The Best Books for Writers Learning to Write

Megan Norris Jones

Megan Norris Jones

We don’t start out as excellent writers. We start out as people who love stories and want to write them. We learn to be writers, but we don’t have to do it alone. In previous posts, I discussed my self-education plan and provided a list of podcasts, blogs, e-newsletters, and magazines that I turn to for a quick shot of education or inspiration. But I’m a writer who is working on a book, so my resource list wouldn’t be complete without the books that have been most helpful in improving my craft.
Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
This book lays out the fundamentals of three-act story structure in a clear, engaging and concise format that had me coming back to it again and again. I was shocked at what little explicit knowledge I possessed about what makes a story hang together. James Scott Bell remedied that deficit.

Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland
I first listened to much of the content of this book in K.M. Weiland’s podcast series on plot and structure, but when the book came out, I bought it immediately because I realized that I needed to see the information written down and collected in order to fully process the details of nailing a solid story structure.

Anatomy of Story by John Truby
Weiland referenced John Truby several times in Structuring Your Novel, so I jotted his name down, intending to look him up. Then my wonderful husband bought me Anatomy of Story, which I foolishly allowed to languish on my shelf for an entire year before finally picking it up and having my mind—and concept of story—blown. He tosses the classic three-act structure (which is still very useful) in favor of 22 story steps that guide you in building a rock-solid, gripping tale from initial concept to complete story plan. It’s a process that will guide you through each step of creating your story. I immediately shared this book with the other WriteOwls, and those who read it, loved it. I’ll admit that our discovery writer (Alicia) found the method a bit too constraining, but for me, the book helped me discover the key elements my story lacked and how to shore up its weak links. I’m looking forward to the day I get to write a novel from the beginning with this book as a guide, instead of trying to implement the concepts at the revision stage.

Writing Irresistible KidLit by Mary Kole
All novels have certain elements (character, plot, structure, theme, etc.) in common, but there are certain considerations peculiar to writing for children. Kole’s blog, KidLit.com, is a great resource for young adult and middle grade authors, and her book takes all that’s good about the blog and makes it better with original content that covers the major aspects of storytelling in the context of children’s literature. In flipping back through it to write this review, I’m tempted to sit down and read it again.

Finally, in addition to reading books about writing, just read books. Read books in your genre so that you know what has been done and what people are doing now. Read the classics and read that new release, still warm from the press. What people write and what people want to read changes, but if you’re going to understand that change, you have to know how things used to be and how things are now. Then, read books not in your genre. There’s no reason your mystery can’t include love elements or why your science fiction novel shouldn’t read like a thriller. Read nonfiction books to introduce yourself to new concepts and information that just might work its way into your story. The cross pollination of ideas is what helps make your book a novel experience. (In fact, I picked up that whole “cross pollination of ideas” concept from a nonfiction, non-writing book called Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson.)

What books have been most helpful or influential in your writing life?

3 responses to “The Best Books for Writers Learning to Write

  1. Thank you so much for this. Looks like I need to stock up!

  2. Absolutely! They’re all great and useful books, and I’m always on the lookout for more, so I’d love to hear any suggestions. Right now I’m working on Ursula K. Le Guin’s reissued “Steering the Craft.” Great so far.

  3. Pingback: My Favorite Apps for Writers | write owls

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