Before I dive into a list of my hands-down favourite resources I use as an author, I wanted to brush on a topic that has been popping up in my feed a lot lately – how do we support the authors we love! This is obviously a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I work really hard to be paid … very very little. And now it’s come to my attention that Amazon allows readers to buy ebooks and return them after completely finishing reading them. Is this an excellent life hack, and a great way to score free books?
Well, no, actually. Reading then returning books for a full refund doesn’t make you a winner at life, but a thief. Amazon isn’t losing out on those profits – the author is, who must return the royalty they earned. So if you enjoy an author, and think you’d like it if they kept on writing more books, you need to actually pay them for their work. I mean … you probably don’t love doing work for free, right?
This actually brings up a kinda tricky question when it comes to second-hand books. I LOVE second-hand book stores, book sales and free little libraries. I think these are amazing concepts! You can browse all kinds of books at the fraction of the price, and recycling is good for the environment. But the drawback is: authors aren’t getting paid a dime for your enjoyment.
The answer here is actually a really simple one. If you find a book you love at a used book store, awesome! Go check out the author, and buy another one of their books – you’re probably going to love it, and that author is more likely to keep on writing more! You can buy an ebook for an environmental spin.
Also, lots of authors have Patreon pages – they are set up for you to show your appreciation by buying them a cup of coffee. When you are an indie author especially, that kind of support really helps.
(Hot tip: another way you can support struggling authors is to sign up for their newsletter. It costs you virtually nothing at all! You can sign up for mine, right here, and you’ll get lots of recipes, book recommendations and email hugs! And there’s still time to get in for the Penny Farthing Clock giveaway!)
Now, let’s dive into the goods. When I started my journey as an author, I had lots of enthusiasm and imagination, but little in the way of technical training! Since that point, I’ve done tons of writing classes and workshops, but much of what I’ve learned has come through amazing resources I keep on hand. It’s made a world of difference. Before, I constantly got comments of “you’re telling, not showing,” and “I don’t connect with your character.”
Times have changed, though. Recently, I had a manuscript review with Canadian author Rosemary Nixon. She was so pleased with my writing that she asked to use my work as an example in one of her upcoming workshops on character development! For the record, not as a “what not to do!” That’s one of the best compliments I’ve received in a long time.
My point is, writing is a craft, and we are constantly improving on it. But it doesn’t happen in a vacuum; we have to use the tools out there to help us out. These books are by my side as I’m writing, and have really helped me improve my skills.
Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need, by Jessica Brody
This is my go-to always forever book I will never quit when it comes to writing. I’m not even exaggerating, it’s that good. If you are a plotter.
I’ve written about this before, but I’ll do it again because the usefulness of this book for authors cannot be overstated. It is based on the books by Blake Snyder for screenwriting but developed for novels. It is a step-by-step cheat sheet of how you need to lay out your plot in order to get the perfect reaction from readers.
If the idea of outlines and formulas gives you hives, I can’t relate. I am the ultimate plotter. When I try to pants things (author speak for “flying by the seat of your pants while writing”), things turn into a disastrous mess that takes me months to write my way out of. For efficient writing, nothing is better.
Firstly, it allows you to see which of the major story archetypes your story falls on, and what elements you need to include in order to find a satisfying storyline. These archetypes are well known, and every story in existence falls under these categories, such as Fool Triumphant (the underdog), Golden Fleece (the Hero Quest), and Rites of Passage (your classic coming of age story). Once you see what type of story you’re writing, you can lean into the archetype to encompass the elements readers are expecting.
If you think your story is different, that it doesn’t fall under these archetypes, I truly think you’re doing yourself a disservice. These storylines have been developed since the beginning of mankind – it makes sense to go with them. There is a reason why some stories resonate throughout time, and others go entirely unnoticed, and that is the reader satisfaction level.
And then there is the Beat Sheet. Following this “formula” (really a guide to ensure you hit all the emotional beats that a reader craves) gives structure to your story and helps develop your outline. I have written before about my ability to plot, outline and write novels quickly and efficiently. This is my secret sauce. I would recommend this to every author, whether you’re writing short stories or epic novels.
How to Write a Dynamite Scene Using the Snowflake Method, by Randy Ingermanson
Along with Save the Cat!, the Snowflake Method is my one-two punch in creating a story that sings. The basic concept of the snowflake method is that every scene (Every. Single. One.) is a miniature story. You must be able to break down the wants and needs of the point of view character. Their goal, the conflict, and the consequence.
If you have a plot that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, it’s very useful to break it down on the scene level. It’s something I now do before I ever put pen to paper. A scene that doesn’t really do much is likely missing some of these elements, and if so, it either has to be rewritten or scratched. I don’t care how much you love that scene, it needs to work for you or it’s got to go!
This is the place where I often have to “kill my darlings” (delete my favourite scenes or passages because they aren’t working). Sometimes we fall in love with our words and can’t get up the courage to get rid of them. As a result, they stick around far too long, taking up word count and making us jump through hoops to create a place for them. This method gives me the strength to let go.
Note: I always save those deleted passages, though! They can be reworked into a teaser chapter, added value work, or even as separate short stories.
The Big Book of 60,000 Baby Names, by Diane Stafford
I’m not the only author who has this on hand in her reference materials, right? Sometimes I flip through it just for the fun of it. One of the absolute best parts of being an author is getting to name your characters. Most people only get to name a few people, if they’re lucky. An author gets to use all their favourites! You don’t have to think about life consequences, either.
There are also about a million websites that give you name suggestions. I love to look up “meaning of” as I often try to find names that correspond to a character’s main characteristics. This specific book is also great because it has awesome little lists to inspire you. There are “Scandinavian names” and “most popular names in the ‘90s” lists, but also “Slimy Senators,” “Names that Look Good in a Heart Shaped Tattoo,” and “People You Would Call if Your Car Broke Down.” All great for ideas and characters!
The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them), by Jack M. Bickham
This is a book I purchased shortly after I made the commitment to full-time writing. I needed to get serious about the work I was doing, and that meant picking apart everything I was doing wrong. This book came highly recommended for new authors, and I will join in the chorus. There are so many mistakes I was making, most of them addressed here.
Some of my personal writing flaws include overwriting (oh, yes, the rosy fingers of dawn!), reactive characters and unlikeable characters (sometimes an okay thing, but not the way I was doing it). This underlined how much I needed to work on my characterization, something I continue to workshop constantly!
This will help you get inspired, get motivated and also not take yourself too seriously. I think authors who take themselves too seriously aren’t going to get very far. Writing, at the heart of it, should be fun! We just have to follow about a million rules to make sure the fun translates into something an audience will also think is fun!
Jack M. Bickham has published more than 65 novels, so he knows what he’s talking about. This is advice worth listening to.
The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
As I realized that my characters sucked, I sought out the best reference books on creating characters. I discovered this gem. The Emotional Wound Thesaurus is part of a series of books “Writers Helping Writers” and goes deep into the heart of the character, something I need so much help with.
All characters are driven by an emotional wound, a psychological impact from something that happens in the character’s past. As a writer, you need to know your character’s wound, as well as how that drives everything they do. Throughout your book, your character will come back to this wound again and again, and the story isn’t over until this wound has been resolved.
It’s complicated and the authors go deep into this element of characterization, but it is so helpful. Every character should go through this developmental treatment before you’ve even started plotting. It will shape the story itself, as well as give the emotional depth your reader craves.
The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
A companion to the Emotional Wound Thesaurus, I keep the Emotion Thesaurus at hand religiously, especially when I’m going through my first edit. (I purposefully keep it far away during my first draft, though, as I find it interrupts the flow, something I get into here)
Have you ever received the criticism: you’re telling, not showing? I got this all the time – reviewers complaining I was telling everything to them. Frustrating, for sure. One review ensured I knew exactly where my writing stood: I could create interesting stories, but my writing sucked!
This thesaurus has helped increase my toolkit when it comes to showing emotion, to ensure the reader feels like they are feeling the emotion themselves. That’s when they get truly invested. The concept is, don’t say the character is sad; describe the prickle of tears in their eyes. The thesaurus offers 75 different emotions your character could feel, along with body language, thoughts and reactions a character might demonstrate to show the feeling. It runs the spectrum of intensity, from mild annoyance to devasting grief.
The trick is it can’t be overdone or overwritten, and it’s a balancing act. I’ve received advice that all characters should have a personal tick or physical trait that describes their personality; but if used too much, you’re going to turn off the reader. This is where the judgment of the author comes in, and the true shape of story craft.
The Emotion Thesaurus is just a tool, albeit a really good one. It all comes down to you, the author, to take these words and shape them into a story that is compelling, emotional and up-put-downable!
For more writing advice, check out these blog posts: