your characters are standing on a dock overlooking a lake, and for some reason your pesky gray matter is acting like you’ve never even seen a lake before. What does a lake look like?? you ask yourself in a state of panic. … Wet?
Or maybe you want to name a character or location in your novel something significant, something historical and symbolic that’ll make future academics nod approvingly at your cleverness. Only, the spells in Harry Potter exhibit the breadth of your Latin education…
Or, after months of labor, you’ve stapled, glued, spackled, spat, and slapped your story together only to step back and find … it looks slightly wobbly, crooked and flimsy, and like a asthmatic’s breathless wheeze could knock it clear over. (As an asthmatic who has before found herself unable to summon the lung capacity to blow out birthday candles, I truly understand the meaning behind that hyperbole.)
In all of these cases, books are your best friends.
The books in this list are ones I consider Required Reading for people who love to write. They’re books that’ll fill your brain with juicy words to chew on, books that’ll help you fix problems you’re having with your draft, books that’ll answer creepy questions like “what if I want my protagonist to get shot, but not too shot, if you know what I mean?”
(I genuinely believe we’ve all Googled that quandary as writers. Does “I don’t want him to die, just have a pretty bad time…” sound at all familiar?)
Without further ado…
10 Books Every Writer Should Read To Boost Creativity and Feel Totally Awesome
I love these books so much. My first foray into the Descriptive Thesaurus series was the Emotion Thesaurus, but I just got the two beauties pictured above last week, and I am getting so much use out of them already. The idea of the Rural and Urban Settings Thesauruses is to help writers visualize the settings of their novels by offering concrete, sensory details to kickstart your creativity.
For instance, the Urban Settings entry for an Alley lists sights commonly found in alleyways (from “crushed takeout cups” to “broken wood pallets”), associated sounds (“wind scraping trash into the corner”), smells (always incredibly helpful to me, as I don’t have a sense of smell!), tastes, and textures (such as “the squishy, wet give of stepping on trash” and “rough bricks beneath a palm.”)
These thesauruses aren’t meant to do your writing for you, but rather help you get into the mindset of the scene you’re trying to set. If you haven’t been in an abandoned alleyway any time recently (or a submarine, military helicopter, carnival funhouse, etc.) it can be hard to remember all those little details that make a description so vivid! I love these books.
WHAT A HELPFUL AND ONLY SLIGHTLY DISTURBING BOOK. It has creepy anatomical pictures of various body parts and possible injuries characters could sustain to those body parts, and a whole section with titles like “Injuries That May Kill Within Minutes” and “Injuries That May Kill Within Hours” and “Abdominal Trauma: Beware of Hidden Damage.” You will never want to leave the house again.
But you will get lots of ideas for injuring your characters. With medically-sound realistic details!
“A Treasury of Terms & Literary Quotes” says the cover of The Describer’s Dictionary, and it couldn’t be more right. I love this book. It’s organized into a million sections that gives little descriptions of concepts and the perfect word to describe them. If that doesn’t make sense, let me just show you:
In the Buildings and Dwellings section, I’ve learned that a “rounded rooftop structure” is called a dome or cupola, and the “opening at the top of the dome” is known as the oculus.
According to the Terrain and Landscape chapter, a zigzag path can be called a switchback, and a “tract of open and rolling land with poor soil” can be called a moor or heath.
The idea is that if you’ve got a word at the tip of your tongue, or you understand the concept behind the thing you’re trying to describe, but you just don’t know what it’s called, this book has an answer for you. I’ve used this so much. It’s also just fun to read through. Every section has definitions on one page and literary quotes on the other side using words from the dictionary. Gives me writerly feels and creative sparks every time.
First of all, Wonderbook is GORGEOUS, and would be creatively stimulating as a work of art even if the writing itself was gibberish. But! The writing is not gibberish! It is actually super helpful and interesting!
Wonderbook basically walks you through the art of writing a novel, with the emphasis on art. Through the most stunning illustrations and infographics, Wonderbook talks about things like “The Ecosystem of Story”, “Narrative Design”, “Beginnings & Endings”, all with the most brilliant visuals. There’s even a huge interview with George RR Martin in the back!
I found this review with a couple more pictures of the insides. Check it out, the guts of this book are worth ogling!
This book is great for boosting confidence in your writing, as it basically says, don’t worry about breaking some unspoken rule about what constitutes as a “real” novel or “real” writing. Write what the story needs. I’m 100% behind that message. Yes, your story needs structure. Yes, your plot needs planning. But no, you shouldn’t feel so intimidated by the idea of writing a perfect book that you’re scared away from writing your book.
I love word building. (That’s right, WORD, not world. Which, coincidentally, I also love.) If you’re a word origins nerd looking for inspiration in creating names, locations, potions, spells, or whatever else from scratch for your novel, this dictionary is a great place to start. Though it’s only focused on the Latin and Greek languages, there is so much in here to get our little word-loving hearts pumping.
This is a teeny tiny book (about 80 pages long!) that I bought on Amazon on a complete whim. But within those 80 pages was a strategy that cracked my writing life wide open. James Scott Bell talks about plotting out your story not from the beginning or the end, but from the midpoint mirror moment in the book’s very center. He says that once you know what your character’s midpoint moment of reflection is going to be about (that moment when they ask themselves “What am I doing? What have I done? Who am I supposed to be?”) you can structure your beginning to perfect set up that moment, and structure your end to fulfill it satisfyingly. I originally found out about the wee little book from this blog post, where the author breaks down his Midpoint Mirror Moment Method (might not be the official title, but I like me some alliteration). Definitely read that blog post, even if you don’t buy the (AGAIN, ADORABLY DIMINUTIVE) book!
Another book I just got in the last week, even though this one was clearly written in the 90s. It’s mostly focused on medieval era high fantasy, but there’s tons of fun information in this book, especially if you’re writing genre fiction. The types of people who might live in medieval villages. Breakdowns of the armor and dress of the time period. Huge lists of fantasy creatures. Chapters on world cultures and religions to mine for inspiration. Everything you could ever want to know about medieval economy and trade. If you’re writing fantasy, you might check this out!
You didn’t think I was going to forget this guy, did you? Everyone’s favorite book about writing should obviously be on this list. This book bursts with advice, and it’s all coming from an experienced, successful writer who knows exactly what he’s talking about.
This little indie book holds a very special place in my heart. There is nothing, not one thing, that inspires me to write more than Harry Potter and the vibrant, intelligent, supportive fandom that has sprung up around it. I went to a panel hosted by the author of this book at an HP convention, and the talk was mind-blowing. Basically, she broke down a bunch of instances of foreshadowing from the early chapters of Prisoner of Azkaban and then showed how all those separate strings tied together in a single page in the story’s climax. Plotting 101, that panel was.
The book includes this lesson, and tons more. Analyzing not just writing, but how my favorite books were written always gets my heart thumping and creative juices all riled and bubbly.
There you have it, my favorite books about writing, sure to inspire and motivate all you pen-scribblers and paragraph-perfectionists out there. Do you have a favorite book about writing not included in this list? When you’re looking for creative motivation, do you turn to nonfiction books, or fiction? Or do you read at all when you’re writing? Leave a comment, let’s talk about this!
This post is part of the Broke and Bookish Top Ten Tuesday link-up! Head on over and check out the other blogs!