If you would like to read further into the writing craft or to study a topic more in depth, below is a collection of writing books I have read and compiled.
Hundreds of books have been written on the art of writing. Here at last is a book by two professional editors to teach writers the techniques of the editing trade that turn promising manuscripts into published novels and short stories.
In this completely revised and updated second edition, Renni Browne and Dave King teach you, the writer, how to apply the editing techniques they have developed to your own work. Chapters on dialogue, exposition, point of view, interior monologue, and other techniques take you through the same processes an expert editor would go through to perfect your manuscript. Each point is illustrated with examples, many drawn from the hundreds of books Browne and King have edited.
What makes a good story or a screenplay great?
The vast majority of writers begin the storytelling process with only a partial understanding where to begin. Some labor their entire lives without ever learning that successful stories are as dependent upon good engineering as they are artistry. But the truth is, unless you are master of the form, function and criteria of successful storytelling, sitting down and pounding out a first draft without planning is an ineffective way to begin.
Story Engineering starts with the criteria and the architecture of storytelling, the engineering and design of a story--and uses it as the basis for narrative. The greatest potential of any story is found in the way six specific aspects of storytelling combine and empower each other on the page. When rendered artfully, they become a sum in excess of their parts.
Bestselling author David Farland has taught dozens of writers who have gone on to staggering literary success, including such #1 New York Times Bestsellers as Brandon Mull (Fablehaven), Brandon Sanderson (Wheel of Time), James Dashner (The Maze Runner) and Stephenie Meyer (Twilight).
In this book, Dave teaches how to analyze an audience and outline a novel so that it can appeal to a wide readership, giving it the potential to become a bestseller. The secrets found in his unconventional approach will help you understand why so many of his authors go on to prominence.
How do you create a main character readers won't forget? How do you write a book in multiple-third-person point of view without confusing your readers (or yourself)? How do you plant essential information about a character's past into a story?
Write Great Fiction: Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by award-winning author Nancy Kress answers all of these questions and more! This accessible book is filled with interactive exercises and valuable advice that teaches you how to:
Choose and execute the best point of view for your story
Create three-dimensional and believable characters
Develop your characters' emotions
Create realistic love, fight, and death scenes
Use frustration to motivate your characters and drive your story
The road to rejection is paved with bad beginnings. Agents and editors agree: Improper story beginnings are the single biggest barrier to publication. Why? If a novel or short story has a bad beginning, then no one will keep reading. It's just that simple.
In Hooked, author Les Edgerton draws on his experience as a successful fiction writer and teacher to help you overcome the weak openings that lead to instant rejection by showing you how to successfully use the ten core components inherent to any great beginning.
Plus, you'll discover exclusive insider advice from agents and acquiring editors on what they look for in a strong opening. With Hooked, you'll have all the information you need to craft a compelling beginning that lays the foundation for an irresistible story!
This ultimate insider's guide reveals the secrets that none dare admit, told by a show biz veteran who's proven that you can sell your script if you can save the cat!
"Show—don't tell." How many times have you heard this standard bit of writing advice? It's so common in writing courses and critiques that it has become a cliche. Writers are often told to write scenes, dramatize, cut exposition, cut summary—but it's misguided advice. The truth is good writing almost always requires both showing and telling. The trick is finding the right balance of scene and summary—the two basic components of creative prose.
Showing and Telling shows you how to employ each of these essential techniques in the appropriate places within a narrative.
Complete with examples from bestsellers and interactive exercises, this comprehensive guide offers an in-depth look at scene development, the role of reflection in storytelling, the art of summarizing, and how to bring it all together.
One of the biggest problem areas for writers is conveying a character's emotions to the reader in a unique, compelling way. This book comes to the rescue by highlighting 75 emotions and listing the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each.
Using its easy-to-navigate list format, readers can draw inspiration from character cues that range in intensity to match any emotional moment. The Emotion Thesaurus also tackles common emotion-related writing problems and provides methods to overcome them.
This writing tool encourages writers to show, not tell emotion and is a creative brainstorming resource for any fiction project.
This book is a set of tools: literary crowbars, chisels, mallets, pliers and tongs. Use them to pry, chip, yank and sift good characters out of the place where they live in your imagination.
Award-winning author Orson Scott Card explains in depth the techniques of inventing, developing and presenting characters, plus handling viewpoint in novels and short stories. With specific examples, he spells out your narrative options—the choices you'll make in creating fictional people so "real" that readers will feel they know them like members of their own families.
All successful writers use resonance to enhance their stories by drawing power from stories that came before, by resonating with their readers' experiences, and by resonating within their own works.
In this book, you'll learn exactly what resonance is and how to use it to make your stories more powerful. You'll see how it is used in literature and other art forms, and how one writer, J. R. R. Tolkien, mastered it in his work.
*This is a poetry book I used in college. I regularly refer to it today to help with my fiction. Studying poetry will do wonders for your style and description.
An illuminating and invaluable guide for beginners wary of modern poetry, as well as for more advanced students who want to sharpen their craft and write poems that expand their technical skills, excite their imaginations, and engage their deepest memories and concerns. Ideal for teachers who have been searching for a way to inspire students with a love for writing--and reading--contemporary poetry.
Like a muse for the writer, Oakley Hall thoughtfully leads us past the sinkholes of cliches, flat prose, and self-conscious writing and guides us toward the magic of vivid and original storytelling. ...An essential resource for any writer -- beginning, published, or just plain stuck. -- Amy TanOakley Hall cites the works and methods of such great novelists as John Steinbeck, Joyce Carol Oates, Leo Tolstoy, Agatha Christie and Milan Kundera to show readers what works in the novel, and why. This book features advice on taking a novel through each of its stages, from the beginning of an idea to The End, and guides writers through the process of writing a novel.
How essential is setting to a story? How much description is too much? In what ways do details and setting tie into plot and character development? How can you use setting and description to add depth to your story?
You can find all the answers you need in Write Great Fiction: Description & Setting by author and instructor Ron Rozelle. This nuts-and-bolts guide - complete with practical exercises at the end of each chapter - gives you all the tips and techniques you need to:
Establish a realistic sense of time and place
Use description and setting to drive your story
Craft effective description and setting for different genres
Skillfully master showing vs. telling
With dozens of excerpts from some of today's most popular writers, Write Great Fiction: Description & Setting gives you all the information you need to create a sharp and believable world of people, places, events, and actions.
Learn step-by-step how to create fictional fights that leave the reader breathless with excitement.
The book gives you:
* A six-part structure to use as blueprint for your scene.
* Tricks how to combine fighting with dialogue
* Information about swords, daggers and other weapons, and suggestions how to write about them
It helps you to decide:
* What's the best weapon for your character
* Where the scene takes place
* Which senses to use, how and when
* How much violence your fight needs
“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. 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. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.
The Elements of Style is the definitive text and classic manual on the principles of English language read by millions of readers. The 18 main topics are organized under the headings, “Elementary Rules of Usage,” “Elementary Principles of Composition,” “A Few Matters of Form,” “Words and Expressions Commonly Misused,” and “Words Often Misspelled.”
Robert McKee's screenwriting workshops have earned him an international reputation for inspiring novices, refining works in progress and putting major screenwriting careers back on track. Quincy Jones, Diane Keaton, Gloria Steinem, Julia Roberts, John Cleese and David Bowie are just a few of his celebrity alumni. Writers, producers, development executives and agents all flock to his lecture series, praising it as a mesmerizing and intense learning experience.
In Story, McKee expands on the concepts he teaches in his $450 seminars (considered a must by industry insiders), providing readers with the most comprehensive, integrated explanation of the craft of writing for the screen. No one better understands how all the elements of a screenplay fit together, and no one is better qualified to explain the "magic" of story construction and the relationship between structure and character than Robert McKee.
A deft analysis and appreciation of fiction―what makes it work and what can make it fail.
Here is a book about the craft of writing fiction that is thoroughly useful from the first to the last page―whether the reader is a beginner, a seasoned writer, or a teacher of writing. You will see how a work takes form and shape once you grasp the principles of momentum, tension, and immediacy. "Tension," Stern says, "is the mother of fiction. When tension and immediacy combine, the story begins." Dialogue and action, beginnings and endings, the true meaning of "write what you know," and a memorable listing of don'ts for fiction writers are all covered. A special section features an Alphabet for Writers: entries range from Accuracy to Zigzag, with enlightening comments about such matters as Cliffhangers, Point of View, Irony, and Transitions.
Get Your Readers' Attention—And Keep It—From the First World to the Final Page.
Translating that initial flash of inspiration into a complete story requires careful crafting. So how do you keep your story from beginning slowly, floundering midway, and trailing off at the end? Nancy Kress shows you effective solutions for potential problems at each stage of your story—essential lessons for strong start-to-finish storytelling.
Hook readers, agents, and editors in the first three paragraphs.
Make and keep your story's implicit promise to the reader.
Build drama and credibility by controlling your prose.
Consider the price a writer pays for flashbacks.
Reveal character effectively throughout your story.
Get the tools you need to get your story off to an engaging start, keep the middle tight and compelling, and make your conclusion high impact.
* This is a guidebook for nonfiction, but I've included it because many of its great principles can apply to creative writing, and I have referred to it in my writing tips.
Engaging and direct, Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace is the guidebook for anyone who wants to write well.Engaging and direct, Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace is the guidebook for anyone who wants to write well.
Williams’ own clear, accessible style models the kind of writing that audiences–both in college and after–will admire. The principles offered here help writers understand what readers expect and encourage writers to revise to meet those expectations more effectively. This book is all you need to understand the principles of effective writing.
* This is a guidebook for nonfiction, but I've included it because many of its great principles can apply to creative writing
On Writing Well has been praised for its sound advice, its clarity and the warmth of its style. It is a book for everybody who wants to learn how to write or who needs to do some writing to get through the day, as almost everybody does in the age of e-mail and the Internet.
Whether you want to write about people or places, science and technology, business, sports, the arts or about yourself in the increasingly popular memoir genre, On Writing Well offers you fundamental principles as well as the insights of a distinguished writer and teacher. With more than a million copies sold, this volume has stood the test of time and remains a valuable resource for writers and would-be writers.
Authors looking to query publishers or literary agents will be able to craft that perfect query letter, as well as successfully send cold queries that could get them discovered in the slush pile!
Self-published authors will benefit from the four-step process of writing killer cover copy that will entice readers to click buy.
This writing guide is a must-have for any author in this new age of publishing, where the possibilities range from self-publishing to landing a traditional deal with a large New York publishing house. Author Elana Johnson has done both successfully, and she wants every author to have the tools they need to do the same.
The Story Grid is a tool developed by editor Shawn Coyne to analyze stories and provide helpful editorial comments. It's like a CT Scan that takes a photo of the global story and tells the editor or writer what is working, what is not, and what must be done to make what works better and fix what's not. The Story Grid breaks down the component parts of stories to identify the problems. And finding the problems in a story is almost as difficult as the writing of the story itself (maybe even more difficult.)
The Story Grid is a tool with many applications:
1. It will tell a writer if a Story "works" or "doesn't work."
2. It pinpoints story problems but does not emotionally abuse the writer, revealing exactly where a Story (not the person creating the Story...the Story) has failed.
3. It will tell the writer the specific work necessary to fix that Story's problems.
4. It is a tool to re-envision and resuscitate a seemingly irredeemable pile of paper stuck in an attic drawer.
5. It is a tool that can inspire an original creation.
See why this book has become an international best seller and a true classic. The Writer's Journey explores the powerful relationship between mythology and storytelling in a clear, concise style that's made it required reading for movie executives, screenwriters, playwrights, scholars, and fans of pop culture all over the world. The updated and revised third edition provides new insights and observations from Vogler's ongoing work on mythology's influence on stories, movies, and man himself.
It’s every novelist’s greatest fear: pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into writing hundreds of pages only to realize that their story has no sense of urgency, no internal logic, and so is a page one rewrite.
The prevailing wisdom in the writing community is that there are just two ways around this problem: pantsing (winging it) and plotting (focusing on the external plot). Story coach Lisa Cron has spent her career discovering why these methods don’t work and coming up with a powerful alternative, based on the science behind what our brains are wired to crave in every story we read (and it’s not what you think).
In Story Genius Cron takes you, step-by-step, through the creation of a novel from the first glimmer of an idea, to a complete multilayered blueprint—including fully realized scenes—that evolves into a first draft with the authority, richness, and command of a riveting sixth or seventh draft.
Imagine knowing what the brain craves from every tale it encounters, what fuels the success of any great story, and what keeps readers transfixed. Wired for Story reveals these cognitive secrets--and it's a game-changer for anyone who has ever set pen to paper.
The vast majority of writing advice focuses on "writing well" as if it were the same as telling a great story. This is exactly where many aspiring writers fail--they strive for beautiful metaphors, authentic dialogue, and interesting characters, losing sight of the one thing that every engaging story must do: ignite the brain's hardwired desire to learn what happens next. When writers tap into the evolutionary purpose of story and electrify our curiosity, it triggers a delicious dopamine rush that tells us to pay attention. Without it, even the most perfect prose won't hold anyone's interest.
Backed by recent breakthroughs in neuroscience as well as examples from novels, screenplays, and short stories, Wired for Story offers a revolutionary look at story as the brain experiences it. Each chapter zeroes in on an aspect of the brain, its corresponding revelation about story, and the way to apply it to your storytelling right now.
* Wired for Story and Story Genius are both written by Lisa Cron. Some concepts overlap. If you are to pick only one, I recommend Story Genius, but both are great.
Dramatica: A New Theory of Story is the definitive guide to the most profoundly original and complete paradigm of story since Aristotle wrote Poetics. This book is chock-full of stunning solutions to vexing story structure and development problems that have mystified and tormented writers for ages. An absolute must read for any writer who wants to elevate the quality of their written work. This book is for novelists, playwrights, screenwriters, and most all creative writers or those who work with story.
* Dramatica is a very heavy read and also very comprehensive--probably not recommended for beginners (think of it as a college textbook). It addresses storytelling in ways no other approach does, which can be very helpful. It's actually now available for free online.
"Help! My plot drags, sags, and has no heart!"
This looks like a job for Plotman!
Yes, solving your plot problems is why the superhero of story came to Earth. His mission? To give practical, easy-to-apply answers to the most vexing plot questions writers face, such as:
• How do I plan a plot if I'm not a plot planner?
• Does my plot need a prologue?
• What if I hit a plot wall?
• What if my plot is getting away from me?
• Why isn't my plot more gripping at the start?
• Why is my overall plot dull?
• What should I do if my plot is implausible?
• Do I really need to think about plot structure?
• How do I deepen the emotional impact of my plot?
• What's the best way to plug a plot hole?
• How do I keep my plot from ending with a thud?
*This is a troubleshooting guide for when you need plot help.
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. In these pages, Campbell outlines the Hero’s Journey, a universal motif of adventure and transformation that runs through virtually all of the world’s mythic traditions. He also explores the Cosmogonic Cycle, the mythic pattern of world creation and destruction.
As relevant today as when it was first published, The Hero with a Thousand Faces continues to find new audiences in fields ranging from religion and anthropology to literature and film studies. The book has also profoundly influenced creative artists—including authors, songwriters, game designers, and filmmakers—and continues to inspire all those interested in the inherent human need to tell stories.
*This book is where The Hero's Journey story structure comes from. For an easier version of this same structure, tailored specifically to writers, check out The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler above (I recommend starting with that version).
There are no storytelling rules-but there are patterns. The Structure of Story details the specific writing tools that will help you recognize and apply the patterns of great stories.
You will learn how to shift your focus from storytelling rules to storytelling tools. By applying these tools, you'll be able to keep the reader on the edge of their seat while delivering an emotional, meaningful story.
In The Structure of Story, you'll learn the four dramatic tools that keep the reader engaged, the two things every story must accomplish, how to write multi-dimensional characters that drive plot, how a story's theme can be conveyed through a character arc, how to create an organic plot driven by cause and effect, the critical things that your opening must accomplish, what goes in the middle of a story, how to write an emotional climax, how subtext works and when to use it, how to create a twist ending, tools for showing rather than telling, how to pace your story properly, how to write an ending that's both satisfying and inevitable, and how to avoid a repetitive plot.
Why do some stories work and others don’t? The answer is structure. In this award-winning guide from the author of the acclaimed Outlining Your Novel, you will learn the universal underpinnings that guarantee powerful plot and character arcs. An understanding of proper story and scene structure will show you how to perfectly time your story’s major events and will provide you with an unerring standard against which to evaluate your novel’s pacing and progression.
Structuring Your Novel will show you:
- How to determine the best techniques for empowering your unique and personal vision for your story.
- How to identify common structural weaknesses and flip them around into stunning strengths.
- How to eliminate saggy middles by discovering your “centerpiece.”
- Why you should NEVER include conflict in every scene.
- How to discover the questions you don’t want readers asking about your plot—and then how to get them to ask the right questions
Theme—the mysterious cousin of plot and character. Too often viewed as abstract rather than actionable, theme is frequently misunderstood and left to chance. Some writers even insist theme should not be purposefully implemented. This is unfortunate, because in many ways theme is story. Theme is the heart, the meaning, the point. Nothing that important should be overlooked.
Powerful themes are never incidental. They emerge from the conjunction of strong plots and resonant character arcs. This means you can learn to plan and implement theme. In doing so, you will deepen your ability to write not only stories that entertain, but also stories that stay with readers long after the end.
Writing Your Story’s Theme will teach you:
- How to create theme from plot and character.
- Why every supporting character and subplot should enhance the theme.
- How to prevent theme from seeming preachy or “on the nose.”
- What to consider in identifying the best theme for any given story.
And much more!
Conscious mastery of theme will elevate every story you write and allow you to craft fiction of depth and meaning.
Writing a well-structured romance isn’t the same as writing any other genre—something the popular novel and screenwriting guides don’t address. The romance arc is made up of its own story beats, and the external plot and theme need to be braided to the romance arc—not the other way around.
Told in conversational (and often irreverent) prose, Romancing the Beat can be read like you are sitting down to coffee with romance editor and author Gwen Hayes while she explains story structure. The way she does with her clients. Some of whom are regular inhabitants of the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.
Romancing the Beat is a recipe, not a rigid system. The beats don’t care if you plot or outline before you write, or if you pants your way through the drafts and do a “beat check” when you’re revising. Pantsers and plotters are both welcome. So sit down, grab a cuppa, and let’s talk about kissing books.
This list will be updated as I find more writing books I recommend. For free advice on writing, you can always read my writing tips.