Edgar's Top Five Books on Writing
The following are five books (with a "Further Reading" section as well) that have helped me on my journey as a writer. These are the books I believe every writer aspiring to go pro should read. This is by no means an exhaustive list and if you have more, I'd love to hear from you! Actually... I'd probably love to hear from you either way. If you have any agreements, disagreements, or just general comments, drop me a line.
Well, let's get started!
Number Five: Querying/Publishing
Sell Your Story in a Single Sentence (Lane Bishop)
Kicking off this list is a book not so much on writing, but on how to sell what you’re written. That being said, the principles contained in this book are impactful regardless of which stage of the writing process you’re in. Though I read this to aid in querying agents, I quickly found that compressing your story to a single idea is paramount when drafting a novel. It won’t replace the editing phase (I seem to be the only writer that actually enjoys the editing phase) but it will help. For those plotters out there, this may come a bit natural, but for the pantsers/discovery writers this book contains a lot of useful information, too.
Number Four: Style & Format
The Elements of Style (Strunk & White)
Co-authored by the man who wrote: “Charlotte’s Web”, “Stuart Little”, and “The Trumpet of the Swan”, this manual is vital for anyone writing anything from a novel to a college term papaer. This is the book I keep close at hand. It’s not often anymore, but when I have a question on format this is my go-to. It’s short, light, and every writer should own a copy.
Number Three: How to Plot
Plot Perfect: Building Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene (Paula Munier)
Now we’re getting into the meat. Numbers five and four on this list are beneficial, but this is our first step into the depths. What makes this particular book stand out is not only the wealth of information (my own copy—which is signed, btw—is full of my own notes and references) but its absolute focus on the reader as a learner. There are writing exercises and templates that can be used for your own plotting. If you’re in a writing group, pitch the idea to take a month or two to go through this book together. It’s one of the few that can really benefit from group study. Under this paragraph I’ll post a link so you can find it easily.
Number Two: The Love of Our Craft
On Writing (Stephen King)
If you’ve read my “Favorite Books” section then you know I have a sweet spot for this man. My first publish, “Jin’s Baby” won first place in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction awards and I used the writing prompt from this novel to win it. No other writer has made me feel like he was talking to me personally like Stephen King did in this famous work. His desire to write for no other reason than he loves the process comes through and it should be inspiring for any author out there. Through telling the reader about his struggles before being discovered to then telling us about his deeper struggles with drugs and alcohol, it’s as much a personal letter to future writers as it is a lesson on our craft. All this being said, though, my favorite sections are simply when he talks about his wife. He loves her and she was his strength. If you go to my reddit page you’ll find that I speak about my wife similarly. I can’t bring myself to say something bad about Pengyun because, well, there’s just nothing bad to say. King never comes out and says it this way, so I could be wrong, but I think he understands how deeply important it is to like your spouse. Love is great, but it’s underrated. Liking the one you’re married to, however, is vastly underrated.
If you’re struggling in writing—whether it be motivation to write or how to improve—buy this book.
Number One: Structure
The Anatomy of a Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller (John Truby)
What King is to passion, Truby is to structure. Though this book is technically written for the screenwriter, the principles are easily transferable. Also, Truby himself encourages writers to play around with the 22 steps. He explains that not all the steps are necessary, and that your story almost definitely won’t have all 22. That being said, he also encourages writers to play around with the order of the steps. He speaks of writing as if it were the author’s playground and that, though not everything is marketable, everything is there for our amusement. He starts off the steps similarly to “Sell Your Story in a Single Sentence” by having the writer consider their idea as simply as possible. A Premise isn’t crafted in a moment—usually. No, it’s crafted over pages and pages. Write the premise, write it again, scratch it out, write it again. He drives home the point that writing is easy, but good writing is anything but. Also, for those who enjoy youtube, there are innumerable videos on his topics. First among them is his four corner opposition, but if you keep digging, you’ll find more.
After Paula Munier’s “Plot Perfect”, I recommend this work for writing groups. Paula’s is more set-up for group study and flows perfectly for weekly discussion, but Truby’s is excellent for a second work to dissect.
Well, that’s all I have for you on this list. Thanks for reading. Before you go, though, I’d like to ask that if you read or have read any of these books that you drop me a line and let me know what you think. If you read them off my recommendation, tell me what you thought. Also, if you have more recommendations, feel free to let me know. That being said, here is a “Further Reading” section of books that I read that were useful. I tried to keep this list to my top 5, but any of the following are excellent:
Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within (Ray Bradbury)
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anne Lamont)
Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting (Robert McKee)
Writing with Quiet Hands: How to Shape Your Writing to Resonate with Readers (Paula Munier)
Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need (Blake Snyder)