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Helpful Creative Writing Books for #Pitchwars Hopefuls

Have you ever entered a mentorship program like Pitchwars as a mentor or mentee? What has been your experience?

Pitchwars reading has taken over my life for a while.  More than the hours it occupies, Pitchwars is also a huge ask on my emotions. I’m forever second-guessing myself–it is hard to choose just one from so many. Being intimately familiar with the writing journey myself, I know first-hand the agony of writing, revising and then waiting on submissions. If I could make hundred clones of me, I’d probably take on a hundred Pitchwars mentees. As it stands though, I’ve got to pick just one, because that’s about all the time I can devote if I’m to stay sane after my work, writing, and personal life.

I usually recommend a few books to my Pitchwars mentee. I encourage them to check those out while I work on their editorial letter, but there’s really no reason why I shouldn’t share those books with everyone. With NanoWrimo around the corner, these could help with your Prep in what’s left of October!

So, depending on their skill levels and inclinations, here are five books I ask all  mentees to pick up  (Pitchwars or otherwise):

Story genius by Lisa Cron: This book goes into the story engine, and marries character and plot in a way that was nothing short of a revelation to me the first time I read it years ago. The pre-writing exercises in this book are invaluable (though I don’t really care for the examples used). I employ it while outlining my novel: it makes a very good case for strong character motivations leading to a sterling plot.

Outlining your Novel by K M Weiland: An easy book to get to the meat of what Lisa Cron says. Cron gives a lot more detail than Weiland, but this books is functional whether you’re a pantser or plotter. Most pantsers are organic plotters–they have an ingrained sense  (possibly through massive reading in the genre) of the plot and its mechanics, but that sense can be developed by a plotter. Doesn’t matter who you are as an author, unless you’re writing a literary novel where a plot is peripheral, Weiland’s book helps you practice plotting or revisions.

The Art of Character by David Corbett: Personally, I believe that strong characters create resonant novels. We do not often remember plot elements of a book, but if we like and root for a character, they remain with us for far longer. Corbett teaches you how to create real, believable characters your readers are going to love. For me, this piece is very important, because my novels often start with characters. If yours begin with ideas, it is all the more important to read a book like this one–it goes in-depth into creating characters that would never be marionettes.

Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody: I’ve read Save the Cat for screenwriters, and while it was useful, Brody’s book actually breaks it down for you–the elements of any (bestselling) plot. Yes it sounds like a formula, but no, it isn’t limiting. In fact, having a structural skeleton often helps the imagination soar in unpredictable directions. Even for a pantser, this book is great because it gives you names for various parts of an outline and what they do, and might be a great revision tool. Similar to Weiland’s book, but definitely more fleshed out.

The Emotional Craft of Fiction: Donald Maass: This small book packs a big punch. It provides not just the theory of creating emotional connections that remain with the reader, but also lists exercises and questions that could help you tweak existing characters and plotlines. I nearly always bring this book out before I begin copyedits. Emotional resonance is what will keep a reader coming back to you, so its importance can’t be overstated.

Fire in Fiction: Donald Maass: Maass has written many books on writing, and as a book doctor and literary agent he holds a unique position–he knows what sells, why, and can give you practical tools to evaluate and shine your manuscript. I like the tips at the end of each chapter in this book, and have used a few to tweak my work.

An acceptance into Pitchwars is not a super-highway to a publication deal, just as a rejection means nothing in those terms. A Pitchwars manuscript is not picked up for many reasons. Of the pieces I request (and I’m still requesting), my biggest reason for rejection is an inability to see a way to help the manuscript, or just having a subjective preference for one story over another. I have to volunteer quite some time with this story, so for the sake of my sanity in an impossible year, I must choose a story that I personally enjoy.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to writing, or novels, or even mentoring. My approach is to empower the writer to see their manuscript for what it is, to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses and accordingly form a plan of revision we agree upon. Personally, I like a mentor who asks questions. Not someone who tells me what to do, but asks me whether this or that is a good or bad option, and why, and then provides me with suggestions and resources in order to forge my own path.

I can’t tailor advice, options, questions for each Pitchwars hopeful. The resources, though, are freely available for any writer. They may or may not suit your temperament or manuscript, but they’re something to look at as you march ahead on your writing journey.

Have you read any of these writing books? Have they helped you? Have you ever entered a program like Pitchwars as a mentor or mentee? What has your experience been like?

Are you part of nay online or offline book groups? Founded any? What is the experience like? Do you think online book groups are similar to those offline?My debut literary crime novel,”You Beneath Your Skin,” published by the fab team at Simon and Schuster IN is optioned to be a TV series by Endemol Shine.

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • sarahtinsley says:

    Thank you! Love the suggestions here, really useful.

  • Jemi Fraser says:

    These are all great options. I’ve got a bit of Tigger Brain and the usual plotting books don’t work for me. I’ve had more success with Take Off Your Pants! by Libbie Hawker. While it’s not aimed at romance with 2 pov, I’ve been able to adapt it to fit the way my brain works. 🙂

  • Birgit says:

    You have shown some good books people can use to help them write their books. I never thought there are books about writing books but…there are!

  • I’ve read the Save the Cat books. Those are great.

  • epsnider says:

    I enjoy reading your posts. I am hoping to publish some children’s books. Not an easy task

  • Great resources.
    Thank you.

  • JT Twissel says:

    I am a big fan of Noah Lukeman – author of The First Five Pages and A Dash of Style. Since I am awful at pitching I don’t think I’ll be mentoring anyone, anytime in the future! Take care of yourself – sounds to me like you’re working too hard!

  • pythoroshan says:

    While I havent read them, I am really interested to read them. I have truly lost my way with fiction this year and could use a back-to-beginners approach to writing once more.

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