Essentials of a Writer’s Library – Part 1 Craft

I’ve been thinking about craft books lately, because I just read a fantastic one (more on that in a bit).

Take a look at your craft book shelf…wait, you do have a craft book shelf, right? In my opinion, if you’re a serious writer, you’d better.  I looked at mine and they seem to fall into three major categories:

  • Craft (creating)
  • Craft (editing)
  • Writing Life
  • Other stuff

I’m going to give you my top picks for each in the next few blogs (in no particular order) and you tell me in the comments what I missed!

One caveat before we start: I write romance and Women’s Fiction, so a lot of my craft books have to do with characterization and getting emotion on the page. If you’re say, a horror writer, your top picks may be different. Vive la difference!

CRAFT (creating):

This is tough, because it’s my biggest section.

Save the CatBlake Snyder

One of my first meetings of my local RWA Chapter had Blake in to speak (sadly, the weekend before he passed away) The man was so full of energy and knowledge, I ran out and bought his book. And I’ve used it ever since. It’s geared toward screenwriters, but holy wow, fiction writers can benefit! Home of his famous Beat Sheet.

Here’s what it’s about:

Blake Snyder tells all in this fast, funny and candid look inside the movie business. “Save the Cat” is just one of many ironclad rules for making your ideas more marketable and your script more satisfying, including: The four elements of every winning logline The seven immutable laws of screenplay physics The 10 genres that every movie ever made can be categorized by — and why they’re important to your script Why your Hero must serve your Idea Mastering the 15 Beats Creating the “Perfect Beast” by using The Board to map 40 scenes with conflict and emotional change How to get back on track with proven rules for script repair.

The Breakout Novelist  – Donald Maass

Here’s the blurb:

If you’re serious about transforming your writing into vibrant, engaging, and marketable fiction, you’ve found the right book. The Breakout Novelist gives you the craft and business know-how you need to make your stories stand out.

Veteran literary agent Donald Maass brings together the best innovative and practical information from his previous books and workshops to help you set your novel apart from the competition. Maass shares examples from successful and contemporary writers across all genres to equip you with strategies for crafting compelling fiction–from core elements like character, setting, description, and plot, to more advanced techniques including theme, tension, and suspense. Plus, you’ll find over 70 practical exercises to help you evaluate your writing to the breakout level.

If your goal is to craft powerful stories that capture your audience’s attention from the first page to the last, then The Breakout Novelist is an indispensable reference.

Aside from Laura – the companion Workbook is possibly even better than the book itself!

Story GeniusLisa Cron

This follows her Wired for Story, which showed you why stories are important, but this one shows you how to craft a story that is important!

Here’s the blurb:

It’s every novelist’s greatest fear: pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into writing hundreds of pages only to realize that their story has no sense of urgency, no internal logic, and so is a page one rewrite.

In Story Genius Cron takes you, step-by-step, through the creation of a novel from the first glimmer of an idea, to a complete multilayered blueprint—including fully realized scenes—that evolves into a first draft with the authority, richness, and command of a riveting sixth or seventh draft.

Honorable mention:

Planning Your Novel WorkbookJanice Hardy

I’m an almost total pantser. When Janice told me this book was still for me, I didn’t believe her…until I read it. It’s amazing whether you’re a plotter or pantser, or somewhere in-between. I read parts before I start every book I  write.

Here’s the blurb:

Planning Your Novel Workbook: Ideas and Structure contains ten workshops and over 100 exercises that lead you through the novel-planning process. Each exercise builds off the last and takes you step-by-step through finding and developing ideas, brainstorming stories, and crafting a solid plan for your novel.

Next week: look for the next post: Books on editing,

And don’t forget to tell me your fave craft books in the comments!


  1. Barb Ristine on May 4, 2020 at 4:27 pm

    Laura, I concur with your list–I own and have read most of these books. I don’t own Janice Hardy’s workbook but I subscribe to her blog where she covers the same materials.
    I would add to your list the books by James Scott Bell and Nancy Kress (there are multiple titles) in the Writers Digest Elements of Fiction series–they are all excellent primers on craft.

    • Laura Drake on May 4, 2020 at 4:40 pm

      Oh Barb, I know – my list could have been SO much longer! But didn’t want to bore everyone with a HUGE list! 🙂

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