Best Books For Writers To Learn The Craft (Writing, Storytelling, Plot Outline)
I didn’t always know I wanted to be a writer. In fact, I’m one of those who started writing a story that accidentally morphed into a book. And I’m not one bit sorry I was halfway through when it hit me. Truth be told, it took a lot of the pressure off, but I still wanted to do a good job and that’s when I started doing my research on how to polish the craft of writing.
From learning how to plot the outline of a novel to integrating character backstory, I made it my mission to read as much as I could and watch as many videos as humanly possible in order to make sure the story I was bringing into the world wasn’t half bad. I don’t like half-assing anything and I’ll do whatever I can to do it right because that is what defines me professionally (as opposed to me at home where I afford to be messy and not feel one bit guilty). Of course, no one can see the mountain of coffee mugs in my sink, but anyone can read my books. It’s easy to do the math.
What I’ve learned so far is that reading books for writers has certainly made me understand my weak points and correct certain mistakes, plot holes or areas I wasn’t developing enough. It made me understand the craft, the why and the how, consequently, giving my novels a better flow. Because writers are people and some of us kick ass at action scenes and building suspense while others struggle (for example) integrating dialogue in scenes of panic, fear or describing in great detail situations they haven’t experienced (such as being robbed, raped, and the list goes on).
A significant surprise came when I started reading material on aspects I thought I was really good at (such as writing romance scenes, kissing scenes, etc.). Reading about how to improve parts of my novel that were already pretty decent, helped me enhance those scenes taking them from good to WOW (modesty aside).
Today I’m taking you on a ride through my ups and downs as a writer, the issues I had trouble with and what books helped me mend my weak points. But that’s not all. I also invited fellow authors & editors to list the books and blogs that helped them, so LET THE WRITING GAMES COMMENCE!
The Books That Helped Me On My Writing Journey
I’m going to link all book recommendations to Amazon.com, but if you’re elsewhere just follow the instructions below to reach the same product in your country.
I wrote articles on How To Write The Best Kissing Scene or The Difference Between Romantic, Steamy And Erotic Scenes In Your Novel (both rewarded by Google as Top Articles) but I had to do the work when it came to how to write a successful fight scene or how to build anticipation or integrate plot twists. It became clear to me that I needed to brush up on everything: my grammar, my similes and metaphors, the content and structure of my novel. Here’s what helped:
Derek Murphy – Guerilla Publishing
It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Derek Murphy and I will sing his praises with every chance I get. Author, book cover designer, authortuber, perpetual nomad. He’s one of the most natural, down-to-Earth writers YouTube has ever seen and this book would satisfy every writer I know. I have no clue if Derek Murphy is a Digital Marketing specialist, but I am, and everything he says is SPOT ON!
Being a self-published author is automatically becoming 10 professionals in one if you want to be successful. Geared at fiction writers, this book, just like Derek’s videos had me at the value of the content. It’s fresh, and most importantly it’s thick with advice on how to get noticed without going deep into your wallet (something that every author will appreciate).
What I love about this book is that it’s an honest two-in-one: how to write your book & how to sell it. From mastering the craft of writing to being savvy:
– Find out if readers will be into your novel BEFORE actually writing it;
– How to write to market in a way readers will enjoy;
– How to improve description and keywords;
– Initiation in landing pages, mailing list promotion techniques and how to target & sell your book to the right audience (including advertising comparison charts among Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, etc.);
There are tons of books out there promising to turn you into the next J.K. Rowling in 3 months. This book is not it. Instead, it offers priceless writing and book marketing advice from an author who rolled up his sleeves and tried everything he recommends. Click here to get the book on Amazon.
On Writing – by Stephen King
Okay, this is not your average Writer’s Guide and it wouldn’t be very Stephen King if it were. Part memoir, it feels like a friend keeps saying “get your shit together and write. Just write and read as much as you can,” which is in fact, the best advice anyone could ever give you whether you’re a beginner or a veteran.
If you read a lot, you develop a natural instinct, an inner voice that knowingly adds that twist where it’s needed and drops that hot line just on time. King takes you through his own writing journey adding his two cents like a lifelong pal and according to his zero bullshit policy we all know and love: make writing a habit, find your writing nook and write, make it visual without being overly descriptive (+ advice and writing tips).
An awesome reading experience written with an uncanny sense of humor. Click here to get the book on Amazon
Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them – by John Yorke
This book was recommended to me by my friend and fellow author Frank Garland and boy, am I glad I gave this a go. Into the Woods focuses more on how stories are born, what they all have in common and how to give your own an original spin (building anticipation, climax, twists & the whole 9 yards).
And John is right, at their core all stories have a recipe:
- Boy meets girl
- Hero saves world/country/city/village from villain/monster/etc.
This booklet zooms in on structure, and according to many, it takes a 3 act or a 5 act story to wrap up a powerful novel. It helps you understand the why behind each act and gives examples from pop culture everyone is familiar with. Click here to get the book on Amazon.
The Elements of Style: Classic Edition – by William Strunk
Last but never least I bought this because GRAMMAR MATTERS and how we speak is not always how we should write. Stephen King also recommended Elements of Style so I hit that purchase button bracing for another terribly boring grammar book. It wasn’t.
I had no clear idea how many mistakes I was actually making in both speaking and writing and that’s where the line is drawn between a good writer and a good storyteller. I aim to be both and it’s going to take constant dedication on my part.
Elements of Style gets to the point in a manner that is concise and easy to understand. And before you point Grammarly at me, I’ll kindly remind you it’s not the same knowing the root of the problem and working on the elegance of the craft. Grammarly is a useful tool but should never replace the common sense that as writers, we need to fix the problem instead of taking the shortcut.
And because this article wouldn’t be the same without counting on their own experiences, I invited fellow professionals from the writing community (authors & editors) to share their own views. Let’s welcome authors Tomas K. Grizzly, Rebecca Hefner, Rhonda Smiley, Simi Sunny, Carrie Weston, Deborah Lagarde, Rachel Hall, Lucy Appadoo and editor Jennie Rosenblum.
Q1: What books have helped you on your writing journey?
Tomas K. Grizzly: While I haven’t read anything on the mechanics of writing, David Gaughran’s Let’s get digital helped me a lot to understand the publishing industry.
Books I liked served as an encouragement and inspiration. As for learning to write, I hope that I learn by reading books, especially by beta swaps.
Rhonda Smiley: All of them! I find novels just as helpful as instructional books when it comes to developing my writing. I started as a screenwriter so early on I read a lot of instructional books on that.
A couple of my favorites were “Creating Unforgettable Characters” and “Making a Good Script Great,” both by Linda Seger. I learned a lot about structure, character development, and dialogue, but nothing about prose. Since I felt I had a pretty good basis for storytelling from years of writing shows, I focused on reading novels to study prose and narration choices.
Lucy Appadoo: In my case, I found the book, Mastering Suspense Structure & Plot by Jane. K. Cleland an interesting read that gave me fresh ideas in which to outline my book more comprehensively.
Another book that helped me on my writing journey was 5 Secrets of Story Structure – How Write a Novel That Stands Out by K. M Weiland which gave me a different perspective of story outlining so that I could enrich the plot. Click here to get the book on Amazon.
Writing a Killer Thriller: An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction gave me an overview of writing in the genre of thriller from a clear editor’s perspective. A lot of strong points inspired me to write my very first romantic thriller with a bit more of an edge in the plot, as well as police procedure.
The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker is an amazing book that gives you the survival signs for violence and criminality, and particularly for women to use and apply more of their intuition whenever they feel uneasy in the company of a man. This book helped my writing journey by adding depth to my villain in my current romantic thriller that involves domestic violence. Highly recommended.
Another book that helped me on my writing journey was Writer Get Noticed – A Strengths-Based Approach to Creating a Standout Author Platform by Colleen. M Story. This book helped me to enhance my own self-awareness, strengths, and branding as a fiction writer. It helped me to shape my selling points as a writer and to outline the benefits I provide readers by writing fiction. Click here to get the book on Amazon.
Rachel Hall: What got me into writing was Harry Potter (I read it 10+ years ago, long before I understood and knew about some of J.K. Rowling’s controversies). However, when I took my college’s Literary Humor class, I examined humor from Dave Barry, Neil Gaiman, Shakespeare, and more. Reading actual good books that I wouldn’t have normally picked up on my own and analyzing them inspired me to make a humorous book (of sorts) myself.
Deborah Lagarde: In my case, the first book that inspired me to write what would much later become The Prodigal Band Trilogy series was a novel first published in 1966, All Night Stand by Thom Keyes. As with my fictitious prodigal band fashioned after The Beatles, Keyes’ fictitious band The Score was also Beatles-like–they were from Liverpool and hit it big in the music business quickly.
This is one of the first novels I had ever read on my own and not on assignment in class at public school. After reading this novel, I decided to re-make the gang-boy characters I had already created into a rock band. The first in the trilogy, Battle of the Band, was self-published by my OmegaBooks in 1996; the second one, The Prophesied Band, was published in 1998; and the final novel, The Prodigal Band, was published in 2018.
For ease of e-book reading, I had Lulu Publishing put the three novels into one e-book and print version, The Prodigal Band Trilogy, published in 2019. There is also a bookstore link on my website along with links to read about each book, as well as author advice, news, and ‘snippets’ posts based on genres, characters and real-world scenarios on the home page.
The second set of books that helped me was JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. As the evil Sauron used his ‘one ring’ to rule the other rings worn by men, elves, and dwarves, as well as the evil minion orcs and nazgul, the evil characters of The Prodigal Band Trilogy try to use the evil ‘red crystals of Corion’ to rule over the fictitious prodigal band, Sound Unltd, as well as their fans.
The third book that inspired my ‘mission’ to see this trilogy to its conclusion is The Bible, King James Version, copyright-free. Several quotes from various Bible passages, Old and New Testaments, appear in the books or are referenced in the books that make up the trilogy. The trilogy is called The Prodigal Band Trilogy based on the notion of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Simi Sunny: Mostly, the books that I have read have helped me in my writing journey. It’s always okay to look over other people’s literary works and see how they do it. It gives me a spark of creativity and finding my own writing style. It’s like researching, which I’m totally a big fan of when it comes to seeking knowledge. Here are some examples that have inspired me: Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo and A Retrieved Reformation by O. Henry. But as much as I’ve found my own voice, I still want to try different writing styles to find my own. That’s the fun part of the writing journey.
Q2: Are there any websites or blogs for writers you’d recommend?
Tomas K. Grizzly: I have barely scratched the surface but I think it might be good to find a platform you like and find like-minded people here. I had some success on Goodreads when it comes to talking about writing, and I have gained a lot of insights from a handful of fellow bloggers on WordPress.
Rhonda Smiley: Absolutely. First, of course, I love https://estherrabbit.com/. I always come away with great information and inspiration. Another favorite is https://mirandareads.com/. She reads and reviews hundreds of books and is extremely insightful and entertaining about it. Writers can gain a lot from reading reviews.
I also frequent https://www.thebookdesigner.com/ for articles on publishing, but especially to browse through their monthly ebook cover design submissions. It’s an excellent way to stay on top of book cover trends and to see their opinions as to what works and what doesn’t. And for anyone interested in screenwriting, I’d recommend my partner’s blog http://blog.jameshereth.com/. It’s filled with fun insights into the film and television industry. And sometimes he mentions me 🙂
Rebecca Hefner: There are so many I use! Here are a few:
Self-Publishing with Dale: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKv8xcrFntOERL7NUXgkypg/featured
Writer’s Row: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRlHSWmzzWv38B-JReO3VaA
The Creative Penn: https://www.youtube.com/user/thecreativepenn
Derek Murphy: https://www.youtube.com/user/holyblasphemy123
Amy Collins: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2VE-zaOGMtbCmkg5sgNJ3Q
Deborah Lagarde: Goodreads is the best one I have found so far, but Book Bub is also worthy of looking into. There are also Facebook writer/author groups I will consider soon.
Q3: What are your weak points as an author and what helped you improve?
Jennie Rosenblum, Editor: In over 50% of the manuscripts I edit, there is a timeline issue. Sometimes it’s merely 8 days in a week, but sometimes the characters change age (name, sex, hair color etc.), with no explanation or time passing. A basic timeline or calendar for your characters and plotline can help eliminate this issue.
Tomas K. Grizzly: Well, I sometimes feel like my weak points might be for a book of its own. Learning to find the balance between action and character development, learning to delve into emotions and write convincing emotional scenes, using the five senses, decent sentence structure, dialogue clarity… I could go on – I am sure I’ve, at some point, made every type of writing mistake that exists.
What helped me? Reading other books to a degree – when I saw something done well, I was thinking how it was done to work so well. But what helped me the most were beta readers because there was only so much I could see with my own eyes. Each of them probably deserves a medal for their patience.
Rhonda Smiley: Prose remains my biggest challenge. Using the vocabulary, visual conventions, and shortcuts of screenwriting is second nature to me, so it was a real learning curve to think in terms of prose. The same scene in both mediums would read vastly different from one another. But to echo my sentiment above, what really helps me improve is reading other people’s novels. And you can learn as much from a book you don’t like as you can from a book you love.
Carrie Weston: As many authors do, I have had a long journey to success and although a few things crop up from time to time like the ever-present ‘show don’t tell’ and the ‘wow you skipped that part, we’re not in your mind’ one thing has plagued me more than most – Dyslexia.
From high school, I always dreamt of being a writer but I had dyslexia and at that time many people believed you weren’t as capable as others and so I was told I would never achieve my dream. Well, not one to be told what to do *rebel all the way* I worked extra hard in my special dyslexia classes through a specialist private tutor whilst at high school and college.
At one point in my life sometime after college, I remember reading ‘The way of shadows’ by Brent Weeks. The book its self is amazing but more than that I read the authors acknowledgements and found out that he too struggled, stating ‘I started reading late, and when I did, I hated it.’
Well, there went my determination tuning up a notch – if he could end up a writer then so could I. My brother who is also dyslexic had been given programs like Dragon Naturally Speaking at university and told me to try them out. (They’re well worth a look). But it would be years later after having some of the worst downs in my life when my mother bought me an open study college writing course (that didn’t base entry on things like dyslexia) before I earned a success. Now I use a combination of word spell check, Dragon Naturally Speaking (Click here to get it from Amazon), reading (to hear back what I’ve written), Grammarly and most of all my number 1 beta reader (who likes to remain anonymous) before sending off to editors.
Deborah Lagarde: My biggest weakness as an author had been communicating with authors more experienced than I, especially when doing marketing projects. I live in a rural remote area and, further, I am an introvert by nature, thus I live where I belong. Being online in Goodreads author and reader forums has helped tremendously with giving me new ideas in marketing and communicating with indie authors. Before online groups, all I had was a local writers group that met once a month about twenty-five miles away and which now sometimes meets over fifty miles away. Plus, having that website helps me to promote my trilogy and books.
Simi Sunny: I can think of two weak points so far. From what I’ve been told, I have a hard time being consistent with the tenses and being overly descriptive. I believe I struggle with consistency with tenses if I’m writing present-tense, but it could be all the same. I would switch tenses a couple of times, so I would have to read the sentences over to see if it flows.
Sometimes having a Read-Out-Loud program could help as I follow along. As for being descriptive, I would struggle to find a balance. While I want to paint a picture for my audience, I should also not bore people while ruining their imagination. So what I do is think of my audience and ask myself if I’m overly descriptive.
Rachel Hall: Some of my weak points as a writer were dialogue and humor. Luckily my choices in classes helped me work on how to set up my jokes and find a format that worked for me within my writing. As for dialogue, I watched a lot of shows and examined HOW the actors talk, their speech patterns, the nonverbal cues, etc. I also examined people in real life, including myself, and tried to catch patterns there. But most of all, I learned HOW to communicate EFFECTIVELY from scientific research. My research, mainly DBT, broke dialogue down for me to a science.
Why does what this one person say this? Why did what they said cause a fight? What could they say to make the situation better? Once you find what makes GOOD communication, you can add that to your dialogue. But most of all, it helped me figure out what makes BAD communication and therefore conflict, which also helps with dialogue and story writing.
Are you in the Writing Industry?
Shoot me an email, I’d love to interview you!
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