Like most writers, there are any number of books that have influenced my career. Some are those “keeper” books that have spoken to my heart and showed me good writing done right. They were penned by authors with a true gift for telling great stories, the kind where years later I still remember the characters’ names and the emotional rollercoaster I rode while lost in their books.
Others are nonfiction books that contained that one kernel of information that sparked an idea that grew into an entire book or even a series. They’ve covered subjects from how to brew tea to plate tectonics to gambling in the American West. Writers never know where that elusive idea is going to come from, but the hunt is half the fun.
There’s another whole category books that I have to keep within easy reach at all times when I’m working. You know, the few I’d want with me on a desert island as I scratched my stories into the sand. While these might not have the glamour of a bestseller or the kind of information that helps ground the setting and background in a story, in their own way, these books are just as important. I thought I’d share four of these books and how they influence my writing.
1. The Synonym Finder (J. I. Rodale) I seriously love this book and can get lost between its covers for way too long if I’m not careful. It is thirteen hundred plus pages of nothing but words and their synonyms. And it’s all kinds of words ranging from the silly (Flapdoodle? Seriously, who has ever used that one?) to unusual and obscure. For example, a couple of years ago I was looking for a name for a new series when I ran across the word ‘talion’ while browsing for something that meant revenge. The word means punishment meted out in kind, basically an eye for an eye, the perfect description for the enforcers of the law for their people, the Talions. I also use this book when I’m looking for a new way to describe something because I think it’s important to keep my writing fresh.
2. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Yeah, I know. Another book full of words. But remember, as a writer, those are both my tools and the bricks I use to build my stories. Any good dictionary is fine, but I like this one because the definitions include the date the word first appeared in print. When you write historicals, that’s a handy feature to have. As a reader, nothing jars me out of a story more quickly than language that doesn’t fit the time period.
3. The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook (Kenyon, etal.). I actually own several name books, but I like this one because it divides the names by country of origin. For some reason, I decided my vampires would all be Irish/Celtic in origin. I like being able to turn to one place to find lists of appropriate names to choose from. I also like knowing what names mean. My readers might not know the meaning behind a character’s name, but I always do. It helps me focus on the individual traits I want my hero or heroine to have.
4. The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines (Cowden, etal.). This book is about the sixteen master archetypes for characters. It explains why Captain Kirk and Captain Picard are both “Chiefs” even though they have quite different personalities. When I’m going to start a new series, I use the hero archetypes to make sure that each of my heroes has his own distinctive personality traits. Granted, given the type of story I write they are all warriors, but one might also be more reflective (a professor) and another a lost soul. I think it’s important for writers to develop tools that help them bring their characters in to sharp focus. This book helps me do that.
I always like hearing what other books are “must haves” for writers. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them and why they work for you.