Four New(ish) Books on Craft and Why You Might Need Them

Confession: I have started, but not finished, these books. They’re scattered around the house (had to round them up for this post) but now that I’m not in the middle of a book for my Best YA Challenge from readingisdelicious or my book club or critiques or betas, I’m going to choose one and read it. Whole thing. And do the exercises! (I’m ambitious; it’s a blessing and a curse.)

1. Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, by Lisa Cron – This book takes us through twelve cognitive secrets, describing each one and its application to writing fiction. Some of the lessons aren’t exactly “new,” but they are shown in a new and memorable way. For example, Chapter 2’s Cognitive Secret is: When the brain focuses its full attention on something, it filters out all unnecessary information, and the Story Secret is: To hold the brain’s attention, everything in a story must be there on a need-to-know basis. I think most writers know this story secret, but seeing why it works and how that relates to the brain, is pretty darn cool. This is great for the beginning writer, and an interesting and fresh take for the intermediate/advanced writer.

2. Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers, by Mary Kole – I followed Mary Kole’s Kitlit blog for a long time, and still check in occasionally. What I like about her advice and instruction is that she often goes deeper into technique and explanation than other books and blogs tackling similar issues. For example, she talks about Telling versus Showing, and discusses when Telling is good, like with Interiority. Another great point in this book’s favor is her discussion of the differences between middle grade and young adult fiction, as well as the psychological/developmental differences of the tween and the teen.

3. Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling, by Donald Maass – I own two of Maass’s other books (The Fire in Fiction and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook) and I would’ve thought with all the information and seriously amazingly helpful exercises in those, that he wouldn’t have much more to add. That kind of thinking is completely wrong, because with this book, he goes even further into excavating emotions in plot, character, premise (and possibly more – I’m not through with it yet!) to make them even more compelling. My brain explodes on a regular basis when I read this, because I’m thinking of two different WIPs, two sets of characters, and I want to do the exercises immediately for both. Simultaneously. Anyway, amazing book. This is the one I’m going to devote myself to for the next month. I think everyone can work with this book, but it helps to have finished a draft to work with.

4. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi – This is less a book on craft and more a resource, but just as useful the other books featured here. Ackerman and Puglisi have compiled 75 different emotions (alphabetized!), defining each one, listing the physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, cues of having that emotion long-term, and cues of suppressing that emotion. Each entry lists related emotions, so the writer can cross-reference signals and responses. I think this is the niftiest thesaurus ever, great for writers at any point in their journey.


  1. deborahbrasket · April 19, 2013

    Thanks for sharing. I will check out some of these.

  2. jamieweilhealthcoach · April 19, 2013

    Okay, QS. Going to order Maass right now so it can live on my Kindle with all my other books waiting to be read. (Like The Religions of the World, for example, which I have yet to read.) Can totally relate to the all over the house (car, purse, bathroom–I’ve said too much) style of reading! Thanks for the thoughtful critique…and, conveniently, I will be working on a draft with edits:)

    • Beth Hull · April 19, 2013

      WAIT QS! I have it on my Kindle but got totally frustrated because I can never find my dog-ears or highlights. I asked for a paper copy for my birthday and like it much better. Easier to flip through, add sticky notes & colored highlighters & so on.

      • jamieweilhealthcoach · April 20, 2013

        Okay. It’s like you read my mind. Paper it is. Luckily, it’s just on my to do list, not actually done. Shazam!

  3. PB Rippey · April 19, 2013

    Wow, these all sound intriguing to me! Thanks for these detailed descriptions, very helpful. I think I will start with #2 and #3–although I still have to finish my “Breakout” Maas. Thanks, Beth!

    • PB Rippey · April 19, 2013

      PS. Still loving my gopher shirt. Om.

      • Beth Hull · April 19, 2013

        You’re welcome! In case it isn’t obvious: I’m addicted to books on writing craft. And gopher illustrations. I bet you totally rock that shirt. Hmm, maybe I should make one for myself for LA….

  4. Seth Z. Herman · April 20, 2013

    this post is PERFECTION. i wondering about some new books on craft that i should grab… as usual, you are the king. er, queen.

    • Beth Hull · April 20, 2013

      Oh, I’m obsessed with craft books. I recommend them to people who don’t even write. 🙂 Glad you found some ideas here!

  5. beccapuglisi · April 28, 2013

    Ooh, I’ve been hearing a lot about Wired for Story. Guess I’ll have to check it out. Thanks so much for including The Emotion Thesaurus on your list of must-haves. This is great company to be in!

    • Beth Hull · April 28, 2013

      You’re welcome! I saw that it’s also featured in the newest SCBWI Bulletin. Congratulations!

      • becca puglisi · April 30, 2013

        Thanks! That was definitely good news for us 🙂

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