Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fiona Harper on Writing: Give me your book recommendations!

Last month I talked about my top ‘How to…’ books when it comes to the craft of writing. There were so many good comments and suggestions that I’ve realised my groaning library shelf needs to expand further! So this month I’m listing the top five writing books I haven’t read yet but really want to:

1. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamot
So many people mention this book when I listen to writing workshops and seminars that I am totally intrigued. The snippets I’ve heard sound very wise and very practical.

"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was  ten years old at the time, was trying to get a  report on birds written that he'd had three months to  write. It was due the next day. We were out at our  family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen  table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper  and pencils and unopened books on birds,  immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my  father sat down beside him, put his arm around my  brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.'"

2. Monkeys with Typewriters  by Scarlet Thomas
This one I picked, just because the title was so catchy! And a few people recommended it in the comments of last month’s post.

Stories are everywhere...
Exploring the great plots from Plato to The Matrix and from Tolstoy to Toy Story, this is a book for anyone who wants to unlock any narrative and learn to create their own. With startling and original insights into how we construct stories, this is a creative writing book like no other. It will show you how to read and write better.

3. Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
I’ve heard this book referred to in workshops I’ve attended more than a couple of times too. I like the fact it was written almost 80 years ago and has surivived the test of time.

Describes a writer's temperament and how to develop a writer's habits, originality, and insight, imitate exemplary works, read critically, and overcome writing difficulties. It focuses not just on plotting techniques or prose style, but on the process of developing the habits and discipline of a writer, with beating writer's block, reading to improve one's writing and other psychological techniques… She's strong on confidence building and there's a lot about cheating your unconscious which will constantly try to stop you writing by coming up with excuses. Then there are exercises to help you get into the right frame of mind and to build up writing stamina.

4. Wired for Story by Lisa Cron
I’m going to confess I stumbled across this on Amazon while looking for blurbs for the other books on my list. After clicking on ‘Look Inside’ I am totally fascinated. I can feel my mouse finger aiming for the ‘add to wishlist’ button…

Imagine knowing what the brain craves from every tale it encounters, what fuels the success of any great story, and what keeps readers transfixed. Wired for Story reveals these cognitive secrets—and it’s a game-changer for anyone who has ever set pen to paper.
     The vast majority of writing advice focuses on “writing well” as if it were the same as telling a great story. This is exactly where many aspiring writers fail—they strive for beautiful metaphors, authentic dialogue, and interesting characters, losing sight of the one thing that every engaging story must do: ignite the brain’s hardwired desire to learn what happens next. When writers tap into the evolutionary purpose of story and electrify our curiosity, it triggers a delicious dopamine rush that tells us to pay attention. Without it, even the most perfect prose won’t hold anyone’s interest.
5. Solutions for Novelists by Sol Stein.
Shhh… I have this on my bookshelf; I just haven’t got round to reading it yet. Sounds good, though, doesn’t it?

In this book, Sol Stein, one of the greatest editors of our time, offers help on the most important recurrent problems novelists encounter when learning their craft. With numerous examples from the work of both established bestselling authors and talented newcomers, combined with detailed analysis, he reveals the secrets that can lift a piece of creative writing and give it that spell-binding quality that holds the reader enthralled. The need to give the reader a unique experience, the necessity for conflict between characters, the importance of instant attraction, what makes a character compelling and a plot gripping; why dialogue should never mimic spoken conversation and how misplaced or unnecessary words can slow down the narrative - all this and more is conveyed in this entertaining yet practical book that provides all the benefits of an individual tutorial.

So...what other books would you recommend to me? What should I add to my list?

Fiona's latest book The Rebound Guy is out now in Harlequin KISS - a linked story to The Guy To Be Seen With. If you liked Daniel's feisty sister in that book, she's back! And now she's got a guy of her own to give her trouble - hunky ex-swimmer and businessman Jason Knight.

New York, new guy, new Kelly!
After Kelly Bradford's past few years, all she wants is a steady life. She certainly doesn't need the hassle of men or dating after everything she's been through. So she absolutely, categorically should not be fantasizing about Jason Knight, her boss and a man whose very smile screams trouble!

But a business trip to New York pushes her resolutions to the max—the adrenaline of the Big Apple has nothing on the excitement Kelly feels around Jason! Maybe a rebound fling is just what she needs to make her feel alive again…

Find it on Amazon, eHarlequin or Barnes & Noble.


  1. I picked up 3 of your 5 suggestions :D Haven't read them yet though. The last one came in the mail today -- wasn't available in kindle format. Silly publisher.

    I Writing for Emotional Impact. I may have mentioned it before, but I don't remember. Memory of a goldfish and all that. I like screenwriting books(looking forward to reading Inside Story -- which is the one that arrived today!), but WfEI I always compare to Film School and most screenwriting books to... Film Appreciation 101.

    Though seeing as your craft shelf sounds like mine, you may already have something comparable!

  2. Ooh, I've got Writing For Emotional Impact! It was very good. Forgot it, because it's on my eReader so I don't notice it when I glance along my bookshelf.

  3. "Techniques of the Selling Writer" by Dwight Swain is the one I always recommend. It was recommended to me in the ladies room of an RWA Conference years ago and I have been forever grateful to the nameless writer who mentioned it!