There are a ton of books on writing, and as part of your writing schedule, you should always be flipping through one. You’ll be surprised at the confidence it gives you to know you’re writing correctly. They can also be sources of inspiration for everything from character development to setting descriptions.
Let’s say your boss gives you a vague assignment, with little to no direction. How likely are you to prioritize it? Will you wait until the last minute?
What if he gave you clear instructions and outlined everything you’d need? You’d be a lot less likely to avoid the work, right?
Books on writing have that same effect. Once you read a few of these, you’ll feel like you have your feet under you, and you’ll be a lot more likely to put in the hours at the keyboard.
By the way, despite my years of education in writing, none of these were recommended to me by professors. If you’re currently a student, be aware that your education doesn’t stop with your syllabus or when you receive your degree: the key to writing is to always be reading up on your craft.
1. For story : My Story Can Beat Up Your Story, by Jeffrey Alan Schecter
Just like the title hints, this book is more about creating a great story than it is writing screenplays. Trust me, I’ve never written a screenplay in my life.
I can’t emphasize enough how much this book changed my world. It single-handedly got me to finish my first manuscript. If you’ll only read one book on writing, read this one.
The book includes little screenplay-only info, like moving to LA and networking. Though he uses movie examples like Star Wars and Sleepless in Seattle, I find them more helpful than if he were referring to books I’d never read. They help you really understand how structure works. I can’t watch movies passively anymore — he has changed my entire view of the industry.
He will teach you how to make likeable protagonists, create plot points, build your character’s journey, and end it all with a satisfying climax. And he does it all with a great sense of humor.
I’ve read it three times and I’ll continue reading it for the rest of my life.
2. For structure : Story by Robert McKee
I know, I know, I know. Another book about screenwriting! And look at that ancient font effect! Give me a chance to explain.
No one is more qualified than Robert McKee to help get your head around story construction. He’ll teach you about beats, scenes, sequences, and acts, and your world will change. Ever wondered what keeps you on the edge of your seat during a scene? He’ll show you how to do that.
And just when you think he couldn’t get any smarter, he ties it all into your characters, their desires, and their emotions.
And besides, what makes a great movie? Some of his workshop alumni have gone on to write some very famous stories: Breaking Bad, Frozen, and The Wolf on Wall Street.
3. For fiction: The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein
Klein is an executive editor over at Scholastic, and she’s a must-read for any fiction author, especially if you’re writing anything for a young-ish audience.
Though the book is marketed toward children and young adult authors, this book is an awesome resource for anyone writing fiction. She goes into detail about the publishing aspect of children and young adult novels, but she also has insights into story analysis and the revision process that no one can beat.
I recommend reading this from the very beginning of your novel writing. She will help you write a saleable premise and build a unique world.
4. For everything : The Complete Handbook on Novel Writing by the Editors of Writer’s Digest
Though this book doesn’t have the personality of the others, it’s well-organized and covers a lot. It’s not written by just one person, so you get a lot of information, and hear from experts in the industry, including interviews with bestselling authors: Tom Clancy, Chuck Palahnuiuk, Kurt Vonnegut, and many more.
This book doesn’t leave out anything. It covers plot, character, dialogue, revising, genre-specific elements, finding an agent, and either publishing with a proper house, or self-publishing.
It’s organized in a way that you can find what information you’re looking for, so you won’t have to read the entire thing to get good use out of it.
5. For publishing and making money : Write. Publish. Repeat. by Platt, Truant, and Wright
Way more modern and lesser-known, Write. Publish. Repeat. isn’t going to change your writing much, but it will change the way you tackle everything after your manuscript is complete.
If you’re looking for a guide on self-publishing and marketing, this is it. The authors are clear in their delivery, and they’re very no-B.S. about it. They’ll teach you how to price your book online, and how to get better reviews.
So, get to reading!