For Writers | Writer's Bookshelf


My recommendations here are limited to books on the writing life or craft. These are the books I have found helpful in my craft, and inspiring in my work. Check the Archetypes pages for discussion of my own book about archetypes.

For reviews of my favorite authors, check out my review page.

General Craft

On Writing : A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
This is a fascinating look at the high and low points in the life of an amazing writer still at the top of his form. King also offers practical advice to writers - describing a toolbox and its contents. "Common tools" - vocabulary and basic grammar - should be on the top layer of the toolbox (and King plugs Strunk and White's, Elements of Style with gusto!). Style and paragraph structure comprise the next layer. The bottom layer has the specialized tools - innate and developed skills. Kings advocates both reading and writing for writers - and all too often the former suffers when someone starts the latter.

Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain
This is a hefty read -- best digested in smaller portions, but well worth the effort. Swain takes separate looks on all aspects of story building -- characterization, plot, scene structure, etc., and pulls them apart to get to the basic elements. The approach is somewhat scholarly, but for those writers who do study it, this book will definitely increase understanding of the interlocking components of great fiction.

The Elements of Style (4th Edition) by William Strunk Jr., et al.
This book is the grand daddy of style books, and still the best. It is simple and easy to follow, and provides excellent examples. I recommend this book to all my writing students, both from law school and from fiction workshops.


Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee
This is definitely one of the better books around discussing the inextricable intertwining of chapter and plot. The basic structure of every plot is thoroughly explored. If plotting gives you fits, then this book will enlighten you. This book is an exploration of theory - you won't walk away from with a million ideas for your own stories - just a greater understanding of how to construct your own stories.

The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth by James N. Frey
Go to just about any writing workshop, and you'll hear advice to employ the "power of myth." All this is really means is to use ageless storytelling techniques. But unlike a lot of instructors, Frey gives excellent advice on HOW to do just that.

The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You're Not by John Vorhaus
No other book on writing I've read - and I've read a lot! - kept me chuckling throughout. I'd recommend this book for the laughs alone, but I can also recommend it as the fount of writing wisdom it entails. Vorhaus not only explains the basic types of humor and the elements of a comic plot, but also lays out an excellent plotting structure useful for any type of fiction writing. Whether you merely want to add a few touches of humor to an angsty story, or you want to write the next comic blockbuster, this book will help you on your way.

The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler
Chris Vogler offers a clear and straight forward framework from which to build plots. Reference to archetypal structure, with the accessible examples offered by film references, sets forth the basic concepts that fill story structure. This book will help any writer, new or established, to lay out the elements of a plot that reaches out to readers.

The latest version of Novel and Short Story Writer's Market
The Novel and Short Story Writer's Market is the most important book in the library of any writer who wants to sell fiction. The Writer's Market, twice the size of this book, is useful for those selling nonfiction as well as fiction, but this collection of contacts cuts to the chase -- here are the publications looking for fiction. It includes book publishers, magazines, journals, online publications, and even a large listing of contests -- frequently an avenue for a writer to bypass the slushpile and get a foot in the door of a publishing house. The genre listings make the writer's job even easier, enabling easy location of those publishers looking for science fiction or mystery or literary works or whatever. As an added bonus, there are also useful articles on craft. Authored by editors or experienced writers, these offer useful insights into selling your work and honing your skills. Just make sure you get the current listing