The best fiction novels to learn the art of creating story

William H. Coles Author Of McDowell
By William H. Coles

The Books I Picked & Why

Pride and Prejudice

By Jane Austen

Book cover of Pride and Prejudice

Why this book?

Published in 1813, this book demonstrates the basics of storytelling, techniques that have lasted for more than 200 years in the book’s various versions and recently in films. Important for the quality of the characterization and engaging the reader in a different, early nineteenth-century world. Be prepared to experience emotions and attachments Jane Austen was capable of creating with the written word. 

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

By Ken Kesey

Book cover of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Why this book?

Ken Kesey uses conflict and action to create a dramatically sequenced series of events about unique, interesting characters. Readers are often surprised at how much they really care about these nutty souls. This was Kesey’s only success and grew from a peculiar personal history. It is worthy of study for the value of an innovative, if not bizarre, storyline so well told that it has become an inseparable part of American culture. 

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Wuthering Heights

By Emily Bronte

Book cover of Wuthering Heights

Why this book?

Emily Brontë’s only novel is a masterpiece, especially for the writer eager to learn the techniques of great fiction. The narration seamlessly involves the narrator and many of the characters. The timeline is complex with story-present only a small part of the total text; the major portion of the story is back story...always in action scenes and with carefully maintained chronology.

Heathcliff and Catherine are well-developed characters, and the influence of Ellen Dean as a narrator reflects effective use of intriguing narrator-reliability and irony. Overall, richly rewarding, well worth rereading, and always something to learn for improving personal writing of literary stories.

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Anna Karenina

By Leo Tolstoy

Book cover of Anna Karenina

Why this book?

Tolstoy’s novel is cherished by most writers. Strong character achievements in Anna, her husband Karenin, her lover Vronsky, and her brother Levin. Probably one of the best examples of a complex action plot driven by character traits. Important to read the copy by the translators, husband and wife, Pevear and Volokhonsky. Applauded for their development of translation skills, and demonstrated in this novel, in Russian and French. Tolstoy is a unique artist with a life of contradictions and inexplicable decisions. He had an influence on Chekhov and their relationship, and Tolstoy’s family life is revelatory and rewarding to explore.

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By William Kennedy

Book cover of Ironweed

Why this book?

William Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for this novel. An interesting study in the use of internal reflection, as well as explored levels of consciousness and complex timeline. The protagonist is Francis Phelan, a former professional baseball player who left Albany in shame after dropping his infant son Gerald to his death. It is the third book in Kennedy's Albany Cycle. The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (for Jack Nicholson) and Best Actress in a Leading Role (for Meryl Streep). The novel is rich with dramatic tension.

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