Posts tagged with: resources

It’s Never Too Late to Learn Something New

I’ve been writing novels for a long time now. I can say that I’ve learned how to write a novel and I’ve learned how to meet a deadline.

But I get stuck. I lose my way even though I have an outline. I have to rewrite. I struggle sometimes with imagery and just plain bad writing. And I sometimes lose confidence. I have accepted that these things are just part of the job.

I’ve also discovered over the years that when I’m feeling doubtful about my writing it helps to go read a book on writing craft, or storytelling, or character development and try out new techniques or new processes. Going back to basics and/or learning something new frees me from self-doubt and the writing doldrums.

So, since we’re in the midst of the Winter Writing Festival, and I figure lots of you are struggling with self-doubt, have lost your way, or are stuck on a scene, it might be helpful to provide a list of great books on the craft of storytelling and writing.

Below you’ll find a list of my favorite books on the craft of writing. Some of these books changed my life. Others are used all the time as I plot or troubleshoot.

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition by Christopher Vogler

The book discusses mythic structure and the hero’s journey as first outlined by Joseph Campbell. My take: This was the first book I ever read on story structure and it was an enormous eye-opener. It probably should be on every novelists shelf. But, a word of caution, romance authors will be left scratching their heads. The hero’s journey explains a lot of stories out there, and a lot of popular movies, but it doesn’t work for romance novels.



The Virgin’s Promise: Writing Stories of Feminine Creative, Spiritual, and Sexual Awakening by Kim Hudson (with a forward by Christopher Vogler)

This book discusses fairytale structure and can be viewed as a companion book to the Writer’s Journey. My take: I’ve been waiting for this book for years. It was published in 2010 and it discusses stories that don’t fit mythic hero’s journey structure (like romances!) If you’re writing stories about characters learning to live a fulfilled life, then this book will help you understand that structure. I truly think every romance author should own this book and study it.


Scene and Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Jack M. Bickham

This book discusses scene and sequel structure. My take: This is a book that will help you improve pacing, regardless of what kind of genre you may be writing. The book focuses on thrillers and suspense novels, but romance authors can get a lot out of it as well.




Goal Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon

This is a seminal book that provides hands-on help in crafting three-dimensional characters and understanding what people mean when they talk about conflict in a story. My take: This book changed my life. Seriously. I had no idea what conflict was, and I kept writing stories that got rejected with the words “no conflict” written all over them. If you have been told that your manuscript is lacking in conflict, you should read this book.



Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maas

Written by a well-known literary agent, Donald Mass’ workbook provides advice and exercises to make your novel stand out in a crowd. My take: The exercises in this workbook are so useful, whether you are trying to fix a scene you’ve already written, or plot a novel from start to finish. The exercises are also very useful during brainstorming sessions with other writers. A lot of the questions I ask during the WWF brainstorming sessions on Wednesday mornings come right out of this workbook.


Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K Le Guin

Beloved author and poet Ursula K. Le Guin provides her take on the craft of writing. My Take: If you’ve ever read one of Le Guin’s books, you know that she writes beautifully. Her book on writing craft (including such issues as comma placement) was utterly liberating for me.

These are my go-to books when I’m looking for inspiration or when I’m stuck. What books on craft or storytelling are on your shelves?

Can’t He Just Say Wow?

Words. There are millions to choose from as a writer. Yet the wrong word, or the right word said by the wrong person, can completely throw your reader out of the amazing world you’ve created. Nooo! If they pop out of your story and suddenly remember that they should be doing laundry they might put your book down. And heaven forbid, they might not pick it back up. So you must choose your words wisely.

The word “wow” was first used in the 1510’s. It was a Scottish exclamation to show astonishment and has apparently stood the test of time. So in my 16th century Scottish romance, it would be historically accurate for me to have my Highland hero saying “wow, lass, yer skin is so soft.” But how many of you would stop and wonder whether he would really say “wow”? That word could completely throw my reader out of the scene.

In my Young Adult romance I wanted to describe a character as a “love them and leave them” type of guy. This terminology is now dated. My teenager informed me that the term is now a “hit it and quit it” guy.

Correct word usage is important not only in dialogue but also in the rest of the book. Keep in mind whose point of view (POV) you are writing in. My Highland hero was anticipating sleeping with the heroine. I wrote him as thinking the hoped for interlude would be “fabulous.” Luckily my editor pointed out that she could not see my low-slung-kilted, rugged, warrior describing his sexual prowess as fabulous. She was right. Incredible or earth-shattering, maybe, but not fabulous.

Even writing from different POVs in contemporary romance needs watching. Soda is called pop in the Midwest. Shopping carts are called buggies in Florida. Whenever you are writing in another’ s POV, it is important to think and speak like that character would. I choose preferred historically used curse words and favorite exclamations for each of my characters and keep fairly consistent throughout the book. Sometimes you can tell who is thinking or speaking just by the way they curse.

There are great resources for writers when trying to choose the perfect word. My go-to web site for my historical writing is where I can find the year words or phrases began to be used in all their varying contexts. Richard Spears’s Slang and Euphemism book is a wonderful dictionary of oaths, curses, insults, slurs, sexual metaphors, etc. and the approximate time periods the words came into popular use.

There are many other resources, but the important message is that you need to consider your words carefully. If you are unsure if a word sounds too modern or out of place, look it up, but then use common sense. Don’t make your hero say “wow” just because he can.

Have you run into words that have thrown you out of a story (no titles/authors please)?

Thanks and happy writing!

The Latest Comments

  • Darynda Jones: Bwahahaha! I was so wondering where that was going! Did NOT see that coming. Great job, Evelyn!
  • April Mitchell: Congratulations Bonnie!
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  • Bonnie: Thank you so much! I’m so glad you enjoyed it.
  • Evelyn Smith: I know I’m too late with this, but my daughter inspired one I wanna share for fun…. Coffee...