If you want to become a successful fiction writer, you need to study so you can improve your writing skills and craft. Practice makes perfect, but you should make sure you’re practicing with the best information you can find.
You can find tons of great advice on fiction writing for free on our blog, but you should also consider reading books by authors who have figured out what makes great fiction writing work.
Here’s our list of the best books for novelists.
If you’re ready to become a better writer, these books can help.
1. Wired for Story by Lisa Cron
Wired for Story offers a deep dive into the psychology of storytelling so you can write a story that will grip your reader from page 1 to the end and leave them feeling delighted and satisfied all the way through. Each chapter zeroes in on an aspect of the brain and provides a revolutionary look at the anatomy of a great story as the brain experiences it.
The human brain is hardwired to want to learn what happens next, and any great story must follow a common pattern in order to entertain readers and turn them into fans. This book breaks down what those patterns are so you can craft a story that will stand the test of time.
Many aspiring writers fail because they strive for authentic dialogue, interesting characters, and beautiful metaphors, but the lack the structure, story arc, and character development that’s required for a great story that will captivate and enchant readers. This book won’t teach you to write better grammar or more poetic phrases, but it will teach you how to write a much better story.
2. Story Genius by Lisa Cron
Story Genius is Lisa Cron’s followup to her earlier book, Wired for Story. Story Genius walks you through the process of taking these cognitive storytelling strategies and crafting a scene-by-scene storyboard or outline for your novel.
This isn’t just another book on plotting, though. The lessons and insights you’ll learn in this book far exceed the oft-repeated advice of creating a plot line or outlining your story. Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, Story Genius will help you master the fundamentals of storytelling and plan out the key features of your story to make sure once you’ve completed the first draft, you’ll have a story that will make an impact instead of becoming a dud.
This is one of those books that will change your writing career and profoundly shift the way you write, conceive, and develop a novel.
3. Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins
In Getting Into Character you will discover practical strategies and concepts that will help you understand the motivation and psychology of all your characters (and people in general, which is a huge side benefit of reading this book and becoming a great novelist). The insights you’ll gain in this book will give you a whole new way of thinking about characters, people, personalities, and what makes us human—and that just might lead to a huge improvement in the quality of your characters and your writing.
Drawing on the Method Acting theory great actors have used for decades, this book is a deep dive into the seven characterization techniques that turn regular people into compelling, interesting, and engaging characters.
This book will help if you want to:
- Create richer, more compelling, and more engaging characters
- Write better dialogue that sounds more natural and moves the story forward in a meaningful way
- Learn the tools to write convincingly about any character in any situation (even if you have no personal experience in that situation)
- Understand each character’s motivations, objectives, and core drives
- Bring your story to life by creating timeless characters who will appeal to your readers today, tomorrow, and far into the future
4. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
Written by a successful author and literary agent, this book will help you understand what great commercial fiction is and how to write it.
If your goal is to write a bestseller or attract lots of fans and readers, you have to write something they’ll want to read. This book provides a blueprint for crafting a story that will captivate a large audience of readers and garner the interest of literary agents and major publishers as well.
Even if you’re not interested in writing commercial fiction, the analysis in this book of several bestselling novels and stories will help you gain much-needed insight into what makes a great story and how you can improve your craft.
5. Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
Plot and Structure is the go-to book on plotting. It has long been one of the best-selling books on fiction writing, and for good reason. This book will show you how to write a solid novel from the get-go by crafting a strong plot and story structure without plot holes or major developmental issues.
Most novelists will probably put this book down every few pages to take notes and make changes to their story because it’s full of great tools for fixing common plot issues and mistakes that many new writers fall into.
This book is detailed, and it covers the important elements of story structure methods and models for all genres (including commercial and literary fiction). It also provides great writing exercises at the end of each chapter along with some brainstorming techniques for original plot ideas that will help your next book stand out from the crowd.
6. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
Save the Cat is one book you’ll probably hear recommended at every writer’s conference all across the United States. This short book packs a powerful punch, and while it’s not an “all-you-need” guide for writers, it will forever change the way you look at stories and your role as a writer.
The book describes the structure and importance of the monomyth, or hero’s journey, from the author’s perspective of a long career writing screenplays in Hollywood. This book was written for screenwriters and comes from a strong screenwriting perspective, but many novelists love it and have adapted the advice in this book successfully in their writing careers.
If you hope to write a book that will someday become a screenplay or movie, this should be on your required reading list.
7. How to Write a Dynamite Scene Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson
How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method provides insights on a unique way of writing a novel.
For those who love concrete step-by-step guidance and clear frameworks to follow, you’ll love this book. The author combines a strong business-minded emphasis with a technical perspective on fiction writing. In full disclosure, many writers love The Snowflake Method while others despise it, so you might want to use Amazon’s Look Inside feature to read the first few pages and see if you find it compelling and interesting enough before you buy it.
8. Around the Writer’s Block by Rosanne Bane
Around the Writer’s Block is the perfect book for anxious creatives who struggle with procrastination, writer’s block, self-doubt, self-criticism, or low self esteem. The author dives deep into the science of anxiety and creativity to help you come up with solid strategies for overcoming many of the psychological and emotional roadblocks that keep many writers from ever truly pursuing their dreams.
If you’ve been putting off truly pursuing your dreams of becoming a writer or published author, this book just might be the thing that helps you get over the hump and get committed to following your dreams.
9. On Writing Well by William Zinsser
On Writing Well is truly a classic guide for writing nonfiction prose in a compelling, clear, and powerful way. So why bother reading it if you’re a fiction writer? Because the writing lessons in this book are so timeless and concrete that you can apply them to fiction writing.
This book dives deep into the nitty-gritty details of writing compelling sentences and prose—word choice, emotions, usage, meaning, connotation. Think of this book as an intense training program packed into a short book that will help you expand and upgrade your writing toolbox.
In short, this book will help you write better sentences, and better sentences are the building blocks for writing anything better, including a novel.
10. Woe Is I by Patricia T. O’Conner
Woe Is I is an entertaining guide to grammar. At times witty and hilarious, this book is still a serious guide to English grammar.
This is one of those books that you’ll enjoy reading while simultaneously learning new things you didn’t expect.
What’s Your Favorite Book?
Got another great book to recommend for other novelists? Let us know in the comments below!
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