10 Best Writing Books

A reader asked me for my list of the 10 best books on writing. I was reminded of Dorothy Parker’s quote: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

There have undoubtedly been hundreds, probably thousands, of books written on writing. Beyond that are magazine articles and blogs. Classes, workshops and conferences teach methods and techniques of the craft. All have some value, even those that unintentionally teach us what not to do.

I think it was Somerset Maugham who said, “Three are only three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree on what they are.”

The list that follows is subjective. Very subjective. And personal. These 10 books have helped me the most to grow and develop in my craft. Five years ago, the list might have been different. It might be different five years from now. As I write today, these 10 are the ones I depend on the most. These 10 are in addition to Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style mentioned above.

The list is alphabetical by author.

Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell

One of the best books I’ve read on establishing and maintaining and increasing conflict and suspense. Plenty of helpful examples and techniques for adding conflict and suspense to carry the reader on an emotional experience.

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

An excellent foundational book. Walks us through finding our plot and building strong beginnings, middles, and ends to sustain our stories and capture the reader. Provides an abundance of examples and exercises for improving our writing.

Revision and Self-Editing for Publication by James Scott Bell

This is a book I review before I start revising and editing any first draft. It’s a comprehensive review that takes me through aspects of story telling I might otherwise miss.

Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

As the back cover of this book says, “memorable characters aren’t born: they have to be made.” This book shows us the elements of an unforgettable character and how to pull it all together. It covers in detail not just the main characters, but also the minor characters, the villains and the heroes, the comic character. And it shows how to create a character the reader will believe and want to follow.

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

Even if you don’t write science fiction or fantasy, I recommend this book because it shows us how to build the story world of our novel. No matter our genre, we are creating a unique world for our story. Your 2018 Fort Worth is different than my 2018 Fort Worth. This book is so valuable in helping us bring this out.

Getting into Character by Brandilyn Collins

This book offers techniques with practical examples for developing characters based on practices used by actors in the theater. It’s a great resource for fine-tuning our characters and also for breaking through roadblocks.

The First 50 Pagesby Jeff Gerke

The opening pages of our novels are where we grab our readers and hold them. This book gives excellent insights for establishing our characters and the disruptions of their normal world that launches them on the inner and outer journeys of the novel.

Plot versus Character by Jeff Gerke

The title is a bit misleading. Intentionally. This book establishes that both a gripping plot and compelling characters are essential to composing the best fiction we can. It is filled with techniques and examples to do just that.

Story Trumps Structure by Steven James

This is the book that guided me into writing organically, to let the story lead me into the depths and intricacies of my story, to trust my characters.

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

This book approaches writing from an agent’s perspective. Maass leads us through identifying our premise and stakes, establishing our story world, developing our characters and plot, point of view, and theme. A great foundational book.

Which writing books would you add to this list?


2 Responses to 10 Best Writing Books

  1. TB May 2, 2018 at 11:09 pm #

    I have several of these titles and will have to pick up a few more thanks to your suggestions. One of my favorites is Hooked by Les Edgerton. It’s a quick, helpful read.

  2. Henry May 3, 2018 at 3:16 am #

    Thanks, Tina. I’ve already put Hooked on my to read list. I remember Les speaking at a DFWCon a couple of years ago. Very impressive.

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