The best books for aspiring novelists

Robert Whitlow Author Of Relative Justice
By Robert Whitlow

Who am I?

I’m a lawyer. One thing effective trial attorneys learn to do is become “pretend experts” in any area necessary for a case. It might be orthopedic medicine, commercial building design, auto accident reconstruction, or a thousand other subjects. In 1996, when I started writing my first novel, The List, I decided to become a “pretend expert” in the field of story-telling. Twenty books later, I’ve worked hard to make the transition to actual expert, someone who’s studied the craft of writing so I can create a story with professionalism and skill. These books aren’t the only ones I’ve read on this topic, but they’re some of the best.

I wrote...

Relative Justice

By Robert Whitlow,

Book cover of Relative Justice

What is my book about?

High-stakes litigation is way outside attorney David Cobb’s comfort zone. He’d rather eat southern comfort food at a restaurant in Wilmington, NC, than file a lawsuit. That changes when he agrees to help Zeke Caldwell, a family friend who’s patented one of his home remedies, and now believes it’s been stolen by a big pharmaceutical company. David’s sister-in-law Katelyn Cobb has the experience gained from working with a big Washington, DC, law firm. But working with her brother-in-law? There’s no law school class on that subject. Together, they seek justice for Zeke in a case that becomes much more sinister than a claim of patent piracy

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print

Why did I love this book?

This is the book that enabled me to make the transition from legal writer to novelist. I purchased it at an aspiring writer’s conference without knowing it was well-respected in the publishing industry. I quickly liked the clearly stated, practical guidelines: show not tell, resist the urge to explain, what is point of view, dialogue that works, easy beats. And the book contains humorous illustrations by George Booth. Every writer needs a laugh in the midst of giving birth. 

By Renni Browne, Dave King,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Self-Editing for Fiction Writers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hundreds of books have been written on the art of writing. Here at last is a book by two professional editors to teach writers the techniques of the editing trade that turn promising manuscripts into published novels and short stories.

In this completely revised and updated second edition, Renni Browne and Dave King teach you, the writer, how to apply the editing techniques they have developed to your own work. Chapters on dialogue, exposition, point of view, interior monologue, and other techniques take you through the same processes an expert editor would go through to perfect your manuscript. Each point…

Book cover of The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers

Why did I love this book?

When asked about the origin of Star Wars, George Lucas acknowledged his debt to Harvard professor and mythologist, Joseph Campbell. This book explains Campbell’s work and unlocks the power of myth in an understandable way. Mythic structure can influence every genre from romantic comedy to sci-fi and make stories 10X better by tapping into the deep, inherent dynamic of story instilled in us from the cradle. Plumb that depth, and you’ll find a passionate audience.

By Christopher Vogler,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Writer's Journey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Originally an influential memo Vogler wrote for Walt Disney Animation executives regarding The Lion King, The Writer’s Journey details a twelve-stage, myth-inspired method that has galvanized Hollywood’s treatment of cinematic storytelling. A format that once seldom deviated beyond a traditional three-act blueprint, Vogler’s comprehensive theory of story structure and character development has met with universal acclaim, and is detailed herein using examples from myths, fairy tales, and classic movies. This book has changed the face of screenwriting worldwide over the last 25 years, and continues to do so.

Book cover of Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need

Why did I love this book?

This book will keep a writer from chasing his or her own tail. The last thing a novelist wants a reader to do is start skimming. Instead of getting bogged down in muddy story development, learn how to create a clear, engaging arc for both plot and characters. Filled with practical examples gleaned from film and bookshelf, this book can save your story and make it pop.   

By Blake Snyder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Here’s what started the phenomenon: the best seller, for over 15 years, that’s been used by screenwriters around the world! Blake Snyder tells all in this fast, funny and candid look inside the movie business. “Save the Cat” is just one of many ironclad rules for making your ideas more marketable and your script more satisfying, including: The four elements of every winning logline The seven immutable laws of screenplay physics The 10 genres that every movie ever made can be categorized by ― and why they’re important to your script Why your Hero must serve your Idea Mastering the…

Book cover of Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English

Why did I love this book?

No writer’s library is complete without a shelf (that’s right – shelf) dedicated to grammar books. Breaking the rules is allowed, but only by design and for a reason, not due to ignorance. This is my favorite grammar book because it’s witty. Medicine tastes better with a few drops of honey. The important rules are explained with great examples. Learn how to put verbs in their place, find help for pronoun anxiety, and experience the joy of punctuation. What could be more fun than that?!

By Patricia T. O'Conner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Woe Is I as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A revised and updated edition of the iconic grammar guide for the 21st century.

In this expanded and updated edition of Woe Is I, former editor at The New York Times Book Review Patricia T. O'Conner unties the knottiest grammar tangles with the same insight and humor that have charmed and enlightened readers of previous editions for years. With fresh insights into the rights, wrongs, and maybes of English grammar and usage, O'Conner offers in Woe Is I down-to-earth explanations and plain-English solutions to the language mysteries that bedevil all of us.

"Books about English grammar and usage are... never…

The Elements of Style

By William Strunk, E.B. White,

Book cover of The Elements of Style

Why did I love this book?

If you ever took a college English composition class, chances are you read this book. Why did you have to read it? Because it’s that good. Some things change, but crisp, clear composition remains relevant. “Omit needless words.” “Write in active voice.” Pithy statements like these still echo in the chambers of the minds of thousands of writers. Heed those voices! 

By William Strunk, E.B. White,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Elements of Style as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

You know the authors' names. You recognize the title. You've probably used this book yourself. This is The Elements of Style, the classic style manual, now in a fourth edition. A new Foreword by Roger Angell reminds readers that the advice of Strunk & White is as valuable today as when it was first offered.This book's unique tone, wit and charm have conveyed the principles of English style to millions of readers. Use the fourth edition of "the little book" to make a big impact with writing.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in grammar, film, and myth?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about grammar, film, and myth.

Grammar Explore 15 books about grammar
Film Explore 212 books about film
Myth Explore 80 books about myth