Annotated Bibliography by Nancy G. West
These books are not listed in any particular order, except that the ones I read recently are at the top. Read through the list and start with the one that seems to speak to where you are in your writing. You’ll gain new understanding from each book.

Mastering Suspense, Structure, and Plot, Jane K. Cleland. Jane won the Agatha Award for this book and is the author of a cozy mystery series. She is very precise and covers every aspect of creating a suspenseful story. She provides a plotting roadmap that gives you a schedule for inserting twists, reversals, and danger into your story – a treasure of specifics to consider as you write your mystery. She generously offers free classes to writers and weekly tips on YouTube. You can find her at

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors: Stealing Hollywood, Alexandra Sokoloff. After working as a screenwriter for ten years, Sokoloff turned to novels.She realized that screenwriting structure and techniques that Hollywood types take for granted can be adapted to novels to great advantage. Her first novel was nominated for an Anthony and Bram Stoker award. You can use her book to plan, plot, revise and edit your novel. Don’t miss this one.

The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers (2nd Edition), Christopher Vogler. The title makes the book sound academic and theoretical, but it’s not. Vogler’s prose is easy to digest. He participated in writing the movies Star Wars and The Lion King and has been story consultant for hundreds of other films. His book is a classic for screenwriters. Vogler understands story structure—elements of stories from earliest mythology which have reappeared in stories through the ages because they resonate with listeners and readers. Writers who digest Vogler’s concept of story elements will dramatically improve their fiction.

The Art of Dramatic Writing, Lejos Egri. The author discusses how dramatic writing is the “creative interpretation of human motives.” He talks primarily about stage plays, but almost everything Egri says applies to fiction. This is a classic and necessary book for fiction writers.

Scene and Structure, Jack Bickham. He describes how to construct fiction scene-by-scene with logic, flow and readability. Bickham divulges the nuts and bolts of crafting a story. This is one of a series of books on writing that are published by Writer’s Digest Books. Others are Beginnings, Middles and Ends – excellent and clear information by super teacher Nancy Kress; Conflict, Action and Suspense; and Description. More books by Jack Bickham are listed below.

The Basic Patterns of Plot, Foster-Harris. This journalism professor and multi-published writer founded a creative writing laboratory at the University of Oklahoma. Here, he addresses the ingredients and patterns of plots and gives specific examples.

Techniques of the Selling Writer, Dwight Swain. He followed Foster-Harris at the University of Oklahoma. His book is helpful and specific on the creation, execution, and selling of fiction. Particularly enlightening is his description of writing a novel in scenes and sequels.

Don’t Murder Your Mystery, Chris Roerden. By discussing twenty-four fiction techniques, Roerden shows writers how to avoid the pitfalls of mediocre writing—“clues” that signal agents and publishers that “this writer is an amateur” and renders their manuscripts “dead on arrival.” She gives examples of how 130 published authors, mostly mystery writers, have fixed these problems. Plentiful examples and insightful comments make her readable book invaluable to fiction writers. Her book won the Agatha Award for Best Non-Fiction. For more information about the book, click here.

Writing and Selling Your Novel, Jack M. Bickham. He followed Dwight Swain at the University of Oklahoma’s creative writing program. Bickham reinforces Swain’s methods and adds examples and brain-piercing instruction to create a valuable tool for fiction writers.

Get That Novel Started and Get That Novel Written, both by Donna Levin. These Writer’s Digest Books are designed for beginners, but all novelists will discover new ways to view their work and fix problem areas.

The Art of Fiction, John Gardner. The author gives a helpful overview of fictional theory and variety. Gardner also addresses elements of fiction.

Plot Perfect, Paula Munier.  This agent and author of an award-winning mystery series tells writers how to devise powerful plots and subplots and weave them seamlessly together. She tells how to devise engaging protagonists and secondary characters, how to define a story in terms of theme, and how to use voice, tone, setting, and dialogue to enhance the plot. Her presentation is clear and to the point – a wonderful resource to crafting a memorable novel. She has read the books below and many others and refers to them.

The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Novel Writing, Editors of Writer’s Digest. Various writers address the elements of fiction: action, character, setting, and plot. By considering other writers’ views and styles, the reader views her/his own work in a different light and can make it richer. This is a good book to read after you’ve been working on your novel for a while.

The 39 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them), Jack M. Bickham. This is a quick read and good checklist for one’s work.

Writing Mysteries, a Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America, Ed. Sue Grafton. This compilation of articles, each on some aspect of writing mysteries by various professionals in the field, illustrates the goals mystery writers seek and problems they face. After you read an author’s mysteries, it is intriguing to read his/her discussion of them. Students are guaranteed to come away with new understanding of various writing techniques.

How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey. Frey’s no-nonsense guide seems most useful during the time the novelist is creating his/her novel. At that point, Frey piques the novelist’s mind about avenues to explore and areas not to overlook.

Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott. This is the book to read when your writing sags, your spirit droops, and you wonder why you ever wanted to write. Lamont’s quirky, painfully honest, lyrical prose about her own writing reminds you why you love to write.

The Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book, Susan Page. Primarily geared to nonfiction writers, this book helps all writers understand that publishing is a business and that promoting a book ranks equally with the quality of its prose in determining a book’s success.

On Writing, Stephen King. Whether or not you applaud King’s subject matter or his language choices, he is a very skilled writer. To craft fiction, he teases a story out of a situation. For him, this method precedes character creation. He talks about images of place, about action, pacing, and dialogue, and about the purpose and necessary amount of description. Once his story is written, King tells how he injects symbols and brings out themes. He discusses revision and zeros in on elements of style and punctuation that distinguish the amateur from the professional. No fiction writer should miss this book.


Happy Writing and Good Luck!