A List of Writing Craft books to Help make your Word Shine

We’ve written our first book all by ourselves. The words materialized on the page. It’s a best-seller.  So naïve. The publishers squash our dream of mega sales after multiple rejections. How is that possible?  Could it be we know nothing about creative writing beyond what we learned in English class? Time to get educated. Conferences are not always cost effective for newbies putting their toe in the writing river.

However, there are lots of writing craft books out there by well-established authors who took the time to share their best practices in a book.  I asked a few of my writer friends to tell me their favorite craft books and the response made me want to check out new resources. No matter what you struggle with as you create that manuscript there are books to guide you step by step. Most of the authors mentioned here have multiple writing craft books.   

Books that introduce you to the art of writing

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas

(Donald Maas is the go-to guy for teaching writing excellence.)

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein

(A classic)

On Writing by Stephen King

(another classic)

The Emotional Craft of Writing by Donald Maas

21st Century Writing by Donald Maas

The Art of Fiction by John Gardner

The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke

Story Genius by Lisa Cron

Books that speak to specific areas

Every writer stumbles with some aspect of writing. One of the suggestions below is sure to help.

How to manage your time to write your book

The Chunky Method by Allie Plieter

The flow and structure of your novel

First Pages of Best Sellers-What Works What Doesn’t and Why By C.S. Larkin

Super Structure the Key to Unleashing the Power of Story by James Scott Bell

First Fifty Pages by Jeff Gerke

Write your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell

The Last Fifty Pages by James Scott Bell

Specific areas writers struggle to grasp

Writing Unforgettable Characters by James Scott Bell

Voice: The Secret Power of Great Writing By James Scott Bell

Plot vs Character by Jeff Gerke

The Dance of Character and Plot by DiAnn Mills

Conflict vs Suspense by James Scott Bell

How to Write Dazzling Dialog by James Scott Bell

Writing Deep Viewpoint; Invite Your Readers into the Story by Kathy Tyers

Now you’ve finished your manuscript but do not understand the proper way to edit it. And rewriting is not very appealing after you’ve just sweated over 200,000 words. (please don’t even think about publishing that many words in one tome.)

Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King

Revisions and Self-editing for Publication by James Scott Bell

Murder Your Manuscript By Andrea Merrell

What about author blindness?

27 Blunders and How Not to Make Them by James Scott Bell

Writing with Excellence 201 by Joyce K. Ellis

What to do with your craft books

The key to success in learning the craft of writing when you acquire any of these books—READ them,  DO the exercises. Take the advice and apply it. It is better to buy one book and wear it out, rather than every book on this list, and leave them on your bookshelf. (Guilty.)

Then my last encouragement is to read in the genre you want to write. For example, if you want to write a thriller, read many, and study how the authors construct their stories. Read the best-sellers to discover how and why they are so popular. This applies to non-fiction too. Grab them up and observe the structure of the book. Most are available in e-book if that is your preference. There are hundreds of books available on writing craft. So, take the plunge and see if your writing doesn’t improve exponentially.

Add your favorite writing craft book in the comments.

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Writing Believable Bilingual Characters

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Today I’m reposting a blog I created in 2014 before my first novel Secrets & Charades was published. The content is still relevant today. Comment below if you have other suggestions regarding biligual dialogue.

How can you create bilingual characters in dialog? How do you write in a language you don’t know? Let me share how I did it and what not to do. And the fine line to clarity.

When I discovered a few of my secondary characters either did not speak English or it was their second language, I wanted to help my readers understand them and appreciate their ethnic differences. Adding portions of another language to my manuscript could make things interesting. The trick is not to add too much. I’d learned from other writes not to write my dialog exactly as I hear others around me speak. That goes double when writing dialog spoken by bilingual speakers. Trust me—don’t. It is difficult enough to decipher some pieces of conversation where the syntax is different or words are mispronounced. Put that in writing and your reader will be confused enough to stop reading. I recall years ago when my son was required to read Shiloh for his English class. He asked me to read it out loud to him. The author had put thick accents into his southern dialog, and there were times I had to stop and explain what the words meant.

The trick is sprinkling dialog with an accent rather than recreating the accent syllable by syllable. Although the Irish speak English, it sounds different. As my heroine, Evangeline reflects on her late friend an Irish woman. She recalls her brogue. Using the word brogue lets the reader hear the accent. Adding words like lassie and ye into the conversation nails it without overdoing the speech pattern.

“I saw ye in a new place with large mountains and wide plains, and the wind was blowing your hair. Your face be more serene than I had ever seen it afore. Ye seemed younger, and love glowed from your eyes, the love a woman has for a man.”

Sprinkle in the second language

In my current novel a few of my minor characters are Mexican. I wanted to add a line here and there to flavor the scenes in Spanish. I went to a language translator on the internet to quickly add what I needed. Once my rough draft was finish, I showed those lines to my Mexican daughter-in-law and her family. They explained the need to change the wording because it wasn’t Mexican. And based on few scenarios, a more informal exchange was needed. Spanish has several dialects, and what I found on the internet was a more formal European Spanish.

Balance is the key. My Mexican housekeeper character mixes her languages.

“Mija, you’re going to break the chair. Stop sitting like a boy; try to sit like a lady.”

Listen carefully to those bilingual speakers around you, and then modify your dialogue to touch on it

Why did I make sure the translation was accurate?

Because readers who know Spanish would be taken out of the story if the language is wrong. Rather than have a lot of Spanish, I have the Mexican characters say a line in Spanish and another character react in English so the reader can follow the conversation. In this snippet our heroine practices her Spanish on her neighbor’s maid. We can tell by the neighbor’s remark what she said.

“Su pastel seve delicioso, muchas gracias.” Evangeline smiled as she spoke to Maria.

“I see you have picked up Spanish. That is a good way to keep these people on their toes. But there is no need to thank Maria; she is only doing what she is paid to do.” Thomas remarked.

Implied language

When it came to my Chinese characters, I opted for a more implied scenario. Wong Mae greets Evangeline as she enters her dry goods store. Here is a portion of their conversation.

On hearing Selena’s name, she turned to the older man, speaking in what Evangeline assumed was Chinese. The exchange between the two had a melodic quality.

“I am Wong Mae, and this is my father, Wong Chow. We hold Miss Selena in high regard. She is kind and brings us much business from the households of the white ranchers. If she is your friend, you are ours. My father did not know Mr. Marcum married. He says to give you the best price on anything in the store.”

Notice how the translation is all we read. That way I didn’t have to worry about incorrect translation. If these were main characters, I would probably have added Chinese dialog. I wanted to establish their nationality and their position in the community rather than a deeper characterization.

Introduction through dialog

Even without describing your character you can introduce their ethnicity. Selena the housekeeper is introduce through dialog.

“Good Morning, Selena.”

“Buenas Dias, Senor.”

Later more details are given regarding her character, but for a brief moment the reader can visualize a Spanish woman in the kitchen preparing breakfast.

 red dragon

Introducing language through setting

Describing setting can also give the writers a feel for the language. Evangeline visits a dry goods store run by the Wong family. As Evangeline enters town, she observes the distinctive Chinese flavor of the store fronts in one area of town. The dragon bedecked door sets the Wong’s store apart from any other shop. Instantly, the reader expects to enter the store and be greeted in Chinese.

Remember only touch on the accent

Decide what part of an accent flavors it without creating confusion. My other daughter-in-law is Filipina. (Yes we are an international family.) The syntax of the English language comes out different from her and all my other Filipino friends. Let’s create a short dialog to see how it might sound.

“Madam, see this sale. A buy one take one.” Ana held up her two pair of sandals.

“Nice. But what will your husband say? You already have a lot of shoes.”

Sharon’s question deflated the Filipino girl’s joy.

Ana did not look at her friend for a moment. A smile formed on her lips. “She knows I love shoes.” Her eyes anxious. “It’s okay, ma’am. Don’t worry.” Ana reached inside another bag, her smile regaining its sparkle.

“Look at the watches. I got three pieces for twenty dollars. See, beautiful.”

Sharon determined not to quench her friend’s one real joy by further rebuke.

Immediately it appears there is a typo. Shouldn’t she be he? The term husband usually refers to men. However, the Tagalog language and all the dialects of the Philippines have no pronouns. So often when my daughter-in-law is referring to a man she may slip and say she or her. Pronouns are a confusing part of the English language even after speaking it since grade school. So I would opt not to use this quirk unless the confusion aided in the plot. And it would have to be well-established early on for readers.

But the use of less common English words would give the same feel. Filipinos refer to buy one get one free as buy one take one. Rather than say there are six, its six pieces. Part of the culture is to refer to women as madam and men as sir. Yes ma’am is very common. So we capture her speech pattern in a way not to confuse the reader.

Lastly, let me recommend some great books from experts. For a more in-depth look at dialog check out James Scott Bell’s book How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: the Fastest Way to Improve Your Manuscript. DiAnn Mills The Dance of Character and Plot is another great reference.

How do you capture the essence of your characters?

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My Personal Pick of Books For Holiday Gift Giving

I love to read. What books have you read this year?

I love to read. What books have you read this year?

Over the last few years I have written almost 80 reviews. My goal is to reach 100 in 2015. Because I love to read and people often ask me for book recommendations I thought I’d share a list of some of the goodies I’ve read in past year.

Add some to your to-read-list or buy them for your favorite book worms.

I’ll divide them by genre and encourage you to check out my reviews on Amazon or Goodreads.

Some on this list are debut novels of exceptional quality. All of the authors have a wonderful grasp on the craft of writing and draw readers into their stories. This list reflects my love of reading and willingness to review books outside my own genre of historical.

Historical:

World War II settings:

With Music in Their Hearts by Carole Brown

Under the Silk Hibiscus by Alice J Wisler

Lightning on a Quiet Night by Donn Taylor

Revolutionary War setting:

Fields of the Fatherless (YA book) by Elaine Cooper

1800s setting:

Kincaid Brides Trilogy by Mary McConeally

Trouble In Texas Series by Mary McConeally

Mystery:

The Cat Lady’s Secret (cozy) by Linda Yazak

Chapel Springs Revival (humorous) by Ane Mulligan

Murder on Edisto by C Hope Clark

The Simulacrum by Brad Seggie and Linda Yezak

Firewall (FBI Houston #1) by DiAnn Mills

Contemporary Fiction:

Breathing On Her Own by Rebecca Waters

Reservations For Two by Ann Patrick

Traveler’s Rest by Ann Tatlock

All My Belongings by Cynthia Ruchti

Almost Amish by Kathryn Cushman

Lake Surrender by Carol Grace Stratton

Give The Lady A Ride by Linda Yezak

Fantasy:

Blood For Blood (Vampires, 1800s setting) by Ben Wolf

Innocent Blood; Equinox of Reckoning (Halloween setting with Celtic lore) by John Turney

Crossing Into The Mystic (The Crossing Trilogy #1) (Ghosts) by D L Koontz

Whiskey Sunrise (Crime Drama involving the supernatural) by John Turney

Devotionals:

Dare U To Open This (8-12 yrs. olds boys) by Carol McAdams Moore

Just Sayin’ (8-12 yrs. old girls) by Carol McAdams Moore

God, Me and Sweet Tea (women) By Rose Chandler Johnson

Hungry For God, Starving For Time (women) by Lori Hatcher

These are only a portion of the ones I read this year. Some authors I would recommend that may or may not have made this short list whose overall body of work are wonderful reads are C Hope Clark, DiAnn Mills, Brandilyn Collins, Virginia Smith, Gilbert Morris, Jerry B Jenkins, Carole Brown, Elaine Cooper, Mary Conneally, Cynthia Ruchti, and James Scott Bell.

What books have you read this year? Which ones would you recommend?

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