Book Recommendation Friday: Writing Craft Books

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably got at least a few writing books in your library. If you’re like me, you have a whole slew of them. The titles of mine range from Goldberg to King to Block to whoever is popular at the moment. Many established writers, whether they are hacks or brilliant artists, cobble together a book about the writing process. I’ll try to separate the wheat from the chaff and recommend two books for your reference library.

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway 


The acknowledged seminal textbook for creative fiction is Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Burroway provides guidance for both beginning students and the experienced writer.

Her method is to discuss key elements, provide examples from literature and give the writer exercises for further exploration of the topics. Main topics include:

  • The writing process
  • Story form and structure
  • Point of view
  • Comparison
  • Theme
  • Revision

The writing is dense, but this is a textbook, not a touchy feely treatise on your inner writer. It’ll take some work to find what you need, but it’s worth it. If you’re beginning your journey as an author, you’ll want to read the book cover to cover; if you’re an old hand, pick and choose the passages. Think about what is your sticking point when it comes to the narrative, and explore. Chances are Burroway has it covered.

A word of warning, this sucker ain’t cheap. The current edition goes for a heart-stopping $82.47 on Amazon. The good news is that the fifth edition is just as valuable to you as the 8th. I picked up a used copy of the sixth edition for a little over ten bucks. Check Amazon or eBay.



What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter

A little less intense, but just as valuable for developing your craft is What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers.  The pattern of instruction is the same as with Burroway: discussion, examples, and exercises, but the focus is more on exercises than instruction. Some sample exercises:

  • First sentences: beginning in the middle
  • What do your characters want?
  • Journal keeping for writers
  • Speech flavor, or sounding real
  • Magnifying conflict
  • The inner life of characters

I find this book most helpful when I don’t have a specific project in the hopper, when I’m casting around looking to develop a specific skill or just keep my writing juices flowing.

Disclaimer: Pam Painter advised me when I studied at Vermont College. She’s a wonderful writer and great teacher. I’ll admit I’m biased.

Like Writing Fiction, a new copy of the current edition of this book is quite dear, $53.39 on Amazon. When I studied with Pam, she recommended an earlier edition. “The one with the yellow cover” is how she put it. You can find that new copy of that edition, the first, for around $11 on Amazon. Used copies can be had for a song.

Buy it, use it, live it. Okay, enough touchy, feely stuff for the moment.




Book Recommendation Friday: Writing Craft Books — 2 Comments

  1. Great recommendations, Michael. I think many writers would also find a lot of valuable information in any of Jack Bickham’s or Donald Maass’s how-to write books. Can we ever learn enough? 🙂

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