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  • [Reality Check] What Are Your Favorite Writing References?
This blog was featured on 08/31/2019
[Reality Check] What Are Your Favorite Writing References?
Written by
Zetta Brown
August 2018
Written by
Zetta Brown
August 2018

While some of us are hot and sweaty and in the middle of NaNoWriMo-ing, laser-focused on their plot and word count, there are those of us who are easily distracted. We find our eyes wandering away from the keyboard or notepad.

The other day as my eyes wandered away for the Nth time, they rested their gaze upon my bookshelf. I have two tall bookshelves. One has books for general reading, and the other bookcase is full of my reference books. The rest of my books are in boxes or in piles along the wall of my bedroom.

I haven’t taken any time to really study if there is an underlying theme that ties my reference books together. There could be one, and at the moment, I’d say that finding a recurring theme on my bookshelf would be easier than trying to find one in my NaNoWriMo draft.

But I thought it would be fun to share the following. It is a short sampling of some of my favorite references about the craft of writing that I also list on my website.

Guide to Fiction Writing – Phyllis A. Whitney

“...when a writer’s work is in competition with all those thousands of other manuscripts that pour over an editor’s desk, he cannot afford to be ‘as good as’; he (or she) must be ‘better than.’”

Considering Whitney’s illustrious and prolific writing career, she knew what it took to be “better than.” Whitney was one of the queens of “Gothic romance,” or “romantic suspense,” depending on whom you ask. Whitney herself once wrote a piece for the Mystery Writers Handbook (1982) entitled, “What Do You Mean ‘Gothic’?

Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction – Patricia Highsmith

By the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Strangers on a Train, Highsmith is honest about the difficulties she faced when writing her stories and offers practical advice in this short book.

How to Write a Mystery – Larry Beinhart

Perhaps one of the most entertaining and detailed “how-to” books about the genre I have read.

Getting Into Character:  Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors – Brandilyn Collins

People may pooh-pooh method acting, but there is a lot an author can learn from actors when it comes to characterization and motivation—something every character needs in order to interest the reader from start to finish.

The Story Engine: A Writer’s Guide (ebook) – Matt Shutt

If you are ever at a loss on how to make your characters more unique or you’ve written yourself into a corner, this is a fun way to fix it. You can pick and choose traits and situations from the many lists inside, or do it totally by random—with dice!

I’d like to hear about your favorite books about writing—regardless of whether it’s genre, literary, journalism, academic, or business writing—share with us the title and what makes it a keeper in your personal reference library.


Got a [REALITY CHECK] about the publishing life to share? If you would like to be a guest on my blog, please friend me on She Writes with a message! :)

©2014. Zetta Brown is an editor and the author of several published short stories and the erotic romance novel Messalina: Devourer of Men. She also provides editing services through JimandZetta.com. If you like this post, then stop by her editing blog Zetta’s Desk.


* This post was originally published in November 2014.

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  • Some of my reference books: The Craft of Research (Booth, Colomb & Williams, et al); Little Brown Some of my favorite reference books: Little Brown Handbook (Aaron & Fowler); Writer's Market (Writer's Digest Books); The Anatomy of Story (John Truby); Follow the Story (James B. Stewart); Story (Robert McKee) and Making of Story (Alice LaPlante).

  • Great list of books, especially for mystery writers. Thanks for sharing.

  • Amy S. Peele

    Thanks for sharing your reference books. I am in NaNoWriMo too and have done the same looking around my writing room at reference books. So many welcoming distractions from my word count goal. Nice to know I am in good company. 

  • Rachel E. Pollock Revising

    Wonderbook is amazing. It's like a work of art in and of itself (it's a full color trade paperback, with art of some kind on every page, even if it is just interesting scribbly things and tiny scenes in the margins), and i found that all of the visual elements made me think about what he says about writing in new ways. For example, in a chapter on novel structure, there are pictures representing different ways of constructing and revealing narrative. I checked it out of my library, but i keep renewing it, so i think i need to admit that i ought to just buy it for myself!

  • Zetta Brown

    Hi Rachel! Thanks for the suggestions. I've heard of Writing Down the Bones. A friend of mine had it in college, but I never got around to looking at it, so I'll check it out.

    Wonderbook sounds good too because I like speculative fiction.

  • Rachel E. Pollock Revising

    I like the philosophical inspiration in Lamotte's Bird by Bird and Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones.

    I recently read Jeff VanderMeer's Wonderbook, which is a lavishly illustrated book on writing speculative fiction, and LOVED how inspiring it was, for all kinds of fiction, really.

    And, a book i bought in grad school and have kept because i loved its strategies and prompts is Shadow Boxing: The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction, by Kristen Iversen.