Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Guiding writers.

So what's on your writer's reference shelf? No matter what stage your publishing career is at, I'll bet there are at least one or two writer's guides you've read over the years and now keep close at hand.

I'm also sure that most writers have at one time or other, consulted part of the Writer's digest Books enormous selection, whether it be a book on Dialogue by Lewis Turco, Theme & Strategy by Ronald B. Tobias, or Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card or perhaps one of their Howdunit series about cause of death, poisons, or weapons.

My most valued writing guides are divided into two groups -- those that work on improving writing skills and those that provide inspiration. Of the latter, bird by bird, by Anne Lamott is one that I often pick up, partly because I love her writing style but mostly because it challenges me to look at this task of writing in a different way. And from a different creative path, there's dancer Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit, with practical suggestions for getting the creative juices flowing.

For a mystery writer, Barbara Norville's Writing The Modern Mystery is ageless and has indeed seen many re-prints as it gets down to basics. My all-time favourite "how-to" book is Writing Mysteries by Margaret Locke, sadly out-of-print now. I used it as a primary reference when we were teaching mystery writing classes at night school.

Then there are the technical guides, indispensable for mystery and crime writers. Books like The Forensic Casebook by N.E Genge, The Criminal Mind by Katherine Ramsland, and Be Your Own Detective by Greg Fallis and Ruth Greenberg.

On writing in general, there's the often-quoted Christopher Vogler book, The Writer's Journey and, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, both sitting on my shelf to be re-read from time to time.

There are more...many more which is party of the reason my house has so many bookcases. These are the silent critique group, ready to point out flaws and suggest alternatives.

So, what's on your writer's reference shelf?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase


  1. These are terrific resource books, Linda. I also like Stephen King's ON WRITING and Hallie Ephron's WRITING AND SELLING YOUR MYSTERY NOVEL. King's is full of good advice and Ephron's is an excellent "how to".

  2. Thanks, Sue. Indeed they are terrific additions to any writer's shelf.

  3. i've got references of a somewhat different sort - my work is progress is a police procedural (not my old PI character) so i've tons of books on forensics, procedures, weapons, all what cops do on the job

    but if i had to pick a single most favorite reference? it would be The Internet!! conservatively, i do 80% of my research on the web

  4. The Internet, for sure, is a good reference or, rather -- research? I have three books to mention: "Your First Novel" by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb -- an agent and a writer -- gets you through sitting down at the keyboard, through queries, finding an agent, a publisher and after-the-fact stuff like publicity. Lots of helpful websites cited. I kept that by my side writing my first book. "The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery" helped me get through novel number two. Because I have a day job, it was great to work with specific plot development and character building tasks every weekend -- and it did result in a book, in less than a year. I didn't follow all the advice, but tailored it to my needs. Still, very helpful if you don't have a lot of time to spend writing every day. And one in the "inspirational"category that Linda mentioned -- mine is "Zen in the Art of Writing" by TRay Bradbury, particularly the
    title essay. And my last name's MacLeod. It's odd having that Hilary standing alone there, as if I were Cher or someone!

  5. Great suggestions, both of you. Thanks so much. I'll have to find the Bradbury book, for sure.
    You'll notice 'Sue' is a single name, too.