Looking for a creative writing education but don’t have the time or money for an MFA? Check out these best books on writing fiction!
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If you’re like me, then you have shelves and shelves and shelves of books on writing. It’s also worth noting that this blog has posts and posts and posts on books on writing. (Check out Books for NaNoWriMo, Best Books for Writers to Read, and Best Books on Creative Writing.)
Today I’m going to share some of the best books on writing fiction. Know that they come with all the usual disclaimers: Writing is more important than reading about writing. You don’t need to read about writing to write. You find out more about how to write through practice than anything else. And I’m sharing a bit about why you shouldn’t read books on writing today on YouTube, so don’t forget to check that out.
But if you’re in the market for some new books on writing, then keep on reading!
Best Books on Writing Fiction
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Okay. This is a book about writing nonfiction. BUT HEAR ME OUT! One of the most important things to think about when writing fiction is developing your own voice as a writer. When the reader picks up your novel, you want them to know it’s yours by the way you structure it, how you arrange your sentences, and the detail you include. This book encourages you to develop your own voice and to avoid clichés. Also, as a writing instructor, I always recommend a book that encourages you to say what you mean and avoid unnecessary prose.
Wired for Story by Lisa Cron
Writing well isn’t the same as telling a good story, and this book wants to make sure you know that. So, if you’ve been riding the wave of your sophomore English teacher telling you that you were clever with words, that’s not all you need to write a bestselling novel. This book looks at the way your brain actually experiences the story, and talks about the neuroscience behind what makes a good story.
Aspects of the Novel by E. M. Forster
This is a book of lectures from writer E.M. Forster. While this book may seem very much like you’re going through the building blocks of a story, it’s always good to have some reminders of the basics. This book covers the seven aspects of the novel: story, characters, plot, fantasy, prophecy, pattern, and rhythm.
Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice by Colum McCann
So, there are a lot of books that focus on the craft of writing, but what if you’re in the market for a book about being a writer? Then Letters to a Young Writer is definitely for you. McCann encourages life experience over simply studying, and finding empathy in all things. Also, theres a fair bit in there about learning the rules and then breaking them. Naturally, I’m all about this book.
Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
Story Engineering looks at six core competencies that Brooks defines as integral to the construction of a story. This book explains those core competencies, and then shows that when they work together, they create a sum that is greater than their parts. If you’re looking for a book that will help you define the pieces of a story and how to fit those pieces together, this a great primer on the topic.
The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker
I can’t write one of these posts without including a book on writing style. I’m sorry. I teach writing. It’s important to me. This book is written by a cognitive scientist and linguist, and it applies science to the writing process to show how it’s scientifically proven that you can write better if you approach your writing a certain way. While not strictly a fiction writer’s book, this one is great if you’re worried that maybe your audience will be confused by your meaning, or if you’re struggling to convey a certain topic.
Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark
This book contains essays that distill down the author’s 30 years of experience as a journalist and writing instructor. The essays are broken down into sections like “Nuts and Bolts,” “Special Effects,” “Blueprints for Stories,” and “Useful Habits.” It also contains examples from journalism and literature to reinforce the message. While the best writing lesson comes from your experience, the second best writing lesson comes from someone else’s. And these essays give you that in droves.
The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler
Ever felt like a story is really familiar, but you’re not sure why? It’s because it is. The central thesis of this book is that almost all stories can be boiled down to a few basic narrative structures and almost all characters fit specific archetypes. Oh, and there are very specific stages within the narrative of the story that the hero has to experience. This is definitely a recommended book for those starting out and for those wondering what they should do with their characters next. But be warned. It’s a big ol’ beefy book, so it’s not a light read to be shoved in your bag for your lunch break.
Tell Me Your Favorite Fiction Writing Books
What books helped you get your story started? Any books you remember from a creative writing class? What book do you turn to when it’s time to start writing? Let me know in the comments!