Top 10 List of Writer’s Guides

Writer’s resources are hard to come by. The post I did a couple of years back with my top ten list of resource sites for fiction authors is still getting tons of hits. But online isn’t the only place to look with you need to know something.

Love your Library.

I mean it. Libraians are amazing and helpful, and you can access reference books on more topics than you could study in a lifetime. Library = Win.

Now to the “how” of your research. There are the standard ‘go to’ books; encyclopedias, technical manuals, even textbooks have their uses. But Writer’s guides have been written specifically with the author in mind, and thanks to review sites we have a better idea on whether in the information inside them is worth looking at.

I love research, sometimes to the detriment of my word count goals, but even when writing Fantasy and Science Fiction (especially sci-fi) having that background knowledge can help you pull a new plot problem out when you’re really stuck or give your characters a plausible way to deal with the bad guy.

So I’ve complied a list of my favourite writer’s guides. This list will be skewed more towards Fantasy and Science Fiction (because that’s what I write) but there will be a few offerings for everyone.

(PS: The links below are affiliate links to Amazon.com 🙂 )

Top Ten Writer's Guides and Reference Books
10) Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction. "Topics in this guide range from the history of SF to alien creation, world building, space travel, and future medicine a perfect reference and writing guide for someone wishing to write science fiction." A good starting place. You can also check out the other books in The Complete Guide to Writing Series published by the same folks.
9) The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression. "This writing tool encourages writers to show, not tell emotion and is a creative brainstorming resource for any fiction project." And be sure to check out the other books in her writing guide series.
8) The Hero with a Thousand Faces. "Since its release in 1949, The Hero with a Thousand Faces has influenced millions of readers by combining the insights of modern psychology with Joseph Campbell’s revolutionary understanding of comparative mythology." A classic in every way. This is a book often found in mythology classes, however it is a gold mine for authors and writers of all kinds.
7) Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction: How to Create Out-of-This-World Novels and Short Stories. "Combining two Writer's Digest classics, Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy and The Writer's Complete Fantasy Reference, along with two new selections from award-winning science fiction and fantasy authors Philip Athans and Jay Lake, this new book provides instructions on world building, character creation, and storytelling in the many styles and possibilities available to writers of speculative fiction."
6) On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft. "Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have." Not really research but this is kind of a staple for all authors to have on the self.
5) More Forensics and Fiction: Crime Writers Morbidly Curious Questions Expertly Answered. "This compilation of medical and forensic science questions from crime writers around the world provides insight into medical and forensic science as well as a glimpse into the writer’s creative mind. How do hallucinogenic drugs affect a blind person? Will snake venom injected into fruit cause death? How would you perform CPR in a helicopter? What happens when someone swallows razor blades? How long does it take blood to dry? Can DNA be obtained from a half-eaten bagel?" Get the answers to your gory morbid questions here.
4) The Book of Poisons. "If you want to kill off characters with something poisonous, you need to know how a villain would gain access to such a poison, how it would be administered, and what the effects on the victim would be. Book of Poisons can help you figure out all of the details of proper poisoning." There are quite a few books by "Writer's Digest Books: HowDunit Series" that can help you kill off your characters, keep villains out of jail (or put them there) and and other fun things to add some Mystery to your writing.
3) Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. "Speculative Genre Exercises from Today's Best Writers and Teachers. This book offers a full toolbox of advice and exercises for speculative fiction writers hoping to craft an engaging alternate reality, flesh out an enthralling fantasy quest, or dream up a bloodcurdling plot twist." This book is brand new and I haven't read it yet so it's here tentatively.
2) Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding. "Eleven of adventure gaming's top designers come together to share their insights into building worlds that gamers will never forget. Learn the secrets of designing a pantheon, creating a setting that provokes conflict, determining which historical details are necessary, and so much more." This book does break down the differences between writing for books vs. video games and the depth of knowledge is awesome.
1) What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank. "Equal parts writer's guide, comedy, and historical cookbook, fantasy author Krista D. Ball takes readers on a journey into the depths of epic fantasy's obsession with rabbit stew and teaches them how to catch the blasted creatures, how to move armies across enemy territories without anyone starving to death, and what a medieval pantry should look like when your heroine is seducing the hero." A fun read loaded with information. Plus, it's written by one of my favourite local authors 🙂

This is list doesn’t come close to covering everything. If you are looking for more, check out these lists on Goodreads:

Popular Writer’s Guides (Genre)

Everyday Life in History (User Curated List)

Don’t forget to keep your eyes open for new writer’s guides coming out. I’ve been noticing a new wave of them. For example: Krista D. Ball has a new one called “Harlots, Hustlers, and Heroes” (a sequel to “What Kings Ate”) coming out this spring.

What are some of your favourite reference books? Do you prefer writer’s guides or strict reference books?

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