The following is a l-o-n-g list of fiction-writing resources I’ve liked. I created this list in case I ever lose my bookmarks or my notes.
I keep notebooks. Lots of notebooks, filled with advice I know I need to read, over and over again.
Every article Jim Butcher posted at LiveJournal. Seriously, go get them, print them (on paper, or save them digitally), and re-read them often. His advice is pure gold.
One of my notebooks includes things like articles by Larry Brooks, especially my notes from his tutorials (videos) at Writer’s Digest Tutorials. (Frankly, he speaks better than he writes, at least how-to-write info.)
However, I rely less on his advice now, as it’s far too easy to get bogged down figuring word counts and percentages and geeky excuses to procrastinate on finishing the book. Or even the outline. Ahem.
That notebook contains other articles by people like Lynn Johnston. I like her advice because it’s solid, but also because she’s very product-oriented.
Lynn’s advice is tailored to get you in the chair, writing, as quickly as possible. She’s a very organized, “cut-to-the-chase” person and her advice will kick you into gear in the shortest amount of time.
Also, I think Genre Hobo’s 1/1/5 advice is pretty darned good.
One of my notebooks is filled with printouts from TV Tropes.org. It’s an addiction. Really, don’t even go there unless you have several hours of free time. (I mean it.)
Another one is full of book ideas… mostly my own, but some printed pages that triggered “what if…?” ideas. From Explorator links to “weird science” notes, to things I see mentioned at Kboards and Goodreads, I have lots of ideas to work with in the future. (“Where do you get your ideas?” My answer: Everywhere. And I keep the best ideas in that notebook.)
Two more notebooks are for my current books’ sub-genres. They’re my “bibles” and a lot more.
I’ve just started a notebook that includes several articles from M J Bush’s website WritinGeekery.com.
I’m also a rabid fan of David Lee Martin. Seriously, get (and read) his productivity book before you do anything else.
Three of my notebooks were from Holly Lisle’s courses. I liked – and learned from – everything she said. But, as of June 2017 (and that goes double as of June 2018), due to complaints from my readers, I no longer recommend her. Her advice is great. How she’s blundering through her business efforts…? Kind of painful to watch. (Holly, ditch whatever you’re doing with your website & mailing list, and hire someone competent. Please.)
BOOKS – General Fiction
Stein on Writing, by Sol Stein – One of the most useful, authoritative books for both nonfiction and fiction authors. If your public library doesn’t own a copy, read them the Riot Act.
Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight V. Swain – Complex and loaded with “ah-HA!” moments for novelists and storytellers. If you can buy just one book about writing fiction, this should be it.
Most how-to-write books by James Scott Bell, but especially Super Structure. Seriously, go get it now. It’s one of the best ways to keep your books from running out of energy, whether you’re a plotter or a pantser. When you’re blinking at your story, wondering why you don’t know what to put in the next scene, that book will help.
And any book of writing advice by Chuck Wendig. Yes, he has a potty mouth. (That’s an understatement.) He’s also a genius sharing fiction-writing tips you need to know, right now. (I may also have a notebook of his blog articles. And a photo taken with him, when he spoke at a local library. And, if there was a tee-shirt, I’d probably own it. And get him to sign it.)
Also, this book is kind of insanely expensive to buy in print (until he republishes it) but – if you’re a writer and plotting isn’t your strong suit (and you want to read & highlight on paper) – probably worth the money. (I bought my printed copy for $25.) Secrets of Action Screenwriting. Otherwise, especially if you’re writing something with high tension, the Kindle edition is probably fine.
If you’re struggling with middle-of-the-book blues and your plot sags in ways no Spanx could possibly make sleek and attractive, also grab Martell’s Act Two Secrets. (The Kindle version is good enough. It’s a quick read, while still jaw-droppingly amazing. Or that’s how it was for me, anyway.)
Career – Writing Fiction
Patterson – A Fabulous Resource for Writers – 350 Character Traits (I printed just the charts. On my printer — using the “shrink to fit” setting — that’s pages 2 & 3.)
Character Name Generator – A simple tool for character names, or even pen names.
Top 5 Names in Each of the Last 100 Years – When you need a given name that will resonate with your target audience.
The Newsiest Names (girls) – When you’d like a given name that’s trending right now. (That site also has boys’ names, cool names, off-the-grid names, and so on.)
British Surnames – When you need a surname that’s popular in the UK, America, Australia, Canada, and so on. (Irish options and more, at that site.)
I’m using Character Writer software (not free) from Typing Chimp. The leaner free version is probably all you need. (If you decide to buy it, search for “Typing Chimp Coupon Code” to see if they’re running a discount. The full price is around $70.)
Philbrick – Tips for Better Dialogue
Fiction – General (including free online courses & article series)
Lakin – 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction (2014 course starts at that link)
WriteWorld Toolbox is dangerously good. It’s juicy. It’s filled with amazing links, and links to links, and… well, you get the idea. On my first visit, I printed out 15 inspiring and insightful articles sure to improve my writing. (If you’re in the middle of writing a book, don’t even go there. Finish the book, first. During a between-books break, visit the Toolbox.)
Brooks – The circus tent plotting graphic worksheet linked at Two More Killer Visual Story Tools. (The 8.5″ x 14″ one prints fine on an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper. It just doesn’t have the extended lines below the tent.)
Good to Great: Nail a Better Concept to Empower Your Story (If you only have time to read and apply one thing at Larry Brooks’ site, this should be it.)
Case Study: Story Plan Analysis – DOA (Really harsh. Totally illuminating. Not for those who bristle at criticism.)
Hunger Games (9) – The Entire Story in Nine Sentences – Can you do this with your novel?
Writers Digest Tutorials: https://tutorials.writersdigest.com/courses/transform-your-novel-from-good-to-great-the-elements-of-story (This is not the same thing as his “From Good to Great…” tutorial/webinar, but both are at the top of my list in terms of must-see viewing for fiction authors. If you can afford it, watch both of those, plus Cusick’s Amazing First Lines, and… oh, lots of others. Worth the money. Worth your time, too.)
[If the WD Tutorials link doesn’t work, look for “Transform your novel from good to great” at any search engine, and select the Writers Digest link.]
Using something other than the traditional “hero’s journey” model:
Fiction Focus: Aristotle’s incline – Simple, clear graphic.
Toasted Cheese: 12 Baby Steps to a Complete Story – Good steps, but I don’t agree about asking for feedback. The only opinions that matter are (a) your readers’, and (b) your editor (if you go the traditional publishing route). On the other hand, the explanation of Aristotle’s incline is excellent and brief.
Plotting a Novel in Three Acts: Midpoint Scene – If you’re like me, middle-of-the-book sag is treacherous. It was my Achilles heel when I was working on romance novels. This article suggests fixes. Mostly, click on her graphic to see a great version of Aristotle’s incline.
Books about writing fiction
Anything by William Martell, unless you’re a beginning writer. As of June 2017, his Act Two Secrets book changed how I plot my fiction. It’s been one of the biggest “ah-HA!” moments of my fiction writing career.
Book: The Writers Journey, by Christopher Vogler – It’s the most detailed study of the “hero’s journey” method of plotting, and Vogler is the one who made this the #1 choice for many (most?) novelists. It’s not easy to read. Your public library probably has a copy.
(FREE! The good news if you’re interested in “hero’s journey” plotting: Others explain it far more clearly and simply — notably Dan Well’s “story structure” workshop series. You can watch it at this site, or at YouTube.)
Book: 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them, by Ronald B. Tobias – Lots of people say there are only x-number of plots in the world. This book covers them better than most.
Plotting tools (mostly free)
Book Ideas (Plots, Characters, and more)
Seventh Sanctum, Writing – When you have no ideas for a story, and need inspiration. (Warning: You may spend days here. The good news? You’ll never run out of plot ideas and elements to populate them.)
Interested in writing pulp books (a la Lester Dent) and you love gaming? Check out the Pulp Adventure Generator. When I snagged it, it was only $1.99. Definitely worthwhile, if only for inspiration.
Ooh, shiny! Random Plot Generator.
Gaming resources are great for plots, characters, settings, and so on. Here’s where you may find some plot ideas: The Big List of RPG Plots, The 36 Plots (get ready for drama), The Net Book of Plots (from weak to inspiring),
I’m not sure if you should avoid cliches or say, “Hey, they’re cliches because they work and they’re popular.” Either way, here are some good links: The Grand List of Console Role Playing Game Cliches, and a generic manga-style plot (at MIT.edu). Then there’s Cumberland’s Big List of RPG Plots (scroll down to that link, within “Toys”), and an RPG way to use them with dice (or RNGs).
Planning and Plotting
I do some (“lite”) plotting in a Character Writer tool (not free) but you can use a free version of this same tool, online, and it’s probably as good or better. It’s clunky and no-frills, but I like it.
More fiction-y goodness
British Etiquette – Fork in left hand, please. (Lots of other interesting British info at that site, as well. If you’re setting a book in England, this site is a shortcut to key points you must get right.)
Need to create a map for your book’s “world”? Check out the G+ community, Map-Making in Games. Their ideas apply to make-believe map-making in general.
Books: Any thesaurus by Angela Ackerman. Costume 1066 – 1990s (or any title like that) by John Peacock.
The following are things that have amused me or provided “ah-HA!” moments (or both) when I’ve been stalled as a writer. Some are better than others.
General “ah-HA!” Links
Quit comparing your books to others’ as if there is one, simple answer to why one book sells well and another doesn’t. No One Knows what makes a book a success.
Paperback Writer: Freebies and Free Reads. The “John and Marcia” notes made me laugh out loud. The virtual workshops have some gems. And, some of her forms are tremendously useful.
I’ve barely scratched the surface on her Friday 20 Index, but found plenty of good tips, even for indies. She goes geeky in a blink, talking about some topics. Wonderful insights!
Holly Lisle’s creating Conflict: or, The Joys of Boiling Oil was another laugh-out-loud discovery, and she makes some great points.
Kait Nolan provides truly great advice and worksheets at her downloads page. I’ve placed a copy of her Scene Questionnaire at the front of my current story bible.
Genre fiction insights
Susan Bischoff’s Blueprint Series may be written with romance novels in mind, but most of it is sage and insightful advice for any novel. She’s a fan of Larry Brooks, and that shows in the very best ways. I nodded enthusiastically when she said the “snowflake” method sounded good at first, but it wasn’t quite enough. (I know people who swear by it, but — after a really good start — I found myself staring at the paper, completely stalled.)
If you get lost in Susan’s series of posts, the second one is here, and — after that — the next one is always linked at the top right corner of the article.
Or, you can use her Blueprint index and start at the last post, working your way back. I printed several for my writing notebook.
Wrede: Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions – Lots of things to think about before plotting your series.
Anagram and Scrabble Solver – When you need to leave clues, or you want to be ever-so-clever, or both, by scrambling words.
10 Deadly Poisons – A list with details that crime writers need.
I don’t write erotica. Even my romances (the ones I read and the ones I write) are “sweet,” not “spicy.”
Formatting (Scrivener) – I write everything in Scrivener, now. It’s simplified everything for me. There is a learning curve, but it’s worth it. Really.
Hernandez – Compile in Scrivener (kind of a cheat sheet of which settings do what, in Scrivener)
How to change the default font in Scrivener, from Kait Nolan.
Compiling your book without losing your mind: Publishing from Scrivener to Kindle with Pat Haggerty.
And, in general, I couldn’t possibly use Scrivener without David Lee Martin’s video course explaining Scrivener for Windows.
I kind of love the information & resources in this article, because it’s rich with clicky-de-click links: Write Better Blog Posts.