The best books on writing for new fiction writers

Who am I?

When I first sat down to write a book, I had no idea what I was doing. So I did what any good book nerd would do. I went to the library and checked out every book I could find on the writing craft! Those books were key to my understanding of POV, showing vs. telling, and many other facets of strong storytelling. Over the years, my personal library of writing books has grown, but not all craft books are ideal for the new writer. These books are the ones I most recommend when a writer comes to me and says, “Where should I start?”

I wrote...

Malicious Intent

By Lynn H. Blackburn,

Book cover of Malicious Intent

What is my book about?

Dr. Ivy Collins, founder and CEO of Hedera, Inc., is ready to begin clinical trials of her company’s cutting-edge prosthetic. Her work has been heralded by government, medical, and advocacy groups and everyone hopes the device will be a success. Well, almost everyone. Someone is trying to sabotage Hedera and the launch, but to what purpose—and how far will they go to get what they want? 

Meanwhile, U.S. Secret Service Agent Gil Dixon can’t believe he’s finally been reunited with Ivy, his childhood best friend. Now that he’s found her again, Gil intends to spend the rest of his life with her. But it will take all his skill to uncover the truth in time to save Ivy’s life’s work, her own life, and the innocent lives caught in the crossfire.

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish

Why did I love this book?

Plot & Structure was one of the first books on the craft that I purchased. And it is still the one I most often find myself recommending to new writers. All writers need to understand the basics of character, setting, and dialogue and these are explained in a conversational way that doesn’t presume any previous writing knowledge. Plot & Structure provides a step-by-step approach to crafting a story using the 3-act structure, and then gives useful tips for troubleshooting common issues. My copy is highlighted and abused and while I’m usually generous with my personal library, this is one book I never loan out because all new writers need to own it for themselves. 

By James Scott Bell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Plot & Structure as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Craft an Engaging Plot

How does plot influence story structure? What's the difference between plotting for commercial and literary fiction? How do you revise a plot or structure that's gone off course?

With Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure, you'll discover the answers to these questions and more. Award-winning author James Scott Bell offers clear, concise information that will help you create a believable and memorable plot, including:

   • Techniques for crafting strong beginnings, middles, and ends
   • Easy-to-understand plotting diagrams and charts
   • Brainstorming techniques for original plot ideas
   • Thought-provoking exercises at the end of each chapter

Book cover of Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules

Why did I love this book?

While all writers need to understand what makes a good plot, not all writers are plotters. Some, myself included, find the act of outlining to be the death knell of their creative process, but most books on the craft encourage or even insist that outlining is the only way to successfully write. Story Trumps Structure refutes that assertion and is the best book I’ve found for understanding how the organic process of writing works. With advice on everything from how to end chapters to plot twists, all writers, plotters, and pantsers alike, will benefit from learning this approach to storytelling and the section on Narrative Forces is one I find myself re-reading frequently. 

By Steven James,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Story Trumps Structure as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Don't limit your fiction - LIBERATE IT

All too often, following the "rules" of writing can constrict rather than inspire you. With Story Trumps Structure, you can shed those rules - about three-act structure, rising action, outlining, and more - to craft your most powerful, emotional, and gripping stories.

Award-winning novelist Steven James explains how to trust the narrative process to make your story believable, compelling, and engaging, and debunks the common myths that hold writers back from creating their best work.

   • Ditch your outline and learn to write organically.
   • Set up promises for readers - and deliver…

Book cover of Dreyer's English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

Why did I love this book?

Most “best books on writing lists” will include The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. While I can’t dispute the value of that classic, I personally recommend Dreyer’s English. Few new writers are in a position to purchase the latest Chicago Manual of Style, but Dreyer’s English answers the majority of grammar and style questions a writer will have, and does so in a clear, concise manner. The best part is that this is not a volume filled with dry directives on punctuation and spelling. Dreyer’s English is witty, at times downright hilarious, and holds the distinction for being the only book I’ve ever recommended with the caveat that it is imperative you read the footnotes. 

By Benjamin Dreyer,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Dreyer's English as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'An utterly delightful book to read, Dreyer's English will stand among the classics on how to use the English language properly.' ELIZABETH STROUT

'A complete joy. For those who care about words - and for those who don't - Dreyer's English is the book we have all been waiting for. Wise, funny, no-nonsense, stylish and brilliantly practical.' RACHEL JOYCE
An indispensable, New York Times-bestselling guide to the craft of writing from Random House's long-time copy chief and one of Twitter's leading language gurus.

We all write, all the time: books, blogs, tweets, emails, emails, emails - and we all…

Book cover of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Why did I love this book?

On Writing has earned its place on most “books for writers lists” thanks to its perfect blend of memoir and writing advice. The beginning of the book is the memoir portion where he shares his journey. It’s encouraging and affirming for new writers to see how he felt about his writing in the early years (his wife rescued Carrie from the trash) to where he is today. The last section of the book is filled with practical writing advice that is beneficial to any writer but is especially useful to the new writer just finding their way. And if horror isn’t your thing (it isn’t mine), have no fear. There’s nothing scary about On Writing, although after you read it, you might be tempted to try some of Stephen King’s tamer works. 

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked On Writing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Twentieth Anniversary Edition with Contributions from Joe Hill and Owen King


Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King’s critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work.

“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the…

The Emotion Thesaurus

By Angela Ackerman, Becca Puglisi,

Book cover of The Emotion Thesaurus

Why did I love this book?

One concept many new writers struggle to master is that of “show, don’t tell.” Most of us have a good idea of how we can show joy or anger, but what about anxiety, eagerness, defeat, or relief? The Emotion Thesaurus contains one hundred thirty emotions. Each listing includes physical signs, internal sensations, mental responses, acute or long-term responses, and more. Whether the emotion is being experienced by the POV character or being observed by the POV character, the variety in each listing makes it possible to show the reader what the character is feeling without naming the emotion. The Emotion Thesaurus is such a key tool for this that I own it in paperback and e-book, so I have it accessible at all times. 

By Angela Ackerman, Becca Puglisi,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Emotion Thesaurus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The bestselling Emotion Thesaurus, often hailed as “the gold standard for writers” and credited with transforming how writers craft emotion, has now been expanded to include 55 new entries! 

One of the biggest struggles for writers is how to convey emotion to readers in a unique and compelling way. When showing our characters’ feelings, we often use the first idea that comes to mind, and they end up smiling, nodding, and frowning too much. 

If you need inspiration for creating characters’ emotional responses that are personalized and evocative, this ultimate show-don’t-tell guide for emotion can help. It includes:

Body language…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in creative writing, writer's block, and the English language?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about creative writing, writer's block, and the English language.

Creative Writing Explore 39 books about creative writing
Writer's Block Explore 23 books about writer's block
The English Language Explore 32 books about the English language