The Best Books For Writers of Fantasy
There’s a lot of books that one can find on how to be a better writer. Dean Koontz and Stephen King have both written such books. You can read a dozen books on craft and still walk away with nothing, though. I have tried to select books that I try to always have on my shelf or near me when I am at certain parts of the process. Going into this exercise, I thought I would end up selecting a lot of the books I read in college for my creative writing minor, but none of them made the cut. Instead, I have books that I learned about all within the last year!
The Emotions Thesaurus So many people will tell you “show, don’t tell.” Very few people will give you concrete examples of how to actually do this. This is the book you need when it comes to “showing” how your characters are feeling. It is arranged alphabetical by emotion, with examples of how to convey that emotion with facial expressions, body language, and many other physical cues. There’s an index in the back so you can quickly find the emotion you are struggling to convey. I find this particularly useful for my “strong silent type” characters, the ones who would rather throw a punch than talk, and for my “shy quiet type” characters who would rather melt into the wall than have to talk to someone they are unfamiliar with (gosh, self, @ me next time!).
2.) The Positive Traits Thesaurus I love to have this book (and the next one!) beside me when I am in the planning stages. I have a rough idea of the characters personalities, but being able to pull up the two page spread on “Perceptive” and instantly have a list of possible reason a character might be perceptive, some of the challenges a perceptive person might encounter, and which personalities they might clash with? It is awesome.
3.) The Negative Traits Thesaurus - Everything I said about the previous one, but for flaws. It’s not just good for trying to dig into your villains backstory, but also trying to figure out how to really stress out your main character. Your main character is disorganized? This book gives meaty examples of how this might totally ruin your MC’s plans and land them two steps back instead of one step forward. My favorite part of this book is “traits in minor characters that may cause conflict” because oh wow do I love putting my characters into conflict. A disorganized MC’s BFF should be meticulous and responsible, after all.
The authors of these awesome thesauri, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi , have a few more such books, including ones on settings that may be super useful to you if you are building worlds from scratch. I highly recommend all of the books, but really tried to narrow it down to the ones that I thought were essentials.
4.) The Artful Edit I think this book could be read before you write your first MS, or early on in the initial rounds of edits, but it should absolutely be read. Bell gives great examples of editing, and not so great ones (she picks on The Great Gatsby, much to my delight). I would say this book is more important and necessary that The Elements of Style and more applicable as it tailors to today’s editing tastes. Bell dispenses a bevy of tips on how to edit your own work and why you need to. This book has insight from editors, authors, and readers on what does and does not make books, scenes, chapters and all the moving parts of a book work together. This isn’t a book on punctuation, grammar, and syntax; it is a book about making words work together as a whole, and it is written in a rivetting narrative that teaches as it also tells a story.
5.) Self-Editing for Writers If The Artful Edit was a love letter to editing, this is a recipe book. Nonetheless, there are many incredible chapters on how to edit various parts of your novel. This one is easier to use while actively editing. Having trouble with editing your dialogue? There’s a chapter for that. I would advise using this book for your final edits, while The Artful Edit should be used very early on as a guide. The authors of this book both have long histories as editing some of the best fiction currently in print, and that expertise truly shows throughout.
6.) Fantasy’s Othering Fetish The giant sea creature that occupies every room in every fantasy castle ever written. Speculative fiction has a lot of problems, and even though we have the ability to create infinite universes, we always create the same ones. The same, very white, very European, futures and pasts. We write the same story where the people of color are either absent or monsters, window dressing or props. This book was written with a love for fantasy pulsing through every vein, it is a plea for us to do better, to live up to the promise of the genre. It explores “classics” as well as recent publications, it examines the tropes that started centuries ago in Arthurian legend and persist to this day in mega-franchises that have yearly blockbusters. If you are looking for a book full of the very awful tropes and how to avoid them? This is your book.
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