UPDATE: See the end of this post for a complete list of recommendations given by the wonderful readers here at Write It Sideways.
Here’s an email I got yesterday:
I was wondering if you had any suggestions on books I should buy as a reader who wants to become a writer. The library close to me doesn’t have a very good selection so I’m hoping to buy these books, which limits me to about four. Do you have any books that you think I should have right now as opposed to later?
I feel this reader’s pain. At the moment I live in a very small and isolated town which doesn’t have a great selection of books on the craft of writing. Buying the books I want usually involves ordering them over the internet or downloading them to my Kindle.
I’m not sure what kind of writing this person is looking to do—fiction, creative nonfiction, freelance writing, etc. But, for the purposes of this post, I’ll assume the reader wants to learn more about writing fiction.
If I had to suggest the books that have had the greatest impact on my writing thus far, they would be:
1. Story Structure Demystified
Everything you thought you knew about how stories are structured might be wrong. Larry Brooks’s Story Structure Demystified is the book that has made the biggest difference to my understanding of how to write a novel.
Ever notice how storytelling wisdom seems to come in small, seemingly unrelated chunks of aesthetic opinion? How it almost never addresses the big picture of storytelling? Do you ever wonder what published authors know that you don’t? Especially when, after reading their work, you’re confident you actually write as well as they do? Possibly even better? Maybe it’s your storytelling.
You can read my review of Larry’s book here.
2. The Three Dimensions of Character
Another Larry Brooks title, The Three Dimensions of Character has opened my eyes to how to create amazing characters in my fiction.
A writer’s tool chest of definitions, developmental models, qualitative criteria, checklists and examples that take the mystery out of characterization. And, a kick-ass good time read, too.
If you want to learn how to keep your characters from falling flat, definitely check this one out.
3. Nail Your Novel
Roz Morris’s Nail Your Novel takes you from page one to done, breaking down the process of writing a novel into easily digested bites. It’s also filled with great activities to help you get unblocked if you get stuck.
I found this guide really helpful when trying to power through the first draft of my novel.
Your Favourite Books on the Craft of Writing
The three books I mentioned above are all ones I’ve bought in eBook format, which makes them easily accessible.
But, there are so many books on the craft of writing to which I haven’t had access, I have a very long list of those I’d like to read some day—ones that I’ll have to order from out of town.
So, instead of just sharing my own recommendations on the best writing books, I’d also like to appeal to all the other well-read writers out there.
What are you favourite books on the craft of writing? Which would you recommend as must-reads for someone just starting out?
Here’s your updated list. The following books have been recommended more than once:
- On Writing, by Stephen King
- Stein On Writing, by Sol Stein
- Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
- Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
- Elements of Fiction Writing—Scene and Structure, by Jack Bickham
These ones have been mentioned once each:
- On Writing Horror, by Horror Writers’ Association
- The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman
- Zen and the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury
- The Situation and the Story, by Vivian Gornick
- Writing FAST, by Jeff Bollow
- Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose
- Elements of Fiction Writing—Characters and Viewpoint, by Orson Scott Card
- Writing Well, by Donald Hall
- The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White
- The Fire in Fiction, by Donald Maass
- On Writing, by Ernest Hemingway
- How to Write a Novel, by John Braine
- How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card
- If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland
- Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life, by Natalie Goldberg
- Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life, by Elizabeth George
- On Writing Well, by William Zinsser
- You Can Write a Novel, by James V. Smith
- Teach Yourself Writing a Novel, by Nigel Watts
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing for Young Adults, by Deborah Perlberg
- This is the Year You Write Your Novel, by Walter Mosely
- 10 Rules of Writing, by Elmore James
- The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
- The Writing Experiment, by Hazel Smith
- Plot and Structure, by James Scott Bell
- How to Write Page-Turning Scenes, by Holly Lisle
- Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and David King
- Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight Swain
- The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler
- How to Write a Selling Screenplay, by Christopher Keane
- The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
- Give ‘Em What They Want: The Right Way to Pitch Your Novel to Editors and Agents, by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook
- Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande
- MFA in a Box, by John Rember
I’ll continue to update the list periodically if others wish to make further recommendations. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to contribute!