Must Read Books on Writing
A new book joins the must-read collection!
Ah, but what collection?
Well I haven’t written about it on here yet, so it’s unsurprising to me that you don’t know.
Books on the craft of writing! That are actually useful! In my opinion…
Sometimes books on writing can either be too abstract, or get bogged down in the minutiae, or veer off and become half memoir, naming no names.
Anyway, these are a handful of books about the craft of writing that I have found genuinely useful, and several others that are good too.
Currently reading and joint No. 1:
- Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It) by Janice Hardy
Wow. Does what it says in the title. I now have a much better idea of what defines shown vs told prose, where to look for told prose, what words send up red flags for ‘telling’, and how to fix it.
Janice has absolutely nailed it, and I would like to personally thank Janice for giving me the tools to fix my second chapter, and probably all subsequent ones too.
She uses fantastic examples of told and shown prose, and what fixes to make—sometimes just eliminating one word can make the difference.
If you’ve ever wondered at the difference and how it affects your fiction writing, this is the book that will light that bulb.
And I’m currently at the 55% mark as I write this, so there’s more good stuff to come I’m sure.
Joint No. 1:
- Story Genius by Lisa Cron—Joint No. 1 book about writing.
Another book that dropped my jaw. I haven’t (yet) read her first book: Wired for Story, but it’s in my Kindle library. That book explains the brain science behind story.
Story Genius is almost a blueprint of how to write a novel, based on that science to give the reader a satisfying narrative that their brain craves.
There’s a reason that you don’t want to put certain books down, and some of the tools to create that feeling are discussed in this book.
Will it make me write a bestseller? Unknown, but the advice is all solid stuff and offers an alternative to ‘pantsing,’ or discovery writing; and plotting, that begins with character and draws the plot out from there. Superb stuff.
So, a joint first. These two books don’t tell you everything about writing novels, but you would probably do ok providing your prose was decent and your grammar solid. There is both a grammar and punctuation recommendation later. And one of them is actually funny.
Lisa Cron & Janice Hardy’s books above are the top tier books on writing I’ve read so far.
- Pretty much everything she’s written about the craft, by K. M. Weiland.
You may have heard of her, or even read some of her books, either craft related, or her own fiction, but where does this woman find the time?
Such an impressive body of work, and all good works from my readings. You could read all her writing craft books, and you might have everything you need to start.
Add in the two joint No. 1’s above and you have a pretty great library.
Ms. Weiland even has outline versions of some of her novels, so you can see how she writes an outline and then read the actual novel if you like.
Structuring Your Novel
5 Secrets of Story Structure
Outlining Your Novel
Owned but not read:
Creating Character Arcs
Writing Your Story’s Theme
Crafting Unforgettable Characters
Not owned, but plan to purchase:
Writing Archetypal Character Arcs
Conquering Writer’s Block And Summoning Inspiration
K. M. Weiland is almost a one-stop shop for writing craft advice and if you only ever read her, you’d be off to a great start.
- Save The Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody.
A craft book that focuses mostly on story structure. Save The Cat! was a book on screenwriting by Blake Snyder that focussed on story structure for screenwriting.
This version builds on that structural foundation, specifically for novel writing.
It breaks down the ten story genres, like Monster In The House, Whydunit, Dude With A Problem—and lays out the fifteen plot points needed to construct a satisfying plot.
Great stuff and well worth a read, but I prefer Lisa Cron’s way of constructing plot from character. This would make a great additional book on story structure though. I need to read more of it really. Maybe even start over.
Punctuation, Grammar and Etymology
Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. Possibly the only funny book about punctuation. I need to read this again.
The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Reference only. Dry as a desert lizard’s back.
Dictionary of Word Origins by Linda and Roger Flavell. More a dip in and out reference for word nerds like me, but it can be very useful to a writer too.
Also read (in no particular order,):
Story Engineering by Larry Brooks A great primer on story structure. I prefer Weiland’s style but I read this first.
No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty. I think this is linked to NaNoWriMo. I read it a long time ago.
The Guide To Writing Fantasy And Science Fiction by Philip Athens. For the genre writer in me. Mostly bought due to having R. A. Salvatore write an original story for it, as well as the introduction. There’s a bit of everything in here, including a section on how to get published.
On Writing by Steven King. King is no doubt a great and prolific author and this book definitely contains some nuggets—like his advice about adverbs and to use them only sparingly. Like just then. Unfortunately for me, those nuggets were buried in a memoir, which while interesting, wasn’t what I personally was looking for at the time. Maybe I’ll return to it or restart it someday, with altered expectations. Also Mr. King is a ‘pantser,’ i.e. he is a discovery writer who sits down and just starts writing with no plotting, outlining, or much of any prep, which is wonderful for him, but I’ve moved over to the ‘plotter’ camp and need to plan out my story before diving in to prose.
Owned and unopened, AKA The reading about writing reading list
Build Better Characters by Eileen Cook
Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker. Another book on outlining.
The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig
Nobody Wants To Read Your Shit by Steven Pressfield
Pimp My Fiction by Paula Wynne
Not owned but perhaps one day?
Art Matters by Neil Gaiman. I love NG. Me & the wife went to a signing in our town. He was wonderful to listen to. I asked his permission to take some photos & he obliged. When he included a link to my blog with the photos on his blog, the traffic crashed my site. I’m sure this will be a joy.
About Writing by Gareth Powell. Gareth is actually a friend of a friend and I not only need to read this, but also his Embers of War series.
Consider This by Chuck Palahniuk. He of Fight Club infamy.
Here endeth the lessons. (Subject to edits owing to new discoveries.)