Recommended Reading: Craft Books

July 18th, 2018

At Seton Hill, students must read a book on the craft or business of writing each semester. They decide upon the book in consultation with their mentor, and over the years I’ve gathered a long list of titles on various topics that have been helpful to my students. I’ve read most of them–the others are ones that multiple students have read and found instructive.

  1. Disclosure: If you purchase a book from the below links within a certain amount of time of clicking on it, I will earn a small portion of the sale. That does not affect my recommendations, though. For more information, see the full affiliate disclosure.

Story Structure, Plotting, & Synopsis

The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne

Extremely valuable look at the elements of successful stories. Maybe not the most well-edited book on writing–and the images in the electronic version are small enough to be barely worthwhile–but it’s still an excellent resource. There is a bit of a focus on thrillers, as well.

The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master by Martha Alderson

This one is slightly touchy feely and a little mystical, and that grates on my nerves a bit . . . but it has a lot of good stuff.

There are also two companion titles.


Story Engineering by Larry Brooks


Writing the Fiction Synopsis: A Step by Step Approach by Nicola Morgan


Write a Great Synopsis – An Expert Guide by Pam McCutcheon



Revising Fiction: Making Sense of the Madness by Kirt Hickman

I often suggest that my students who are about to wrap up their first drafts read this title. It can be useful even if you are still working on your first draft as it’s good to be thinking about the issues, and the book does deal with first-draft concerns to help you create less of a mess to clean up.


Writing Dialogue by Tom Chiarella


Dialogue: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Effective Dialogue by Gloria Kempton


Point of View

Characters & Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Orson Scott Card


Characters & Characterization

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

Emotion Amplifiers by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon


Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King

Writer’s Digest Grammar Desk Reference: The Definitive Source for Clear and Concise Writing by Gary Lutz and Stevenson Diane


Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies by Sol Stein


Ground Rules for Writers: A Quick and Easy Reference Guide for all the Painful Punctuation, Ghastly Grammar, and Pesky Sound Alike Words, Fracking Up Your Work by Susan Ball & Sheryl Wright


Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing by Claire Kehrwald Cook


Theory of Fiction Writing

The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner

A classic on writing fiction in general. It’s maybe a little literary and philosophical, but it’s a good book.


Writing Fantasy

Wonderbook (Revised and Expanded): The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card


The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction: 6 Steps to Writing and Publishing Your Bestseller! by Philip Athans

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: The Essential Guide to Fantasy Travel by Dianna Wynne Jones

It’s actually a pretty incisive look at the fantasy genre. It might be a low-key, but it’s still useful.


World Building

World-Building by Stephen L. Gillett

Especially useful for SF authors.


Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding edited by Janna Silverstein

While this book is geared to game designers and people creating campaign worlds for role playing games, it’s still incredibly useful for fiction writers.


Storyworld First: Creating a Unique Fantasy World for Your Novel by Jill Williamson

This isn’t one that I’ve read, but students of mine have read it and enjoyed it.


September 12-13: Lawrence C. Connolly in DE

September 10th, 2008

Lawrence C. Connolly will be talking about creating tension in fiction and reading from his novel, VEINS at the Borders in North Wilmington at 7:00 PM on Friday the 12th.

This particular talk was well-received by the Garden State Horror Writers, back in July, so if you’re looking for some advice on amping up the tension in your fiction, don’t miss it!

Connolly will also be reading, signing books, and playing music from the VEINS soundtrack at Between Books in Claymont, DE on Saturday the 13th from 2-5 PM. Between Books always makes us feel at home, and they throw a great event.

Please pass this information along to anyone who might be interested! Crowds are great fun. See you there.

A short story of my own

May 27th, 2008

A couple weeks ago I discovered that Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword & Sorceress 23 was open for submissions via e-mail . . . for four more days. I’ve been thinking lately that one of my big regrets from the past few years is that with all of the time and energy I’ve put into Fantasist Enterprises, I have done very little writing of my own. Besides that small burst of creativity roughly this time last year, and a short story I wrote in December, I’ve written nothing more than letters, e-mails, marketing materials, and the occasional blog.

I slid into the publishing business thanks to my love of reading and writing. Story is my passion, and I decided that I wanted to spend my time working with it. I knew I had a lot to learn about writing, and was planning on going to Seton Hill’s writing popular fiction program so I decide to focus on learning about publishing by doing it, and allowing my own writing to simmer on the back burner while I worked. I reasoned that after graduating from Seton Hill, I’d been more accomplished at writing, and could then turn my attention more towards getting published.

Even though I completed a draft of a novel in order to graduate, and I wrote a handful of short stories during school, after graduation, writing just faded away. The bug bit every once in awhile, but never so hard that I really accomplished anything. Seeing that call for submissions really made something click. It’s time that I actually make the time to do some writing of my own.

So I gave myself a challenge. I would write a story to submit to the book, which meant coming up with an idea, writing it, getting someone to proof it, make any final edits, and e-mail it . . . in four days, knowing that I would be working on three of those days.

I placed a link to the webpage about the call for submissions in my Firefox toolbar as a subtle reminder, told a few folks that I would not be as responsive as usual over the next few days, and then did my thing. On the days I worked at my part time job, I ran through scenes in my head and then I would jot down notes and rough blocks of prose during my breaks. I only had Thursday all to myself since there was a lot of work to be done for VEINS on Tuesday. So that meant a few very late nights and early mornings.

I managed to do it. I wrote 37 pages, had Meesh proofread it, did some fine-tuning of my own, and sent it out. I did not have high hopes, and I am sure the story is still rough, but the point is, I gave myself a challenge and I pulled it off.

And yes I got a rejection less than 24 hours later, but I saw that I can write and actually finish stories, and rather quickly. If I could survive on three to four hours of sleep a night indefinitely, I’d be able to churn out a novel every month at that rate.

So my next writing challenge is to finish a novella that I started months ago, and actually send it out to Writers of the Future. From there, I’ll just have to watch out for more interesting anthologies to try and write for.