Books for Writers

When I started writing SF/F/H, I found that my story ideas seemed insipid and fizzled out when I tried to flesh them out. And so I studied books on writing and participated in online workshops. Over the years, I built up a collection of books, and read others from libraries. Some were very useful, some only partly so, and some did not help me. Below are some writing books that helped me at some stage of my writing career; most are classics and suitable as a good starting list for prospective writers of fiction, especially speculative fiction.

Check them out if you are interested. Read the reviews of other readers to see if a book suits your needs (some are available as Kindle ebooks). I am in the process of editing this page to include links to Amazon and also to Flipkart.com (for those in India, who want paper books but hesitate to order from Amazon). Note that the links I will be providing will be affiliate links, but my recommendation stands regardless of whether you use these links.

Craft Books for Writing Speculative Fiction

For fiction writing in general
  • Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction by Damon Knight.
    I found this an excellent starting point for understanding short fiction and the elements involved. I still find it useful to re-read, as a reminder of very well-explained basics. Sometimes, I detect some nugget I missed on earlier reads.
    Check it out at: Amazon
  • Elements of Writing Fiction.
    This is a series by Writers Digest, each book in the series focusing on some element of writing. Often, there are overlaps because one cannot really modularize the writing craft, but the book titles convey the main thrust of each book.
    • Elements of Writing Fiction – Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. Card is an excellent writer, and I found this very helpful in understanding the importance of character development and on how to decide on viewpoint.
      Check it out at: Amazon (Kindle ebook is also available)
    • Elements of Writing Fiction – Conflict, Action & Suspense by William Noble. I found this nice, but slanted to action and drama, and some of the other books on conflict and action worked better for me, specifically the book by James Scott Bell listed below.
      Check it out at: Amazon
    • Elements of Writing Fiction – Description by Monica Wood.
      I got some pretty useful stuff from this as a beginning writer, namely, not to ignore the value of narrative and how to decide when to use “show” and when to use “tell.”
      Check it out at: Amazon
    • Elements of Writing Fiction – Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham. Again, a useful book, but I later read the James Scott Bell book and found that better.
      Check it out at: Amazon
    • Elements of Writing Fiction – Beginnings, Middles & Ends by Nancy Kress. Nancy Kress explains the topics very well. Dividing a story into three compartments and assuming that each requires a different approach feels slightly odd, but I liked her overall treatment of the topics. The exercises she suggests are particularly useful.
      Check it out at: Amazon (Kindle ebook is also available)
  • Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints (Write Great Fiction) by Nancy Kress. This overlaps with some of the above books. I found it a useful read, nevertheless, and would probably recommend this over the Beginning, Middles and Ends book if one has to choose.
    Check it out at: Amazon (Kindle ebook is also available)
  • Plot & Structure: (Techniques And Exercises For Crafting A Plot That Grips Readers From Start To Finish) (Write Great Fiction) by James Scott Bell. A definite recommendation. This is a classic worth considering
    Check it out at: Amazon (Kindle ebook is also available)
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain. Again, a classic worth reading. It is not a typical how-to book; it provides insights on the power of words and I’ve found value in it at every re-read.
    Check it out at: Amazon (Kindle ebook is also available)
  • Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School by Gotham Writers’ Workshop. This is a very good guide, and forms the basis of the Gotham courses, along with the fiction book from Gotham. The book contains a collection of essays on various writing topics, each by someone different, and most of the essays are worth reading.
    Check it out at: Amazon (Kindle ebook is also available)
For SF specific skills
  • How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. A classic, well worth a read. It helped me ground myself in the basics and still gives me a nice reminder value on re-reads. Highly recommended..
    Check it out at: Amazon
  • Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy by Analog and Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine A very good collection of essays on relevant topics by some of the best writers and editors of the genre. Not a how-to book, though, and not suitable as an introduction to writing speculative fiction, but a discussion of a number of very useful topics for genre writers. The focus is more on SF and not on fantasy. Highly recommended.
    Check it out at: Amazon
  • The Science of Science Fiction Writing by James Gunn. A book on science fiction writing by one of the well-known authors, a collection of essays. May be worth looking at, though I prefer the Damon Knight book.
    Check it out at: Amazon (Kindle ebook is also available)
  • World Building (Science Fiction Writing) by Stephen Gillett. Very useful to get down to designing a scientifically authentic planet to build the story on. Of course, such books are more useful for writing novels.
    Check it out at: Amazon
  • The Science Of Aliens by Clifford Pickover. This was an extremely well-written book, conveying the science concepts in a very entertaining way, and with drawings that illustrated the concepts in unforgettable ways. Even if you aren’t writing about aliens, but are interested in how different species/ creatures may exist in different worlds, this can be worth a read.
    Check it out at: Amazon
  • Aliens and Alien Societies (Science Fiction Writing Series) by Stanley Schmidt and Ben Bova. SF often involves designing alien societies and portraaying them convincingly. This book discusses various aspects of this and can be very useful for world building. Of course, no book can comprehensively cover such a vast topic, but it can contain pointers.
    Check it out at: Amazon (Kindle ebook is also available)
  • Space Travel (Science Fiction Writing Series) by Ben Bova. Ben Bova, with his many published space travel stories, is the right person for such a book. Topics like this are easily outdated, though. I’m not sure how relevant the book is now, and how good its projections are as I’m not an expert in hard science. Check the reviews out.
    Check it out at: Amazon
  • Time Travel: A Writer’s Guide to the Real Science of Plausible Time Travel (Science Fiction Writing Series) by Paul J. Nahin. We all love to read time travel stories, and are willing to suspend our disbelief about such travel and ignore the fact that time travel is not yet possible. Even so, some degree of scientific accuracy in what is proposed helps make the story work better, and this book gives the required physics and discusses the paradoxes. Again, I’m not sure if this is “dated” by now, because though time travel has not yet been achieved, some scientific advances may affect the plausibility of some proposed approaches in stories. Again, check the reviews.
    Check it out at: Amazon (Kindle ebook is also available)
  • The Poetics of Science Fiction by Peter Stockwell. I got this book from a library and made copious notes that I still refer to. It is absolutely fascinating. Stockwell analyses many SF stories and discusses a lot of very relevant concepts on elements unique to writing and reading SF stories, and how practiced readers of SF use different approaches to reading compared to readers of literary/ mainstream stories. Many types of SF are discussed. Concepts discussed include neologisms and concepts like priming and “registers” in the context of SF, complete with examples from a wide variety of science fiction.
    Check it out at: Amazon (Kindle ebook is also available)

(While some of these books are helpful for understanding science concepts because they structure them for easy reading, it is possible that recent scientific advances have invalidated some assumptions the books made, so it is always good to also check recent articles in SF publications.)

For Fantasy specific skills and reference
  • The Writers Complete Fantasy Reference by Writers Digest. Provides an overall look at fantasy, useful to understand the topics/ aspects to consider while writing fantasy. It is essentially a collection of essays, and collectively, I felt they are far from “complete” (in my opinion) in terms of the topics covered or the detail required, even in an introduction. For example, the focus seems on medieval/ European fantasy.
    Check it out at: Amazon
  • Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth by Carol Rose. Very interesting and useful, and I spent a lot of time just reading through the book even when I didn’t need to know about a particlar creature. With Wikipedia available now, though, the usefulness may be limited.
    Check it out at: Amazon
  • Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia by Carol Rose. Again, as with the book mentioned above, I spent a lot of time just reading through the book even when I didn’t need to know about a particlar creature. With Wikipedia available now, though, the usefulness may be limited.
    Check it out at: Amazon
Editing
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King. I consider this an excellent book for a beginning writer, because it explains the basics clearly, with plenty of examples. It also has chapters on more advanced editing, on topics like style, which are good, but may be as well covered in other texts. Still, a good book to build the foundation of crisp, effective writing.
    Check it out at: Amazon (Kindle version also available)
  • Spunk and Bite by Arthur Plotnik. Too many rules, obediently followed, can make writing stodgy and boring. This book (the title contrasts with “Funk and White”, one rule-laying bible of good writing) suggests being far more adventerous, and offers provocative examples. Definitely not a how-to book, it is interesting to read at parts, and labored at others, it nevertheless is a good reminder that fiction needs to sparkle and work, not just be correct by the rule-book. Rules can be broken.
    Check it out at: Amazon (Kindle version also available)
Annotated collections of speculative fiction
  • Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the 20th Century by Orson Scott Card
  • Paragons
  • Worlds of Wonder
And for when you get down, to know how others made it

(These books combine personal stories and anecdotes of the authors–successful writers–with their writing tips and suggested exercises. They are not always systematic discussions on the writing craft, but could be inspiring pick-me-ups when down in the dumps, and useful even as craft books. Many of these are classics.)