May 23, 2020

Best Books for Novelists: Must-Have Craft Books on Writing Fiction

You can’t spend a lot of time reading about the craft of writing fiction—and not actually writing fiction. At some point, it’s time to put the advice books down and sit down in front of your keyboard or notebook.

That’s why I’ve curated a short list of the most potent books about writing, so you can level up and take that back to your manuscript.

I prescribe from a much longer list for my own clients, putting a fine point on resources that will resonate with individual work styles, genre focus, and writing needs. By contrast, this list is brief by intent—a lean, mean list designed to get you back to writing.

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Best craft books about writing

These are the books I turn to again and again for help shepherding new novelists down the road.

Story concept

Story Physics by Larry Brooks A cool idea isn’t enough to sustain a novel; there has to be meat on the bone. Plainspoken story coach Larry Brooks has a sharp sense for creating saleable concepts and premises for commercial fiction. You’ll finish this book with the skills for getting at the kernel of your story.

Anatomy of a Premise Line by Jeff Lyons Few writing experts acknowledge the value of a smart situation-based plot. Not script and story consultant Jeff Lyons. He explains the difference between story-based and situation-based novels and how to write each. Jeff also offers insights into main character growth and change and how to bring that to the page in a genuine, unforced manner.

Plot and story structure

Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story by K.M. Weiland This book is a great introduction to classic story structure—all the essentials. If you’ve run a Plot Accelerator with me, the first half will be a brilliant review, and the second half will show you how to put all of that on the page via effective scenes. The companion Structuring Your Novel Workbook is helpful before, during, or after writing. (Next-level recommendation: To dig even deeper, try Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success and its companion workbook.)

Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure by Janice Hardy Get this book before you begin to write. Divided into “workshops,” this guide will help you plan, develop, and write your story from the earliest stages.

The Magic of Fiction by Beth Hill This book manages to be as magical as its title—the one fiction craft book to rule them all. From story structure to fiction-specific punctuation, all that you need is right here; no need to slog through an entire shelf full of writing craft books or attempt to memorize the entire Chicago Manual of Style. If even this curated reading list is too long for your taste, this is the singular title you want on your shelf.

Story development

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass The companion workbook to Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel is the real star, although the book itself is well on its way to becoming a writing craft classic. Think your story’s good now? This workbook shows you how to tune it till the engine purrs.

The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman I’m a big fan of the entire thesaurus series for novelists, but this title distinguishes itself by helping you connect the dots of character motivation and response throughout your story.

The Magic of Fiction by Beth Hill This book manages to be as magical as its title—the one fiction craft book to rule them all. From story structure to fiction-specific punctuation, all that you need is right here; no need to slog through an entire shelf full of writing craft books or attempt to memorize the entire Chicago Manual of Style. If even this curated reading list is too long for your taste, this is the singular title you want on your shelf.

Revision

Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft by Janice Hardy Revising your book means more than fiddling with commas and spelling. If you’re looking for a guidebook to lead you through the revision process, this book is the answer. You’ll learn to spot weaknesses at the story level and your narrative technique (and yes, more effective ways of fiddling with commas and spelling).

The Magic of Fiction by Beth Hill This book manages to be as magical as its title—the one fiction craft book to rule them all. From story structure to fiction-specific punctuation, all that you need is right here; no need to slog through an entire shelf full of writing craft books or attempt to memorize the entire Chicago Manual of Style. If even this curated reading list is too long for your taste, this is the singular title you want on your shelf.

Writing & narrative technique

Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It) by Janice Hardy Stop mindlessly chanting “show, don’t tell” and master when to dramatize a scene and when to use exposition.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King This unassuming book shows you specific ways to strengthen your narrative technique, including handling show and tell, dialogue mechanics, interior monologue, beats, and point of view.

The Best Punctuation Book, Period by June Casagrande Proper punctuation isn’t as simple as knowing what’s “right” and what’s “wrong.” This book helps you see why the best punctuation choice for your novel isn’t the same choice you’d make for your writing at work or what you read in newspapers and magazines.

The Magic of Fiction by Beth Hill This book manages to be as magical as its title—the one fiction craft book to rule them all. From story structure to fiction-specific punctuation, all that you need is right here; no need to slog through an entire shelf full of writing craft books or attempt to memorize the entire Chicago Manual of Style. If even this curated reading list is too long for your taste, this is the singular title you want on your shelf.

Reference

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition Sure, you could use the free version online, but every writer needs a copy of the real thing. This is the resource recommended for fiction by the Chicago Manual of Style.

The Magic of Fiction by Beth Hill This book manages to be as magical as its title—the one fiction craft book to rule them all. From story structure to fiction-specific punctuation, all that you need is right here; no need to slog through an entire shelf full of writing craft books or attempt to memorize the entire Chicago Manual of Style. If even this curated reading list is too long for your taste, this is the singular title you want on your shelf.

The writing life

Atomic Habits by James Clear You don’t need writing goals; you need a writing process. The doorways into effective processes are habits that carry you effortlessly into the flow. This book demystifies the process of building habits that stick—including habits specific to the creative arts. I have multiple clients who tell me this book revolutionized their writing process.

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp Know how anyone discussing books about writing and the writing life raves about Stephen King’s On Writing? I’m a Constant Reader too, but if you’re looking on concrete help becoming a productive creative professional, this is the book you want—and it’s written by a choreographer, not a novelist.

Read more: 10 kinds of books authors should be reading right now


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