The best books on writing for new fiction writers

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By James Scott Bell

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

Why 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. 


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

By Steven James

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

Why 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. 


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

By Benjamin Dreyer

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

Why 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. 


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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

By Stephen King

Book cover of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Why 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. 


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The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression

By Angela Ackerman, Becca Puglisi

Book cover of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression

Why 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. 


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