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KARA BARBIERI (@PANDEAN)
Kara Barbieri is a twenty-two year old author with a love for the weird and mystic. Her debut novel, WHITE STAG, will be published by Wednesday Books/Macmillan in January 2019.
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Ali Novak is a Wisconsin native and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's creative writing program. She started writing her debut novel My Life with the Walter Boys when she was only fifteen. Since then, her work has received more than 150 million hits online and My Life with the Walter Boys has been optioned for television by Komixx Entertainment and Sony Pictures Television.
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100 Must-Read, Best Books On Writing And The Writer’s Life
Nikki VanRy is a proud resident of Arizona, where she gets to indulge her love of tacos, desert storms, and tank tops. She also writes for the Tucson Festival of Books, loves anything sci-fi/fantasy/historical, drinks too much chai, and will spend all day in bed reading thankyouverymuch. Follow her on Instagram @nikki.vanry .
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If you’re a working or aspiring writer, y ou already likely know about the classic best books on writing–King’s On Writing, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style– but for a craft as varied and personal as writing, you’ll always benefit from learning from more voices, with more techniques.
That’s why this list is full of writers not only talking about the bare-bones craft of writing (and there’s plenty of fantastic advice there), but also how becoming a writer changed their lives and what role they believe writers play in an ever-changing world. From craft to writer’s lives, get ready to dig into 100 of the must-read, best books on writing for improving your own work.
“Written with her trademark lyricism, in these signature pieces the acclaimed author of The House on Mango Street shares her transformative memories and reveals her artistic and intellectual influences. Poignant, honest, and deeply moving, A House of My Own is an exuberant celebration of a life lived to the fullest, from one of our most beloved writers.”
2. A Little Book on Form by Robert Hass
“Brilliantly synthesizes Hass’s formidable gifts as both a poet and a critic and reflects his profound education in the art of poetry. Starting with the exploration of a single line as the basic gesture of a poem, and moving into an examination of the essential expressive gestures that exist inside forms, Hass goes beyond approaching form as a set of traditional rules that precede composition, and instead offers penetrating insight into the true openness and instinctiveness of formal creation.”
3. A Personal Anthology by Jorge Luis Borges
“After almost a half a century of scrupulous devotion to his art, Jorge Luis Borges personally compiled this anthology of his work—short stories, essays, poems, and brief mordant ‘sketches,’ which, in Borges’s hands, take on the dimensions of a genre unique in modern letters. In this anthology, the author has put together those pieces on which he would like his reputation to rest; they are not arranged chronologically, but with an eye to their ‘sympathies and differences.'”
4. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
“Virginia Woolf imagines that Shakespeare had a sister—a sister equal to Shakespeare in talent, and equal in genius, but whose legacy is radically different. In this classic essay, she takes on the establishment, using her gift of language to dissect the world around her and give voice to those who are without. Her message is a simple one: women must have a fixed income and a room of their own in order to have the freedom to create.”
“Taking up specifics (When do flashbacks work, and when should you avoid them? How do you make characters both vivid and sympathetic?) and generalities (How are novels structured? How do writers establish serious literary reputations today?), Delany also examines the condition of the contemporary creative writer and how it differs from that of the writer in the years of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and the high Modernists. Like a private writing tutorial, About Writing treats each topic with clarity and insight.”
6. The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby
“Based on the lessons in his award-winning class, Great Screenwriting, The Anatomy of Story draws on a broad range of philosophy and mythology, offering fresh techniques and insightful anecdotes alongside Truby’s own unique approach to building an effective, multifaceted narrative.”
7. Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland
“Explores the way art gets made, the reasons it often doesn’t get made, and the nature of the difficulties that cause so many artists to give up along the way. The book’s co-authors, David Bayles and Ted Orland, are themselves both working artists, grappling daily with the problems of making art in the real world. Their insights and observations, drawn from personal experience, provide an incisive view into the world of art as it is experienced by artmakers themselves.”
8. The Art of Death by Edwidge Danticat
“At once a personal account of her mother dying from cancer and a deeply considered reckoning with the ways that other writers have approached death in their own work.”
9. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner
“Gardner’s lessons, exemplified with detailed excerpts from classic works of literature, sweep across a complete range of topics—from the nature of aesthetics to the shape of a refined sentence. Written with passion, precision, and a deep respect for the art of writing, Gardner’s book serves by turns as a critic, mentor, and friend. Anyone who has ever thought of taking the step from reader to writer should begin here.”
“Karr synthesizes her expertise as professor and therapy patient, writer and spiritual seeker, recovered alcoholic and ‘black belt sinner,’ providing a unique window into the mechanics and art of the form that is as irreverent, insightful, and entertaining as her own work in the genre.”
11. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron
“The seminal book on the subject of creativity. An international bestseller, millions of readers have found it to be an invaluable guide to living the artist’s life. Still as vital today—or perhaps even more so—than it was when it was first published twenty five years ago, it is a powerfully provocative and inspiring work.”
12. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
“With profound empathy and radiant generosity, Gilbert offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives.”
13. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
“Lamott’s miscellany of guidance and reflection should appeal to writers struggling with demons large and slight. Among the pearls she offers is to start small, as their father once advised her 10-year-old brother, who was agonizing over a book report on birds: ‘Just take it bird by bird.’ Lamott’s suggestion on the craft of fiction is down-to-earth: worry about the characters, not the plot. “
14. Black Milk: On the Conflicting Demands of Writing, Creativity, and Motherhood by Elif Shafak
“She intersperses her own experience with the lives of prominent authors such as Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Alice Walker, Ayn Rand, and Zelda Fitzgerald, Shafak looks for a solution to the inherent conflict between artistic creation and responsible parenting. With searing emotional honesty and an incisive examination of cultural mores within patriarchal societies, Shafak has rendered an important work about literature, motherhood, and spiritual well-being.”
“Erdrich takes us on an illuminating tour through the terrain her ancestors have inhabited for centuries: the lakes and islands of southern Ontario. Summoning to life the Ojibwe’s sacred spirits and songs, their language and sorrows, she considers the many ways in which her tribe—whose name derives from the word ozhibii’ige, ‘to write'”—have influenced her. Her journey links ancient stone paintings with a magical island where a bookish recluse built an extraordinary library, and she reveals how both have transformed her.”
16. Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer’s Guide to Getting It Right by Bill Bryson
“An essential guide to the wonderfully disordered thing that is the English language. With some one thousand entries that feature real-world examples of questionable usage from an international array of publications, and with a helpful glossary and guide to pronunciation, this precise, prescriptive, and–because it is written by Bill Bryson–often witty book belongs on the desk of every person who cares enough about the language not to maul or misuse or distort it.”
17. Bullies, Bastards and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction by Jessica Morrell
“A truly memorable antagonist is not a one-dimensional super villain bent on world domination for no particular reason. Realistic, credible bad guys create essential story complications, personalize conflict, add immediacy to a story line, and force the protagonist to evolve.”
18. Crazy Brave: A Memoir by Joy Harjo
“In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice.”
19. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
“Former editor Lynne Truss, gravely concerned about our current grammatical state, boldly defends proper punctuation. She proclaims, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are.”
“You know the authors’ names. You recognize the title. You’ve probably used this book yourself. This is The Elements of Style , the classic style manual. This book’s unique tone, wit and charm have conveyed the principles of English style to millions of readers. Use the fourth edition of ‘the little book’ to make a big impact with writing.”
21. The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface by Donald Maass
“Veteran literary agent and expert fiction instructor Donald Maass shows you how to use story to provoke a visceral and emotional experience in readers. Readers can simply read a novel…or they can experience it. The Emotional Craft of Fiction shows you how to make that happen.”
22. Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley
“A go-to guide to attracting and retaining customers through stellar online communication, because in our content-driven world, every one of us is, in fact, a writer. If you have a web site, you are a publisher. If you are on social media, you are in marketing. And that means that we are all relying on our words to carry our marketing messages. We are all writers.”
23. The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman
“With exercises at the end of each chapter, this invaluable reference will allow novelists, journalists, poets and screenwriters alike to improve their technique as they learn to eliminate even the most subtle mistakes that are cause for rejection. The First Five Pages will help writers at every stage take their art to a higher — and more successful — level.”
24. The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner
“From blank page to first glowing (or gutting) review, Betsy Lerner is a knowing and sympathetic coach who helps writers discover how they can be more productive in the creative process and how they can better their odds of not only getting published, but getting published well.”
“ Free Within Ourselves is is meant to be a song of encouragement for African-American artists and visionaries. A step-by-step introduction to fictional technique, exploring story ideas, and charting one’s progress, as well as a resource guide for publishing fiction.”
26. Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors by Brandilyn Collins
“Want to bring characters to life on the page as vividly as fine actors do on the stage or screen? Getting Into Character will give you a whole new way of thinking about your writing. Drawing on the Method Acting theory that theater professionals have used for decades, this in-depth guide explains seven characterization techniques and adapts them for the novelist’s use.”
27. The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou
“In The Heart of a Woman , Maya Angelou leaves California with her son, Guy, to move to New York. There she enters the society and world of black artists and writers, reads her work at the Harlem Writers Guild, and begins to take part in the struggle of black Americans for their rightful place in the world.”
28. If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland
“In this book, Ueland shares her philosophies on writing and life in general. She stresses the idea that ‘Everyone is talented, original, and has something important to say.’ Drawing heavily on the work and influence of William Blake, she suggests that writers should ‘Try to discover your true, honest, un-theoretical self.’ She sums up her book with 12 points to keep in mind while writing. Carl Sandburg called If You Want to Write the best book ever written on how to write.”
29. Immersion: A Writer’s Guide to Going Deep by Ted Conover
“Conover distills decades of knowledge into an accessible resource aimed at writers of all levels. He covers how to “get into” a community, how to conduct oneself once inside, and how to shape and structure the stories that emerge. Conover is also forthright about the ethics and consequences of immersion reporting, preparing writers for the surprises that often surface when their piece becomes public.”
“On a post-college visit to Florence, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri fell in love with the Italian language. Twenty years later, seeking total immersion, she and her family relocated to Rome, where she began to read and write solely in her adopted tongue. A startling act of self-reflection, In Other Words is Lahiri’s meditation on the process of learning to express herself in another language—and the stunning journey of a writer seeking a new voice.”
31. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose by Alice Walker
“Alice Walker speaks out as a black woman, writer, mother, and feminist, in thirty-six pieces ranging from the personal to the political. Here are essays about Walker’s own work and that of other writers, accounts of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the antinuclear movement of the 1980s, and a vivid, courageous memoir of a scarring childhood injury.”
32. It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Crafting Killer Sentences by June Casagrande
“Great writing isn’t born, it’s built—sentence by sentence. But too many writers—and writing guides—overlook this most important unit. The result? Manuscripts that will never be published and writing careers that will never begin. So roll up your sleeves and prepare to craft one bold, effective sentence after another. Your readers will thank you.”
33. The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience by Chuck Wendig
“The journey to become a successful writer is long, fraught with peril, and filled with difficult questions: How do I write dialogue? How do I build suspense? What should I know about query letters? Where do I start? The best way to answer these questions is to ditch your uncertainty and transform yourself into a KICK-ASS writer.”
34. The Language of Fiction: A Writer’s Stylebook by Brian Shawver
“Grand themes and complex plots are just the beginning of a great piece of fiction. Mastering the nuts and bolts of grammar and prose mechanics is also an essential part of becoming a literary artist. This indispensable guide, created just for writers of fiction, will show you how to take your writing to the next level by exploring the finer points of language.”
“Finally, a truly creative―and hilarious―guide to creative writing, full of encouragement and sound advice. Provocative and reassuring, nurturing and wise, The Lie That Tells a Truth is essential to writers in general, fiction writers in particular, beginning writers, serious writers, and anyone facing a blank page.”
36. The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl Klein
“Editor Cheryl B. Klein guides writers on an enjoyable and practical-minded voyage of their own, from developing a saleable premise for a novel to finding a dream agent. She delves deep into the major elements of fiction―intention, character, plot, and voice―while addressing important topics like diversity, world-building, and the differences between middle-grade and YA novels.”
37. Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger
“Making a good script great is more than just a matter of putting a good idea on paper. It requires the working and reworking of that idea. This book takes you through the whole screenwriting process – from initial concept through final rewrite – providing specific methods that will help you craft tighter, stronger, and more saleable scripts.”
38. Memoirs by Pablo Neruda
“In his uniquely expressive prose, Neruda not only explains his views on poetry and describes the circumstances that inspired many of his poems, but he creates a revealing record of his life as a poet, a patriot, and one of the twentieth century’s true men of conscience.”
39. The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction by Stephen Koch
“Stephen Koch, former chair of Columbia University’s graduate creative writing program, presents a unique guide to the craft of fiction. Along with his own lucid observations and commonsense techniques, he weaves together wisdom, advice, and inspiring commentary from some of our greatest writers.”
“Packed with insights and advice both practical (‘writing workshops you pay for are the best–it’s too easy to quit when you’ve made no investment’) and irreverent (‘apply Part A [butt] to Part B [chair]’). Naked, Drunk, and Writing is a must-have if you are an aspiring columnist, essayist, or memoirist—or just a writer who needs a bit of help in getting your story told.”
41. Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood
“In this wise and irresistibly quotable book, one of the most intelligent writers working in English addresses the riddle of her art: why people pursue it, how they view their calling, and what bargains they make with their audience, both real and imagined. To these fascinating issues Booker Prize-winner Margaret Atwood brings a candid appraisal of her own experience as well as a breadth of reading that encompasses everything from Dante to Elmore Leonard.”
42. On Writing by Eudora Welty
“Eudora Welty was one of the twentieth century’s greatest literary figures. For as long as students have been studying her fiction as literature, writers have been looking to her to answer the profound questions of what makes a story good, a novel successful, a writer an artist.”
43. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
“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 trade every writer must have.”
44. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser
“Whether you want to write about people or places, science and technology, business, sports, the arts or about yourself in the increasingly popular memoir genre, On Writing Well offers you fundamental principles as well as the insights of a distinguished writer and teacher.”
“Based on the Zen philosophy that we learn more from our failures than from our successes, One Continuous Mistake teaches a refreshing new method for writing as spiritual practice. Here she introduces a method of discipline that applies specific Zen practices to enhance and clarify creative work. She also discusses bodily postures that support writing, how to set up the appropriate writing regimen, and how to discover one’s own ‘learning personality.'”
46. Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland
“Writers often look upon outlines with fear and trembling. But when properly understood and correctly wielded, the outline is one of the most powerful weapons in a writer’s arsenal.”
47. The Paris Review Interviews, Vols. 1-4 by The Paris Review
“For more than half a century, The Paris Review has conducted in-depth interviews with our leading novelists, poets, and playwrights. These revealing, revelatory self-portraits have come to be recognized as themselves classic works of literature, and an essential and definitive record of the writing life.”
48. The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux
“Presents brief essays on the elements of poetry, technique, and suggested subjects for writing, each followed by distinctive writing exercises. The ups and downs of writing life―including self-doubt and writer’s block―are here, along with tips about getting published and writing in the electronic age.”
49. The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets by Ted Kooser
“Using examples from his own rich literary oeuvre and from the work of a number of successful contemporary poets, the author schools us in the critical relationship between poet and reader, which is fundamental to what Kooser believes is poetry’s ultimate purpose: to reach other people and touch their hearts.”
“Have you always wanted to get an MFA, but couldn’t because of the cost, time commitment, or admission requirements? Well now you can fulfill that dream without having to devote tons of money or time. The Portable MFA gives you all of the essential information you would learn in the MFA program in one book.”
51. Paula: A Memoir by Isabel Allende
“Irony and marvelous flights of fantasy mix with the icy reality of Paula’s deathly illness as Allende sketches childhood scenes in Chile and Lebanon; her uncle Salvatore Allende’s reign and ruin as Chilean president; her struggles to shake off or find love; and her metamorphosis into a writer.”
52. Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett
“In her fifteen years of teaching, Barbara DeMarco-Barrett has found that the biggest stumbling block for aspiring writers (especially women) is not fear of the blank page but frustration with the lack of time. What woman doesn’t have too much to do and too little time? Finding an hour free of work, children, or obligations can seem impossible.”
53. Pixar Storytelling: Rules for Effective Storytelling Based on Pixar’s Greatest Films by Dean Movshovitz
“ Pixar Storytelling is about effective storytelling rules based on Pixar’s greatest films. The book consists of ten chapters, each of which explores an aspect of storytelling that Pixar excels at. Learn what Pixar’s core story ideas all have in common, how they create compelling, moving conflict and what makes their films’ resolutions so emotionally satisfying.”
54. Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell
“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.”
“In this essay of literary autobiography, V. S. Naipaul sifts through memories of his childhood in Trinidad, his university days in England, and his earliest attempts at writing, seeking the experiences of life and reading that shaped his imagination and his growth as a writer.”
56. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose
“Long before there were creative-writing workshops and degrees, how did aspiring writers learn to write? By reading the work of their predecessors and contemporaries, says Francine Prose. In Reading Like a Writer , Prose invites you to sit by her side and take a guided tour of the tools and the tricks of the masters.”
57. Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels (How to Write Kissing Books) by Gwen Hayes
“ Romancing the Beat is a recipe, not a rigid system. The beats don’t care if you plot or outline before you write, or if you pants your way through the drafts and do a ‘beat check’ when you’re revising. Pantsers and plotters are both welcome. So sit down, grab a cuppa, and let’s talk about kissing books.”
58. Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
“This ultimate insider’s guide reveals the secrets that none dare admit, told by a show biz veteran who’s proven that you can sell your script if you can save the cat!”
59. Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living by Manjula Martin
“In the literary world, the debate around writing and commerce often begs us to take sides: either writers should be paid for everything they do or writers should just pay their dues and count themselves lucky to be published. It’s an endless, confusing, and often controversial conversation that, despite our bare-it-all culture, still remains taboo. In Scratch , Manjula Martin has gathered interviews and essays from established and rising authors to confront the age-old question: how do creative people make money?”
“From concept to character, from opening scene to finished script, here are easily understood guidelines to help aspiring screenwriters—from novices to practiced writers—hone their craft.”
61. Singing School: Learning to Write (And Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters by Robert Pinsky
“Quick, joyful, and playfully astringent, with surprising comparisons and examples, this collection takes an unconventional approach to the art of poetry. Instead of rules, theories, or recipes, Singing School emphasizes ways to learn from great work: studying magnificent, monumentally enduring poems and how they are made— in terms borrowed from the ‘singing school’ of William Butler Yeats’s ‘Sailing to Byzantium.'”
62. The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick
“Taking us on a reading tour of some of the best memoirs and essays of the past hundred years, Gornick traces the changing idea of self that has dominated the century, and demonstrates the enduring truth-speaker to be found in the work of writers as diverse as Edmund Gosse, Joan Didion, Oscar Wilde, James Baldwin, or Marguerite Duras.”
63. Slay the Dragon: Writing Great Video Games by Robert Denton Bryant and Keith Giglio
“Writing for the multibillion-dollar video-game industry is unlike writing for any other medium. Slay the Dragon will help you understand the challenges and offer creative solutions to writing for a medium where the audience not only demands a great story, but to be a driving force within it.”
64. Something to Declare by Julia Alvarez
“From the internationally acclaimed author of the bestselling novels In the Time of the Butterflies and How the García Girls Lost Their Accents comes a rich and revealing work of nonfiction capturing the life and mind of an artist as she knits together the dual themes of coming to America and becoming a writer.”
“This handbook is a short, deceptively simple guide to the craft of writing. Le Guin lays out ten chapters that address the most fundamental components of narrative, from the sound of language to sentence construction to point of view.”
66. Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies by Sol Stein
“With examples from bestsellers as well as from students’ drafts, Stein offers detailed sections on characterization, dialogue, pacing, flashbacks, trimming away flabby wording, the so-called ‘triage’ method of revision, using the techniques of fiction to enliven nonfiction, and more.”
67. Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel by Lisa Cron
“Takes you, step-by-step, through the creation of a novel from the first glimmer of an idea, to a complete multilayered blueprint—including fully realized scenes—that evolves into a first draft with the authority, richness, and command of a riveting sixth or seventh draft.”
68. Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules by Steven James
“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.”
69. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall
“Humans live in landscapes of make-believe. We spin fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Even sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives. Yet the world of story has long remained an undiscovered and unmapped country. Now Jonathan Gottschall offers the first unified theory of storytelling. He argues that stories help us navigate life’s complex social problems–just as flight simulators prepare pilots for difficult situations. Storytelling has evolved, like other behaviors, to ensure our survival.”
“When it comes to writing books, are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’? Is one method really better than the other? In this instructional book, author Libbie Hawker explains the benefits and technique of planning a story before you begin to write.”
71. TED Talks Storytelling: 23 Storytelling Techniques from the Best TED Talks by Akash Karia
“Essentially, the best speakers on the TED stage were the ones who had mastered the art of storytelling. They had mastered how to craft and present their stories in a way that allowed them to share their message with the world without seeming like they were lecturing their audience.”
72. This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
“Blending literature and memoir, Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder, Run, and Bel Canto , examines her deepest commitments—to writing, family, friends, dogs, books, and her husband—creating a resonant portrait of a life in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. “
73. This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley
“No more excuses. ‘Let the lawn get shaggy and the paint peel from the walls,’ bestselling novelist Walter Mosley advises. Anyone can write a novel now, and in this essential book of tips, practical advice, and wisdom, Walter Mosley promises that the writer-in-waiting can finish it in one year.”
74. Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy
“In fifteen essays on the craft of fiction, Percy looks to disparate sources such as Jaws , Blood Meridian, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to discover how contemporary writers engage issues of plot, suspense, momentum, and the speculative, as well as character, setting, and dialogue. An urgent and entertaining missive on craft, Thrill Me brims with Percy’s distinctive blend of anecdotes, advice, and close reading, all in the service of one dictum: Thrill the reader.”
“Combining more than forty years of lessons from his storied career as a writer and professor, Lopate brings us this highly anticipated nuts-and-bolts guide to writing literary nonfiction. A phenomenal master class shaped by Lopate’s informative, accessible tone and immense gift for storytelling, To Show and To Tell reads like a long walk with a favorite professor—refreshing, insightful, and encouraging in often unexpected ways.”
76. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: The Essential Guide to Fantasy Travel by Diana Wynne Jones
“Imagine that all fantasy novels—the ones featuring dragons, knights, wizards, and magic—are set in the same place. That place is called Fantasyland. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is your travel guide, a handbook to everything you might find: Evil, the Dark Lord, Stew, Boots (but not Socks), and what passes for Economics and Ecology. Both a hilarious send-up of the cliches of the genre and an indispensable guide for writers.”
77. Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing by Roger Rosenblatt
“The revered novelist, essayist, playwright, and respected writing teacher offers a guidebook for aspiring authors, a memoir, and an impassioned argument for the necessity of writing in our world.”
78. Upstream by Mary Oliver
“Throughout this collection, Oliver positions not just herself upstream but us as well as she encourages us all to keep moving, to lose ourselves in the awe of the unknown, and to give power and time to the creative and whimsical urges that live within us.”
79. Video Game Storytelling: What Every Developer Needs to Know about Narrative Techniques by Evan Skolnick
“Game writer and producer Evan Skolnick provides a comprehensive yet easy-to-follow guide to storytelling basics and how they can be applied at every stage of the development process—by all members of the team.”
“In this classic book, Madeleine L’Engle addresses the questions, What makes art Christian? What does it mean to be a Christian artist? What is the relationship between faith and art? Through L’Engle’s beautiful and insightful essay, readers will find themselves called to what the author views as the prime tasks of an artist: to listen, to remain aware, and to respond to creation through one’s own art.”
81. The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling by Charles Johnson
“Johnson shares his lessons and exercises from the classroom, starting with word choice, sentence structure, and narrative voice, and delving into the mechanics of scene, dialogue, plot and storytelling before exploring the larger questions at stake for the serious writer. What separates literature from industrial fiction? What lies at the heart of the creative impulse? How does one navigate the literary world? And how are philosophy and fiction concomitant?”
82. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
“While simply training for New York City Marathon would be enough for most people, Haruki Murakami’s decided to write about it as well. The result is a beautiful memoir about his intertwined obsessions with running and writing, full of vivid memories and insights, including the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer.”
83. What Moves at the Margin by Toni Morrison
“Collects three decades of Toni Morrison’s writings about her work, her life, literature, and American society. The works included in this volume range from 1971, when Morrison was a new editor at Random House and a beginning novelist, to 2002 when she was a professor at Princeton University and Nobel Laureate. These works provide a unique glimpse into Morrison’s viewpoint as an observer of the world, the arts, and the changing landscape of American culture.”
84. Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir by Amy Tan
“By delving into vivid memories of her traumatic childhood, confessions of self-doubt in her journals, and heartbreaking letters to and from her mother, she gives evidence to all that made it both unlikely and inevitable that she would become a writer. Through spontaneous storytelling, she shows how a fluid fictional state of mind unleashed near-forgotten memories that became the emotional nucleus of her novels.”
“This all-new definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction takes a completely novel approach and fully exploits the visual nature of fantasy through original drawings, maps, renderings, and exercises to create a spectacularly beautiful and inspiring object.”
86. Woolgathering by Patti Smith
“A great book about becoming an artist, Woolgathering tells of a youngster finding herself as she learns the noble vocation of woolgathering, ‘a worthy calling that seemed a good job for me.’ She discovers―often at night, often in nature―the pleasures of rescuing ‘a fleeting thought.’ Deeply moving, Woolgathering calls up our own memories, as the child ‘glimpses and gleans, piecing together a crazy quilt of truths.'”
87. Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels by Brian Michael Bendis
“One of the most popular writers in modern comics, Brian Michael Bendis reveals the tools and techniques he and other top creators use to create some of the most popular comic book and graphic novel stories of all time.”
88. Write Naked: A Bestseller’s Secrets to Writing Romance & Navigating the Path to Success by Jennifer Probst
“Learn how to transform your passion for writing into a career. New York Times best-selling author Jennifer Probst reveals her pathway to success, from struggling as a new writer to signing a seven-figure deal. Write Naked intermingles personal essays on craft with down-to-earth advice on writing romance in the digital age.”
89. Write Your Novel in a Month: How to Complete a First Draft in 30 Days and What to Do Next by Jeff Gerke
“Author and instructor Jeff Gerke has created the perfect tool to show you how to prepare yourself to write your first draft in as little as 30 days. With Jeff’s help, you will learn how to organize your ideas, create dynamic stories, develop believable characters, and flesh out the idea narrative for your novel–and not just for the rapid-fire first draft.”
“Explores the powerful relationship between mythology and storytelling in a clear, concise style that’s made it required reading for movie executives, screenwriters, playwrights, scholars, and fans of pop culture all over the world.”
91. Writer’s Market 2018: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published by Robert Lee Brewer
“Want to get published and paid for your writing? Let Writer’s Market guide you through the process with thousands of publishing opportunities for writers, including listings for book publishers, consumer and trade magazines, contests and awards, and literary agents. These listings feature contact and submission information to help writers get their work published.”
92. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
“For more than thirty years Natalie Goldberg has been challenging and cheering on writers with her books and workshops. In her groundbreaking first book, she brings together Zen meditation and writing in a new way. Writing practice, as she calls it, is no different from other forms of Zen practice—’it is backed by two thousand years of studying the mind.'”
93. Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma by Melanie Brooks
“What does it take to write an honest memoir? And what happens to us when we embark on that journey? Melanie Brooks sought guidance from the memoirists who most moved her to answer these questions. Called an essential book for creative writers by Poets & Writers, Writing Hard Stories is a unique compilation of authentic stories about the death of a partner, parent, or child; about violence and shunning; and about the process of writing.”
94. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
“Slender though it is, The Writing Life richly conveys the torturous, tortuous, and in rare moments, transcendent existence of the writer. Amid moving accounts of her own writing (and life) experiences, Dillard also manages to impart wisdom to other writers, wisdom having to do with passion and commitment and taking the work seriously.”
“Culled from ten years of the distinguished Washington Post column of the same name, The Writing Life highlights an eclectic group of luminaries who have wildly varied stories to tell, but who share this singularly beguiling career. Here are their pleasures as well as their peeves; revelations of their deepest fears; dramas of triumphs and failures; insights into the demands and rewards.”
96. Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly by Gail Caron Levine
“Gail Carson Levine shows how you can get terrific ideas for stories, invent great beginnings and endings, write sparkling dialogue, develop memorable characters—and much, much more. She advises you about what to do when you feel stuck—and how to use helpful criticism. Best of all, she offers writing exercises that will set your imagination on fire.”
97. Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark
“Ten years ago, Roy Peter Clark, America’s most influential writing teacher, whittled down almost thirty years of experience in journalism, writing, and teaching into a series of fifty short essays on different aspects of writing. In the past decade, Writing Tools has become a classic guidebook for novices and experts alike and remains one of the best loved books on writing available.”
98. Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes
“This poignant, intimate, and hilarious memoir explores Shonda’s life before her Year of Yes —from her nerdy, book-loving childhood to her devotion to creating television characters who reflected the world she saw around her. The book chronicles her life after her Year of Yes had begun—when Shonda forced herself out of the house and onto the stage; when she learned to explore, empower, applaud, and love her truest self. Yes.”
99. Your Creative Writing Masterclass by Jergen Wolff
“If you dream of being a writer, why not learn from the best? In Your Creative Writing Masterclass you’ll find ideas, techniques and encouragement from the most admired and respected contemporary and classic authors, including Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Anton Chekhov.”
“Part memoir, part philosophical guide, the essays in this book teach the joy of writing. Rather than focusing on the mechanics of putting words on paper, Bradbury’s zen is found in the celebration of storytelling that drove him to write every day. Imparting lessons he has learned over the course of his exuberant career, Bradbury inspires with his infectious enthusiasm.”
Writing is a big messy topic, so obviously I’ll have missed some of your favorite and best books on writing. Make sure to hit the comments to talk about your favorite books about the writing life and craft. Find more of our posts on the writing life here .
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25 Best Books on Writing Fiction: Learn How with These Essential Reads!
Many people have opinions about what craft books fiction writers need to read to take their game to a new level.
We've looked at suggestions from New York Magazine, Poets & Writers, Penguin Random House, Goodreads, author Jerry Jenkins, and others to create our top 25 best craft books for fiction writers. Here, in no particular order, are the results.
1. the elements of style by william strunk, jr..
Surely this tops everyone’s list of must-have books on their shelves for perfecting their craft. First published in 1918, it is the style manual everyone consults when they want to improve their writing skills. This book was the first one to promote writing in plain English with your readers in mind.
2. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
An often-quoted treatise on writing by a best-selling author, you get part memoir, part instruction on how to write well according to the King of Horror. King reveals how he emerged as a writer and offers his best advice and tools of the trade for writers.
3. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee
Not only for screenwriters, this book includes all the inspiration and experience McKee puts into his wildly popular screenwriting workshops. Writers, producers, development executives, agents, and more attend his lectures and read his book to learn the "magic" of story construction and the relationship between structure and character.
4. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
With a wonderful family story behind the reason for the title, Lamott uses her platform to give you a step-by-step guide on writing and managing the writer’s life. This book instructs you to keep your eyes open and inspires you through writing and life.
5. Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew by Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin compares writing to "steering a craft" down a river of words. She challenges your definition of a story, requiring you to see a story as "change." This can result from conflict, per Le Guin, but also "relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, [or] parting."
6. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
Both author and literary agent, Donald Maass offers practical guidance for the first-time novelist as well as already-published authors. He claims breakout novels contain the same elements regardless of genre and he can show you writing techniques to write the next big hit.
7. Story Genius: How to Outline Your Novel Using the Secrets of Brain Science by Lisa Cron
Using science-based insights, this book shows you how story structure is built into your brain and how to plumb the details to generate a story scene by scene. In fact, by the end, you’ll get a blueprint of how to write your best novel yet.
8. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers : How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne & Dave King
Two professional editors teach you the techniques of editing that turns manuscripts into published novels or short stories. You learn the same processes an expert editor goes through to perfect your manuscript. You’ll also find plenty of examples from hundreds of books they’ve edited.
9. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
Bringing together Zen meditation and writing uniquely, Goldberg believes that your writing practice is no different from your Zen practice. It’s backed by "two thousand years of studying the mind."
10. Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
Told by a showbiz veteran, this book reveals the secrets you need to know to sell your script… if you can save the cat. This is just one of his immutable laws for making your idea more marketable and your script more compelling.
11. 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt
Here you’ll find the most common male and female archetypes and instructions on how to use them to create original characters. Schmidt also includes how other authors used these archetypes to bring life to their novels, films, and television.
12. Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
This book is subtitled "A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies." For both fiction and nonfiction writers, Stein’s advice is good for newcomers or seasoned authors, amateurs and professionals.
13. Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
This book of must-read essays on writing and creativity is full of inspiration from a master storyteller. Get practical tips on everything from finding original ideas to developing your own style and voice. You’ll also get a peek into Bradbury’s remarkable career.
14. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman
If one of your biggest problems is conveying your character’s emotions, read this book to learn how in a unique and compelling way. With 130 emotions highlighted, you’ll learn about possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each emotion.
15. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler
Says Vogler, "all stories consist of a few common structural elements found universally in myths, fairy tales, dreams, and movies." Based on psychological ideas from Carl Jung and myth ideas from Joseph Campbell, authors use this book to understand what sells and to uncover a blueprint to create their own stories.
16. Aspects of the Novel by E. M. Forster
This collection of Forster’s lectures given at Cambridge University in the 1920s helped writers discuss craft elements like flat and round characters, elements of plot, and others still in use today. You’ll find these essays particularly useful for thinking about plot.
17. Letters to a Young Writer by Colum McCann
National Book Award-winning author McCann shares his thoughts on craft, dialogue, characters, and even finding an agent and selecting an MFA program. This is today’s generation of writers’ fatherly guidance on living as a writer.
18. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron
Have you ever heard of "Morning Pages"? This book guides you through a twelve-week process of building and strengthening your creative life by using her two tools—morning pages and the artist date. She also includes hundreds of inspiration exercises and activities to get you pumped.
19. The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman
Everything you need to know about the publishing industry, you’ll find in this book. Especially if you want a long-term career of writing, read this book for in-depth and current information to help position yourself. You’ll learn fundamental business principles as well as how to use digital tools and take advantage of online media.
20. Pep Talks for Writers by Grant Faulkner
Faulkner is the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and he offers concrete writing tips. Unlike other books that give vague and artistic explanations, this book give you actionable advice on everything from career choices to plot decisions.
21. 2,000 to 10,000: How to Write Faster, Write Better, and Write More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron
Rachel Aaron explains exactly how she boosted her daily writing from 2,000 words to over 10,000 each day without sacrificing quality or increasing the time she had to write. Get practical writing advice to increase your daily output, among other areas like creating characters, plot structure, and more.
22. Write. Publish. Repeat: The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success by Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant
Whether you’re an experienced writer or a beginner, you can learn exactly how these two authors became wildly successful indie publishers. They show you how to turn what you love into a logical, sustainable business.
23. Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story by K. M. Weiland
Besides her best-selling book Outlining Your Novel , Weiland lays out an understanding of proper story and scene structure. This book helps you identify common structural weaknesses and flip them into amazing strengths.
24. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
You don’t need genius; just be yourself. Kleon claims creativity is everywhere and for everyone, and he gives you examples, exercises, and more to help you get in touch with your creative side. He also shares the 10 things he wishes someone had told him when he was starting out.
25. Your favorite dictionary/thesaurus
No list would be complete without your favorite dictionary/thesaurus combination. Whether you adhere to Oxford Dictionary all the way or you prefer Merriam-Webster, you can choose from tons of dictionaries/thesauruses online and in print to make sure you have the right word for every situation.
There are so many other great craft books out there that this list could conceivably double. What’s your go-to craft book that didn’t get mentioned? Let’s start a list in the comments below.
Looking for more Essential Reading lists? We've got you covered!
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Top 10 books about creative writing
From linguistics to essays by Zadie Smith and Toni Morrison, poet Anthony Anaxagorou recommends some ‘lateral’ ways in to a demanding craft
T he poet Rita Dove was once asked what makes poetry successful. She went on to illuminate three key areas: First, the heart of the writer; the things they wish to say – their politics and overarching sensibilities. Second, their tools: how they work language to organise and position words. And the third, the love a person must have for books: “To read, read, read.”
When I started mapping out How to Write It , I wanted to focus on the aspects of writing development that took in both theoretical and interpersonal aspects. No writer lives in a vacuum, their job is an endless task of paying attention.
How do I get myself an agent? What’s the best way to approach a publisher? Should I self-publish? There is never one way to assuage the concerns of those looking to make a career out of writing. Many labour tirelessly for decades on manuscripts that never make it to print. The UK on average publishes around 185,000 new titles per year, ranking us the third largest publishing market in the world, yet the number of aspiring writers is substantially greater.
Writers writing about writing can become a supercilious endeavour; I’m more interested in the process of making work and the writer’s perspectives that substantiate the framework.
There’s no single authority, anything is possible. All that’s required are some words and an idea – which makes the art of writing enticing but also difficult and daunting. The books listed below, diverse in their central arguments and genres, guide us towards more interesting and lateral ways to think about what we want to say, and ultimately, how we choose to say it.
1. The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner An intellectual meditation on the cultural function of poetry. Less idealistic than other poetry criticism, Lerner puts forward a richly layered case for the reasons writers and readers alike turn to poetry, probing into why it’s often misconceived as elitist or tedious, and asks that we reconsider the value we place on the art form today.
2. Find Your Voice by Angie Thomas One of the hardest things about creative writing is developing a voice and not compromising your vision for the sake of public appeal. Thomas offers sharp advice to those wrestling with novels or Young Adult fiction. She writes with appealing honesty, taking in everything from writer’s block to deciding what a final draft should look like. The book also comes interspersed with prompts and writing exercises alongside other tips and suggestions to help airlift writers out of the mud.
3. Linguistics: Why It Matters by Geoffrey K Pullum If language is in a constant state of flux, and rules governing sentence construction, meaning and logic are always at a point of contention, what then can conventional modes of language and linguistics tell us about ourselves, our cultures and our relationship to the material world? Pullum addresses a number of philosophical questions through the scientific study of human languages – their grammars, clauses and limitations. An approachable, fascinating resource for those interested in the mechanics of words.
4. Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle The collected lectures of poet and professor Mary Ruefle present us with an erudite inquiry into some of the major aspects of a writer’s mind and craft. Ruefle possesses an uncanny ability to excavate broad and complex subjects with such unforced and original lucidity that you come away feeling as if you’ve acquired an entirely new perspective from only a few pages. Themes range from sentimentality in poetry, to fear, beginnings and – a topic she returns to throughout the book – wonder. “A poem is a finished work of the mind, it is not the work of a finished mind.”
5. Feel Free by Zadie Smith These astute and topical essays dating from 2010 to 2017 demonstrate Smith’s forensic ability to navigate and unpack everything from Brexit to Justin Bieber. Dissecting high philosophical works then bringing the focus back on to her own practice as a fiction writer, her essay The I Who Is Not Me sees Smith extrapolate on how autobiography shapes novel writing, and elucidates her approach to thinking around British society’s tenuous and often binary perspectives on race, class and ethnicity.
6. Threads by Sandeep Parmar, Nisha Ramayya and Bhanu Kapil Who occupies the “I” in poetry? When poets write, are they personally embodying their speakers or are they intended to be emblematic of something larger and more complex? Is the “I” assumed to be immutable or is it more porous? These are the questions posited in Threads, which illuminates the function of the lyric “I” in relation to whiteness, maleness and Britishness. Its short but acute essays interrogate whiteness’s hegemony in literature and language, revealing how writers from outside the dominant paradigm are often made to reckon with the positions and perspectives they write from.
7. Mouth Full of Blood by Toni Morrison An urgent set of essays and lectures from the late Nobel prize winner that collates her most discerning musings around citizenship, race and art, as well as offering invaluable insight into the craft of writing. She reflects on revisions made to her most famous novel, Beloved, while also reflecting on the ways vernaculars can shape new stories. One of my favourite aphorisms written by Morrison sits on my desk and declares: “As writers, what we do is remember. And to remember this world is to create it.”
8. On Poetry by Jonathan Davidson Poetry can be thought of as something arduous or an exercise in analysis, existing either within small artistic enclaves or secondary school classrooms. One of the many strengths of Davidson’s writing is how he makes poetry feel intimate and personal, neither dry or remote. His approach to thinking around ways that certain poems affect us is well measured without being exclusive. A timely and resourceful book for writers interested in how poems go on to live with us throughout our lives.
9. Essays by Lydia Davis From flash fiction to stories, Davis is recognised as one of the preeminent writers of short-form fiction. In these essays, spanning several decades, she tracks much of her writing process and her relationship to experimentalism, form and the ways language can work when pushed to its outer limits. How we read into lines is something Davis returns to, as is the idea of risk and brevity within micro-fiction.
10. Essayism by Brian Dillon Dillon summarises the essay as an “experiment in attention”. This dynamic and robust consideration of the form sheds light on how and why certain essays have changed the cultural and political landscape, from the end of the Middle Ages to the present time. A sharp and curious disquisition on one of the more popular yet challenging writing enterprises.
How to Write It by Anthony Anaxagorou is published by Merky Books. To order a copy, go to guardianbookshop.com .
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The Best Books on Writing
Writing is, as a general rule, hard. defining yourself as a writer can be even harder. from grammar rules to publishing advice to personal narratives, these books on writing reveal in intimate detail the ins and outs of what it means to call yourself a writer. these are some of the best books on writing with insight and wisdom that can support you at all stages of your writing process..
By benjamin dreyer, paperback $18.00, buy from other retailers:.
The Forest for the Trees (Revised and Updated)
By betsy lerner.
The Elements of Style Illustrated
By william strunk, jr. and e. b. white.
Sin and Syntax
By constance hale.
Naked, Drunk, and Writing
By adair lara, paperback $15.99.
Bird by Bird
By anne lamott, paperback $17.00.
by Susan G. Wooldridge
Writing Better Lyrics
By pat pattison, paperback $20.99.
Walking on Water
By madeleine l'engle.
By lisa cron.
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Essential Books for Writers
The Center for Fiction
Maybe calling our list "Essential Books for Writers" is a bit of a stretch. We know that there are many opinions on what makes great writing, and what works for one person may not work for the next. Can you imagine Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O'Connor, and Charles Dickens debating about the right way to write? But we wanted to give you some options and inspiration on your path to whatever a successful life as a writer looks like to you. We hope you'll find your essential guide in our list. Happy reading and writing!
By Stephen King
Published by Scribner
Leave it to the literary rock star to compose a craft book that’s as entertaining as a good novel. “This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit,” King writes. What follows is a witty, practical, and sometimes poignant guide that is refreshingly devoid of the aforementioned BS. King relates his personal story of becoming a writer, then offers a “toolkit” of clear advice about everything from dialogue and descriptive passages to revisions and the head game. And there’s more: tips for beginning writers on submitting work for publication, a mark-up of one of King’s own manuscripts, and a reading list. You might not be awake at 3 a.m. turning these pages, but we promise On Writing will open your eyes to essential tricks of the trade.
By Dani Shapiro
Published by Grove/Atlantic
Dani Shapiro’s book, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life , is a perfect walk through an imperfect process. She shares the tried and true rules that some aspiring writers may want to hear, like using the five senses, sticking to a work schedule, and avoiding clichéd characters; but it is the places where Shapiro acknowledges the ambiguity of the process that stand out. Peppered with personal history and insight into how and where she created novels like Black and White as well as acclaimed memoirs Devotion and Slow Motion , Shapiro gives us a road map to writing with one simple direction at its heart: Keep writing. The rules she lays out are meant to be broken; no life-story is more worthy of being written than any other; no process (unless it involves surfing the Web instead of actually writing) is wrong. Yes, Dani Shapiro is still writing, and because she possesses that all-important need to create, it seems she will be doing so for quite some time.
On Moral Fiction
By John Gardner
Published by HarperCollins
John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction , by now a well-known classic, is as relevant in its exploration of the obligations of literature as when it was first published in 1979. Gardner discusses art and criticism, concluding that the artist has a responsibility to produce “moral” works for the sake of society. “Art discovers, generation after generation, what is necessary to humanness,” says Gardner. By linking literature to such elemental ideas as immortality and death, entropy and truth, Gardner dramatizes the act of writing itself, coloring literature and criticism with such vitality and excitement that it is hard not to become exhilarated. “Art gropes,” Gardner says. “It stalks like a hunter lost in the woods, listening to itself and to everything around it, unsure of itself, waiting to pounce.” You might say that some of his ideas are outrageous or unconventional, but none of them lack the ability to provoke us.
First You Write
By Joni Rodgers
It’s fitting that Joni Rodgers’s First You Write: The Worst Way to Become an Almost Famous Author and the Best Advice I Got While Doing It is available only as an e-book. Rodgers’s writes with wit and candor not only about her circuitous route to becoming a New York Times bestselling memoirist ( Bald in the Land of Big Hair , a searingly funny account of her journey through cancer) and a critically acclaimed small-press novelist ( Crazy for Trying ; Sugar Land ), but also about her pioneering adventures in self-publishing on Kindle. Rodgers’s willingness to experiment (isn’t that what artists do?) and to turn preconceived publishing notions on their ear is wonderfully refreshing, and her whip-smart observations will keep you turning (virtual) pages.
The Forest for the Trees
By Betsy Lerner
Published by Penguin
Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for The Trees begins as a psychological compendium of the writer’s life; written to the writer, with love. Lerner diagnoses writers: the ambivalent, the natural, the neurotic, and as we relate to aspects of each, we are delivered through an embarrassing adolescence of our own writerly growth, discovering who we were, are, and might better be. Through humorous and often moving anecdotes and a wealth of quotable quotes, we sweep through the personal and into the political landscape of the literary industry. Like all good books, Lerner’s reflects the reader (as writer) back to herself at every moment. She morphs between midwife and editor, weaving stories that teach us how best to birth our own.
The Writing Life
By Annie Dillard
In the years since its original publication, Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life has become a must-read for aspiring writers of all walks. Perhaps this is because her approach to the creative process manages a kind of golden ratio, a balance of magic and pragmatism that continues to reveal its depths to writers of the 21st century. Plainly, this is not a field guide. Dillard does not draw a tidy map. She does the opposite, acknowledging the unknown and unknowable wilderness that every writer must face. “The line of words is a miner’s pick, a wood carver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow, or this time next year.” A master in the art of illumination, she focuses on the edges of big ideas. The resulting work is as mystifying as it is enduring.
Writing Past Dark
By Bonnie Friedman
In Writing Past Dark , Bonnie Friedman shines a light on the hidden ways we mess ourselves up—with envy, fear, distraction, and other self-defeating habits of mind. “Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing,” she says. “They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties.” With warmth and candor, Friedman offers insights into surmounting those tricky obstacles.
The Elements of Style
By William Strunk & E.B. White
Of the hundreds of volumes written about the art and craft of writing, The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White is the elegant granddad. This slim volume offers no touchy-feely solutions for writer’s block, no inspirational exercises, and no musings on the writing life. Instead, it contains clear, concise rules for writing well, delivered with panache. Whether you strive for formal excellence or stylistic innovation, whether you’re a first-time author or have a string of publications to your name, there’s something here to learn—or gladly rediscover.
By Robert McKee
Robert McKee (the renowned screenwriting guru whose real-life teaching persona was portrayed by Brian Cox in the film Adaptation ) is required reading, but not just for screenwriters. He illustrates good plotting and structure that can make your novels or short stories as gripping as your favorite film. In Story , McKee structures his advice by first broadly stating a principle of writing, then expounding on different ways it can be applied, with examples from all kinds of scripts. His pearls of wisdom have been legendary in the Hollywood world, and they’ll certainly stick in your head after you’re through this book. Whether you’re writing for the screen or the page, this fantastic book will help you break your work down to the core of why we write fiction in the first place: the story.
Making Shapely Fiction
By Jerome Stern
Published by W. W. Norton
It’s easy, when one is far enough along in the “writing life,” to assume that a manual won’t have much to offer beyond technical guidance and fluffy prompts. But Stern’s wise and thorough little book should be as indispensable to the master of the form as the student. Like Stern himself, who was the head of the Creative Writing Program at Florida State University for many years, it takes a brass tacks approach to fiction, one that can be read straight through if you want to bone up on the basics or in bits and pieces as inspiration is needed. The “shapes” in question are sixteen storytelling archetypes which Stern breaks down in the book’s first section, followed by a tongue-in-cheek section on whether or not to write what you know, and finally a glossary of terms “from Accuracy to Zig-Zag.” This may all sound like stuff you already know, but to read them again in Stern’s irreverent voice is like revisiting fairy tales from your childhood and discovering all the dirty parts that went over your head. You’ll want to dig back into your own discarded ideas box and sculpt something new.
Steering the Craft
By Ursula K. Le Guin
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Le Guin has published two books about writing. The more recent of these, Steering the Craft (1998), is intended for experienced writers, the ones, she says, who “blow all Rules of Writing to bits.” It offers exercises and advice on storytelling, point of view, and grammar. For the younger author, there is her 1979 volume, The Language of the Night , filled with inspirational essays on science fiction and fantasy, that are no less rigorous than the later book. “In art,” she observes, “‘good enough’ is not good enough.”
Building Characters is a Piece of (Layer) Cake
Writing and Madness
Think Outside the Book
When Working on Your Writing Doesn't Look Like Writing
Interviewing for Fiction
The Writer's Trove
Something to Do with Work as Play: David Foster Wallace and “The Nature of the Fun”
Keeping Up the Pace
Scenes & Summary
An Unfunny Essay About Humor
Say Yes to Obsession
How to Steal Stuff
Writing to the Tension
How Walter White Can Make You a Better Writer
How to Get Out of the Slush Pile
Playing With Status
The Best Writing Book I’ve Ever Read
by Joe Bunting | 73 comments
I don't think writers should abandon reading in their genre, but I love reading books about writing.
Photo by ShutterHacks (creative commons). Adapted by The Write Practice.
I've read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and Stephen King's On Writing . I learned the writing craft from books about writing nonfiction and fiction, plays and poetry, and even screenwriting (by the way, if you want to write for the silver screen, Save the Cat is the essential guide).
But yesterday, I finished the best book about writing I've ever read.
Finding the Best Writing Book
I ran across Stephen Koch's book, The Modern Library Writer's Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction , in the syllabus of a Stanford writing class and thought, “Well, if it's good enough for Stanford, I might as well skim it.”
Have you ever read a book that makes you realize how little you actually know about a subject? I thought I knew something about the writing craft. After all, I've been studying it since I was seventeen and writing about it on this blog for the last two years.
This book made me realize how much more I have to learn.
Here are three reasons I loved Stephen Koch's A Guide to the Craft of Fiction :
1. Write Your Story in One Sitting
John Steinbeck said, “Write freely and as rapidly as possible. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down.”
When writing a story, whether a short story a story in a novel, write the first draft in one sitting, says Koch. I've heard the rule to write your first draft quickly, but honestly, I'd never thought of applying this advice to short stories. This works because it harnesses the natural storyteller in you. Every storyteller hates to get cut off before she gets to finish telling her story, and you will write faster and longer in order to get the end.
The day after reading this advice, I wrote a 2,000 word story. I normally write very slowly, rarely more than 1,000 words a day, but the next day I wrote a 3,000 word story. Same with the next. Finally, on the fourth day, I wrote a 3,500 word story that I've been trying to write for two months.
2. Quotes… Hundreds of Quotes
Nearly every writing book has an authority problem. “That's how you write, but who are you anyway?” Koch was a professor at Columbia University, one of the country's top writing programs, but he rarely stands on his own authority. Instead, he lets the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed authors in the 20th century speak about the craft themselves, filling the book with hundreds of quotes from dozens of authors.
I especially liked when he pitted these authors against each other, showing how they disagreed, for example, about point of view or how to write a first draft. It was like being in a giant conversation—one that occasionally broke out into arguments—with the best writers of the century.
Here are just a few writers involved in the conversation: Michael Crichton, Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel García Márquez, Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, John Le Carré, Truman, Capote, John Gardner, and Mark Twain.
3. Fast Drafts, Slow Drafts
“As we have said, you may be someone who does your first draft very quickly,” says Koch. “If that is true, your second draft should probably be slow moving…. If the one draft is fast and reckless, the next should probably be slow and painstaking.”
Writing quickly gives confidence and allows you to make daring experiments and intuitive leaps. Writing slowly, on the other hand, allows you to thoroughly define your characters and their voices, to develop the setting, and fill in holes in the plot.
Most professional writers, Koch explains, write three drafts. The first draft is usually fast, though not always. Some writers, Gabriel García Márquez, for example, write very slow, complicated first drafts, full of tangents and false starts. For these writers, a fast second draft can unify the story and bring vitality to the prose. For fast first drafters, a slow, laborious second draft brings depth and subtly. Fast draft, slow draft; slow draft, fast draft: a good practice.
A Guide to Fiction
Stephen Koch's Writer's Workshop isn't one author's guide to creative writing. As I mentioned before, it's a conversation between the best authors in the world about what it means to write and how to do the job well. If you're looking for a good writing book , I highly recommend it.
How about you? What is the best book about writing you've ever read?
Write a story in one sitting. Write as quickly as you can, and if you get bogged down, just skip that part and move on. Just make sure you get to the end.
When you're finished with your fast draft, post a section (no more than three paragraphs ) the comments section. And if you post be sure to comment on a few practices by other writers.
(Note: Some of the links above are affiliate links.)
Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris , a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).
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“ just like him ” by audrey mckenna.
Content warning: sexual violence, languageWhen I was four years old, my sister and I were messing around at the pool. I slipped and hit my head on the concrete. It split open in the back. I remember the lifeguard gave me a squishy ball to squeeze. I remember she said I could keep it. I remember my dad scooped me up in his arms. It doesn’t make sense that it happened this way, but I remember he carried me all the way to the emergency room. I remember the pressure of my face pressing into a pillow as the doctor staple...
“ Clearance Aisle Libations ” by Bay Colt
The worst part about being an amateur necromancer is that no one respects you, not even the dead. My older brother, Joseph, is practically crying over the phone, struggling to speak through great gasps of heaving, wheezing laughter. After way too many seconds of this, he finally manages to choke out, “Really? Goddamn—Mountain Dew?” Irritated, I switch the phone to my other ear, tipping my head a...
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🏆 Featuring 12 prize-winning stories from our community. Download it now for FREE .
“ Fae Touched ” by D. Grimes
Siobhan awoke to the Irish sun spilling in the open doorframe of their single-room cottage. Her back pressed against Sean’s, and she moved carefully so as to not wake him on his day off morning duties— today, she would feed the cattle and chickens. She rolled over, a stray mattress feather poking her side, and saw Aoife’s small body in her basket, enveloped by a blanket. A surge in Siobhan’s chest shot her awake—Aoife hadn’t cried once through the night. Siobhan scrambled to her feet, bare soles pressed into the cool packed dirt, no longe...
“ Cell 3.47 ” by Kate Hughes
Cell 3.47 was situated on the third floor of B wing in Stocken Gate prison, slap bang in the heart of London’s east end. Known as The Gate, the prison had a reputation for being a tough place to do time. The inmates behind the doors at The Gate endured long cold winters in the Victorian slammer that had been condemned many times but had always escaped closure. It was harsh, it was hard, and it was overrun by rats.Paula Pritchard was the sole resident of cell 3.47, but due to the rodent crisis she ...
“ Whale Song ” by Danielle Barr
Agony broils, but anguish simmers. I have known them both well and in equal measure. In the early days, my brain felt blurry and disjointed; I had the sense of being deep underwater, all undulating shadows and echoing whale song. The darkness was expansive, and the staticky, dull sense of confusion I felt was sometimes intercut with crippling panic. BP is spiking, ...
“ Who Are We to Judge the Music of an Octopus? ” by Paul Crehan
Who Are We to Judge the Music of an Octopus? A short story by Paul Crehan The octopus swam up the aquarium like an arpeggio up staff paper. Bob listened as he watched. What did he hear? I’ll be damned, he thought. Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. With a discordant note here; ...
“ Long Live the King ” by Hazel Ide
"I was eight years old the first time I heard his name." Shifting in the hard plastic seat, my wrists are shackled to a metal chain link at the center of the table, limiting my mobility.The officer observes my discomfort passively, already impatient and annoyed with my recollection of events."I was thinking a little more recent, Miss Clark. Like why you were caught standing outside his home with a bloody—""No, no, you d...
“ What Kind of Mother ” by Danielle Barr
Trigger Warning: infant/child loss, drowning The day my daughter died, I became the villain of my own life story. When your child dies of cancer, there are fundraisers and flower delivery vans and friends taking shifts sitting up with you through the long black nights and washing your hair. When your child dies and it’s your fault, there are no homemade casseroles filling y...
“ Departed, Return ” by Emily Holding
“And then there was another Mark,” Dad recalls, sending the table into an encore of laughter. “Stop it!” Hannah pleads, tears rolling over sun-reddened cheeks. She perches opposite him, one leg hiked on the serrated bistro chair, a rum and coke bubbling in her left hand, the right clutching her stomach. She is 18, the spit of her mother – so she’s told – and will be off to university in two mont...
“ The Porcelain Village ” by Jonathan Page
My clay hands are becoming solid porcelain. I have always had potter’s hands. The throwing water absorbs the moisturizing oils of the skin. Leaves the hands rough. The clay paste dries and cracks the skin. Leaving it red. But now my hands are hardening. In the bisque firing, my hands harden like porous greenware. The cremated carbon and sulfur escape, exhuming my soul from the earthen clay, little by little, drawing it back to its source. The soul stews out in a boiling whistl...
“ The Last Of The Bright Young Things ” by Wendy M
Friday 7th October 1932 - Adelphi Hotel, LiverpoolDearest darling Herbert,What excitement we have had! Mother and I boarded our train on Thursday. The conductor was a charming man. I swear he held my hand for just a moment too long. The weather was terrible, of course, but we were heading for the sun, and neither of us cared one jot. Then the thunderstorm started, which terrified Mother. She shrieked like she had seen a dozen mice with every rum...
“ Do Flamethrowers Belong In The Library? ” by Kenz Ross
We lose people all the time. It’s just the nature of the job. What can you expect from a place full of nooks and crannies people intentionally go to get lost in? I usually don’t worry when I don’t see someone for a while, but when it’s been days since someone’s checked out, it’s usually a sign that I need to step in. I’m not doing this alone, thankfully. No Librarian i...
“ Sight Unseen ” by Julie Clark
Sight Unseen Abraham Morgenstern reverently offered Sidra the Radio Shack catalog, as if it was his most prized possession. “This is the new one,” he said. “Shall we begin with the CB radios and then move on to the antennas? And please, call me Abe.” Sidra rolled her eyes, which fortunately Mr. Morgenster...
“ The Driving Snow ” by Kyle Sager
I tied and untied my Converse in the passenger seat, knees tucked close to my chest and sitting very still in the empty Southwest High School parking lot. One by one, snowflakes fell from a gray and motionless sky, only to land and melt instantly on the windshield, transforming into nothing but a dot of clear liquid, almost as if it were raining. It was New Year's Eve, my last year of school, and...
“ That All Important First Scene ” by Ian Gonzales
“Okay, let’s go over the first scene.” “Right, but let’s do it on the go, ‘cause we’ve gotta move, and I mean now.” Logan Steele sets off at fast trot, hurrying down the hallway of the ubiquitous Government Agency Headquarters. His long legs carry his broad-shouldered, powerfully built body along at brisk pace. I hurry to keep up with him, panting for breath in only a few strides. “Think we could slo...
“ Speed Fate ” by Derrick M Domican
To: Buck TuckerFrom: Speed Fate Team Date: 19th July, 2023, 12:47Subject: Your Speed Fate InputHi Buck! Thanks for taking part in the recent Speed Fate speed dating event and submitting your feedback! We hope you enjoyed the evening! Please find below a copy of the comments you left for each of your dates. You will receive feedback submitted about you in a separate mail. Should any of those you said “Yes!” to also say “Yes!” to you, we will forward each of you a copy of your contact information ...
“ Shameless ” by Parul Shah
We stopped leaving the garage door open when we were cooking because I told my mom the police were saying criminals had been stealing equipment from garages. My dad was away on an engineering work contract in Dubai like half the Uncles I knew, so we kids were left to help our moms with everything from house maintenance to legal compliance. Back then there was no internet and overseas phone calls to Dubai were expensive, so there were a great many things left unreported to the dads. To compensate for this lack of communication, my mom and...
“ The Walk ” by Lindsay Flo
Alice was everywhere, until she wasn’t. Just like at first, she was nowhere until she was. The absence of her before I knew she existed, was nothing. Now, the absence of her shrouds everything. Like a guest who never came to dinner; a stormy sky that didn’t deliver. Nothing can wash away the void where she used to be. This is what I’m thinking about the first time I take The Walk without her. I met Alice ...
“ The Ungentling ” by Katy B
Bill’s disappeared upstairs with the little sickly girl but me I’m here to see the blind woman. I hear she did it on purpose, tore donkey tail out of the earth and smeared its milky sap directly in her eyes. It must of stung her hands and face bad and maybe left marks on her fingers. Near Santa Fe, men, women and children are always getting possessed of this sort of ecstasy and seem like taking pleasure in swallowing poison and fire and stepping on scorpions and suchlike. But it ain’t superstition like the government try to tell me in the...
“ Echelon ” by Kris Hawkins
Leaning against a tarnished railing aboard a ferry, Katherine watched ocean waves curl into themselves. Close to her chest, she held a pewter urn containing her mother’s cremated remains. She breathed deeply, the taste of brine caking her tongue like damp ash. The midday sun reflected in droplets that quavered on the balusters, then trickled down like little rivulets, only to reappear from the periodic spray of waves breaking against the prow. Other ferry goers chattered around her, though Katherine was only vaguely aware of them. Her th...
“ Emma ” by Victoria Macleod
I did it because I liked the way it made me feel. The transaction pleased me even before the idea became a reality. The see-saw of our friendship now tipped in my favour- I the one swinging her legs loftily, gripping the handles with sweaty palms. Looking down on her smiling face as she crouched uncomfortably, waiting for her turn to rise. I did it because 23 years of knowing and loving Emma had ...
“ The Bequest ” by Chris Miller
“I’ve always said it was a great big rat. You know the ones. Big as a puppy. A Parisian tourist terrifier. But any rat looks big when you find it lying dead in a box on your doorstep. It makes an impression.”I picked up the block of Perspex from my desk and leaned back in my creaking leather chair.“As you can see, it’s probably only about average size, if that. Although it looks m...
“ Three Questions ” by Katharine Widdows
“Right, you stinking mutt, into your cell and keep quiet.” The gaoler manhandled Edmond Barker into a cold, damp room then clanged an iron-barred gate behind him and turned a key in the lock. His rancid beer breath rattled in Edmond’s nose. “Now both of you listen up! The man in the cell next to you could be your saviour or your downfall. The secret to your release is somewhere in the cell next to yours, so only your companion can find it. High tide is in one hour and will completely fill both your cells. Be out or be drowned.”...
“ Hazel ” by Anne Delfosse
You know how when a dog is at the end of their life, its owner will give them a perfect day before taking them to be put down? Like, take them to the dog park, the beach and let them eat a McDonald’s hamburger? Well, July 14th was the day I designated to do that for myself.I was twenty-two, so I conjured up a list of twenty-two nice things to do for myself on my last day. Most of the listed items involved indulging in food, but there were a few I was more excited about- especially the grand finale, which was sneaking int...
“ Multiple Choice ” by Zack Powell
Okay class! Pop quiz. If you've been doing the readings, this should be a piece of cake. Remember to fill out both sides of this paper. You have the whole class period to finish. Good luck.1. Christopher Columbus first traveled to the Americas using which means of transportation?A) A cargo shipB) A steam locomotiveC) A Boeing 747 airliner D) A vintage red 1985 Camaro with a crack in the middle of the windshield and no heated seats2. What is the term...
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Short Stories from Reedsy Prompts
Short stories may be small, but they are mighty! With the weight of a novel stripped away, great short stories strike directly at the heart of their topics. Often maligned as the novel’s poor cousin, the short story medium has produced some of the most beloved works of fiction. From the eerily-accurate predictions of Ray Bradbury to the spine-chilling thrills of Stephen King and the wildly imaginative worlds of N.K. Jemison, some of the best authors in the business have made their mark writing short stories .
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10 Best Books on Writing Fiction For Your Reading List
Improve your fiction writing by adding these best books on writing fiction to your reading list.
If you are ready to jump into the world of fiction writing, books are about to become your best friend. Not only can you learn from reading other fiction works, but you can also learn from reading the best books on writing fiction. Creative writing is a skill, and the more you learn about that skill, the better your writing will be.
So what books should you be searching for at the library or adding to your Amazon wish list? How can your reading lists turn your own writing into the next bestseller? Here are some of the best books on fiction writing that will make you the next Anne Lammot or Stephen King, or at least make your creative writing and story structure just a little better.
1. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
2. story engineering: mastering the 6 core competencies of successful writing, 3. the secrets of story, 4. improv for writers: 10 secrets to help novelists and screenwriters bypass writer’s block and generate infinite ideas, 5. about writing: seven essays, four letters, & five interviews, 6. the art of fiction: notes on craft for young writers, 7. how to write a damn good novel, 8. on writing: a memoir of the craft, 9. bird by bird: some instructions on writing and life, 10. self-editing for fiction writers, the final word on the best books on writing fiction, what books should be on every writer’s bookshelf, who are some of the top authors for fiction writers, further reading.
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Yes, this book is talking about nonfiction, but the tools you will learn in On Writing Well will also translate into your fiction writing. This book by William Zinsser was
So what can you glean from this work? This book is full of writing tips on sentence structure, mechanics and overall writing skills. The tone is very conversational, making it an easy read.
- Zinsser, William (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 336 Pages - 04/05/2016 (Publication Date) - Harper Perennial (Publisher)
This book by Larry Brooks is vital to fiction writers. Writing short stories and novels requires an understanding of storytelling, or building a story and bringing characters to life, and that’s exactly what this book strives to teach.
The book treats storytellers like engineers. It teaches them how to build a successful story, piece by piece until they have a workable story and plot structure. The writing is a bit intense, but the skills you will learn are helpful in teaching fiction writing.
- Used Book in Good Condition
- Brooks, Larry (Author)
- 288 Pages - 02/24/2011 (Publication Date) - Writer's Digest Books (Publisher)
Have you ever wondered why some stories are so compelling, and others fall flat? The Secrets of Story tries to unravel the answer to this question. This book by Matt Bird will help you learn how to tell a story that will engage your audience, leaving them wanting to come back for more.
This particular book makes it on the list because it has a handy checklist. With the checklist in hand, you can improve your fiction writing to make it the type of story people feel compelled to read. This is a must-read that should be on the reading lists of all aspiring writers.
- Bird, Matt (Author)
- 368 Pages - 11/01/2016 (Publication Date) - Writer's Digest Books (Publisher)
Every writer, no matter their skill level, will face writer’s block . Improv for Writers by Jorjeana Marie helps writers learn how to overcome that and generate new, fresh ideas that keep the writing flowing.
Like most good books about writing fiction, this title is packed with practical tips written in a positive, affirming manner. The author’s love for writing and writers shows on every page, making it an enjoyable read.
- Marie, Jorjeana (Author)
- 224 Pages - 08/27/2019 (Publication Date) - Ten Speed Press (Publisher)
About Writing explores the specifics of fiction writing. Author Samuel R. Delany explores thoughts like when is it appropriate to use flashbacks and how you can create vivid characters that pull on the reader’s sympathies.
In this book, Delany explores how today’s writers are different than authors of past generations, like Hemingway and Fitzgerald. This helps today’s writers learn how to understand the great classic writers, while still understanding their own needs as a modern author .
- Delany, Samuel R. (Author)
- 432 Pages - 01/04/2006 (Publication Date) - Wesleyan University Press (Publisher)
Author John Gardner takes classic works of literature and helps young writers understand what makes them great. With The Art of Fiction , new fiction writers can learn to view their craft as a type of art. It assists people in making the transition from reader to writer through criticism, passion and respect for artistic works.
- Writers, Fiction, the are of...Notes on Craft for Young Writers
- John Gardner copyright 1983
- Gardner, John (Author)
Dramatic storytelling is an art that James N. Frey explores in this book. Not only does it explore good writing, but it also explores storytelling and story structure.
With the writing advice in this book, writers can create a first draft that is compelling and effective. Fiction writers who are interested in novel writing must put this one on their list.
- Jacket - yellow with black and red lettering
- Hardcover Book
- Frey, James N. (Author)
- 192 Pages - 12/15/1987 (Publication Date) - St. Martin's Press (Publisher)
Books written by exceptional storytellers are always great to add to the writer’s library, and Stephen King offers up On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. King goes back to his childhood to explore what made him into the famous writer he is today. This gives the reader a little peek into the mind of a master storyteller.
Along the way, King also explores the structure and mechanics that make writing work. He also touches on the lifestyle of a writer, and that makes his book a must-read for anyone who is truly passionate about fiction writing. The book has much practical advice woven into an engaging memoir.
- King, Stephen (Author)
- 320 Pages - 06/02/2020 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)
Anne Lamott explores what it means to be a writer in Bird by Bird. She believes that many people have a book inside of them but may need a little help to let it out. Her witty approach to exploring the writing life can help you understand exactly what it will take to overcome writer’s block and create your next new book or screenplay.
- Lamott, Anne (Author)
- 256 Pages - 09/01/1995 (Publication Date) - Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (Publisher)
Not all books on this writer’s book list are about plot structure and character development. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King teaches writers how to use solid editing techniques to edit their own work. It explores everything from dialogue to point of view to ensure your writing is solid before you send it to the publisher.
- Browne, Renni (Author)
- 288 Pages - 04/13/2004 (Publication Date) - William Morrow Paperbacks (Publisher)
Writing fiction is a skill that takes time to polish and develop. Many of us have our own stories to tell, but you may need a little bit of help to get it out. Before hiring a literary agent or seeking a publisher, first, take some time to do a little reading for yourself from this list of must-read books for writers .
FAQs on the Best Books on Writing Fiction
The best books for your bookshelf will depend on the writing you are going to tackle. Non-fiction writers need different reading material than fiction writers. For non-fiction writers, books on grammar and structure, like The Elements of Style are critical. For fiction writers, books on how to overcome writer’s block and how to build a plot structure are a good choice.
As a fiction writer, you should read books by other fiction writers. Renni Browne, Dave King, Stephen King, Anne Lamott and Larry Brooks are all excellent authors with practical advice for aspiring writers.
- Our Always Up-to-Date List of Great Books to Read
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Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.
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11 Books to Read to Become a Better Fiction Writer
Curiosity Never Killed the Writer
by Tom Farr
Originally posted on the whisper project ..
Great writers learn from others who have done it well. I’ve read a number of books on fiction writing over the last several years that have been really helpful in developing my own storytelling approach. Here’s a list of the ones I’d recommend most.
Anatomy of Story
John Truby’s Anatomy of Story is easily my favorite book on writing stories. It’s actually a book on screenwriting, but it’s equally valuable to fiction writers as well. I love the way Truby breaks down the story elements down to their core. He outlines a story as a journey that reflects the way real life works when you’re trying to overcome a problem. He’s adamantly against the concept of 3-act structure, even though his 22 steps fit into 3-act structure. I find his 22 steps more valuable than the idea of 3-act structure. Out of all the books I have on the craft of writing, this is the one I go back to the most.
by Stephen King
King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft almost needs no explanation. It’s definitely a tough second for me behind Anatomy of Story. King is the master of fiction writing, and in this book, he reveals all of his craft secrets. King describes story as something discovered by the writer rather than something structured from the outside. In this way, he’s similar to Truby. The book has some great advice on the tools a writer brings to writing fiction. I love how he handles description and authentic dialogue. On Writing is also a memoir of King’s writing journey.
by Robert McKee
Robert McKee’s Story , while a book primarily directed at screenwriters, is yet another great exploration of the inner workings of story. I love the way he explores the structuring of scenes and acts. He describes story as several turning points over the course of a set amount of time. A character goes on a journey with many turning points. Really helpful advice on structure and on craft. It’s a great book.
By larry brooks.
I love Larry Brooks’ blog Storyfix.com , and Story Engineering covers Brooks’ approach to fiction writing. I love his core competencies, which include concept, character, theme, plot, scene construction, and writing voice. His breakdown of the difference between idea and concept is brilliant. And his breakdown of structure is very similar to John Truby’s.
Similar to John Truby’s Anatomy of Story, Story Physics covers the internal forces that work from within a story to make it a good one. This is a deeper exploration of story structure in continuation from Story Engineering. One of the most valuable elements of this book is Brooks’ breakdown of the story physics of The Help and The Hunger Games.
Plot and Structure
By james scott bell.
Plot and Structure is one of the best books on how to approach 3-act structure for fiction writers. This is especially helpful when it comes to the often slow middle that causes many writers to give up. Another helpful part of this book is Bell’s advice on how to approach writing scenes. The book includes many great examples from authors such as Dean Koontz, a true master of storytelling.
Wired for Story
By lisa cron.
Wired for Story explores why people are so impacted by stories, and it’s a great resource for writers on figuring out how to write truly compelling fiction. There’s some great research findings in this book for fiction writers to tap into the potential of the human brain in order to write better stories.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
By renni browne and dave king.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is one of the most invaluable books for fiction writers. It covers some of the most common mistakes that writers make and how to fix them. The examples show how to make your writing better.
Story Trumps Structure
By steven james.
Steven James has been one of my favorite writers for a long time, and he’s an expert at crafting a compelling and complex story. His book outlines his unorthodox approach to writing fiction. James doesn’t believe in story structure at all and insists that outlining beforehand kills a story before you even get started. He gives his strategies for writing a story organically, wrestling with certain questions in the journey of your character’s story. Though he argues against structure, I’d say the book is really arguing a different type of structure. Nevertheless, Story Trumps Structure is a great book for learning how to develop narrative force in your story.
The Fiction Writer’s Guide to Dialogue
By john hough, jr..
The Fiction Writer’s Guide to Dialogue is a fairly new book, but it has a ton of advice on how to write authentic-sounding dialogue. One of the common mistakes fiction writers make is to write dialogue the way people actually speak to one another in real life, but this is often repetitive and more messy than we realize. Hough, Jr. helps fiction writers be more economical with their word choice and write dialogue that carries the story forward.
Bird by Bird
By anne lamott.
I think no list of books about writing would be complete without Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird . I’m just reading it for the first time after hearing it recommended over and over, and I have to agree with all the resounding voices that this book is really that good. Lamott shares all that she knows about writing from her vast experience as both a writer and writing instructor. You’ll learn how to tackle projects little by little, accept that you’re first draft will be terrible, and how to develop authentic characters, and so much more. If you’ve never read Bird by Bird and you’re a writer, you should check it out.
If you enjoyed this post, please consider scrolling down and Recommending it here on Medium. Visit The Whisper Project for more writing tips. You can also sign up for my author newsletter here .
Tom Farr is a blogger, storyteller, and screenwriter who teaches English Language Arts to high school students. He loves creating and spending time with his wife and three children. He blogs regularly about writing and storytelling at The Whisper Project .
The 5 Books You Need to Read to Make You More Creative
If you like what you just read, please hit the green ‘Recommend’ button below.
This collection is sister to The Curious Cat Project (CCP), a website that connects writers from all over the world. Follow CCP on Facebook .
Written by Tom Farr
Tom is a writer and high school English teacher. He loves creating and spending time with his wife and children. For freelancing, email [email protected] .
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The 12 Best Books on Writing I’ve Ever Read
Regardless how many books I’ve written (over 200) and sold (over 70 million), I fear if I’m not learning, I’m stagnating.
My late mother was a convincing example of one who never believed she had arrived. Mom was not only a piano teacher well into her eighties, but she was also a piano student.
So it’s the memory of my mother that spurs me also to keep reading everything there is to read—especially about writing.
The books below (in alpha order by author) represent a fraction of those available. You could read one per day for the rest of your life and not exhaust the resources . But, in my opinion, these are the best books on writing available.
Some require wearing your big kid pants due to language, which I have noted.
- 12 Books Every Aspiring Author Should Read
1. The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work
By Marie Arana
This book came from ten years of Ms. Arana’s Washington Post Book World column. More than fifty fiction and nonfiction authors share how they discovered they were writers and how they work. I was fascinated by what pleases and annoys them. Arana also profiles each writer.
Click here to get the book .
2. Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish
By James Scott Bell (friend and colleague)
Anything but a dry textbook, this breezy guide is from a former trial lawyer who keeps you entertained while covering basics like how plot impacts structure, the difference between popular and literary fiction, and how to serve as your own book doctor.
3. Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors
By Brandilyn Collins (friend and colleague)
Calling on her theater training, Collins teaches bringing characters to life the way actors do on stage. She draws on the Method Acting approach to explain and adapt characterization techniques for novelists.
4. The Writing Life
By Annie Dillard
Dillard’s hauntingly ethereal prose soars even when she’s writing about writing. That’s rare. I resonate with her honesty about how grueling the craft can be. This is one of the best books on writing available.
5. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft [language]
By Stephen King (acquaintance)
At the risk of hyperbole , there’s so much to recommend here that I hardly know where to begin. Besides all the practical advice, you get King’s own rags-to-riches story in his inimitable voice. You learn a ton while being wildly entertained.
6. How to Write Bestselling Fiction [mild language]
By Dean Koontz
I’m not overstating it that this book changed my life. It informed the way I wrote the Left Behind series, which has sold more than 60 million copies and still sells six figures every year, nearly a decade since the last title was released. I use this as a textbook when I teach writing.
7. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life [language]
By Anne Lamott
Lamott has you howling with laughter one minute and weeping the next as she recounts, with brutal honesty, the joys and travails of the writing life, single parenting, overcoming addiction, and coming to faith.
8. Writing the Breakout Novel: Insider Advice for Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level
By Donald Maass
An agent challenges you to do more than just spin a yarn, but to also think “big concept,” tackle major themes, and write life-changing works.
9. Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies
By Sol Stein (acquaintance)
Novelist, editor, publisher (Stein & Day), and writing teacher, Stein is one of the deans of the American literary scene. His career spans decades, and he shares insider stories of famous novelists and their work, as well as everything he learned along the way. I sat under his teaching years ago and still follow his advice.
10. On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction
By William Zinsser
Zinsser’s background should not be missed. He was a graceful classicist as a writer, and this million-seller has been lauded for its warmth and clarity. Zinsser offers sound tips on the fundamentals of writing any kind of nonfiction you can think of.
Now, don’t read any of those books for writers, until…
…you’ve read the bible of writing books:
11. The Elements of Style
By William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
Failing to start your reading on writing with anything other than this undisputed classic would be akin to reading the top ten Christian classics while ignoring the Bible. This short paperback is recommended by every writing teacher I know. I’ve read it at least once a year for more than 40 years. Its simple truths cover everything from style and grammar and usage. Make them second nature.
12. Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go
By Les Edgerton
Les is one of the most powerfully edgy writers in the business, and you must have your big kid pants on to read his novels. But any writer will benefit from this great resource.
Packed with helpful, practical advice, it carries his blunt tone (but nothing offensive). I refer to it regularly.
If you’ve read none of the other books on this list, start with Stephen King’s On Writing . A short course in mistakes to avoid while writing, it will remind you why you wanted to be an author . Then, especially if you want to be a novelist, read Dean Koontz’s How to Write Bestselling Fiction .
You could learn more in just those two books than in an entire college writing course.
BONUS: Before investing in one of these, download my free guide: How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps .
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19 of the best books on how to write: best fiction writing books.
Table of Contents
A List of Writing Books on How to Write
What you’ll get out of this article on the best fiction writing books…
I sorted through all of my writing books and highlighted an awesome writing tip to show you a small piece of what the author has to offer. Note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. ( disclosure)
If something speaks to you , go check out the book. It might be a good match for where you are in your writing journey . Take note, many of these books are in Kindle Unlimited. If you have a subscription, you can read some of them free . Great deal. (Click on the link above to learn more about Kindle Unlimited’s First Month Free option.)
Some books are conversational, some are fun, some are super-detailed, and others nailed home a point I needed to know at the time. I hope by sharing my love of how to write fiction books, you’ll find a new read that guides you to another level in your writing.
I have a problem. Maybe it’s an addiction. I have a mad love for writing books. It started when I was younger. I’d browse book stores scouring for gems, or leave the library with a fat stack of books.
Now, with ebooks, I can keep them all on my iPad and read with Kindle app. Great to always have a selection of books to read nearby.
I have over 160 creative writing books .
Yep. A problem. Only if you have the wrong perspective of course. If I grab a nugget of gold, it’s worth the time and effort of reading the book.
Note: I have all of the books on this list. This is not a random, pie-in-the-sky list where I “heard” they might be good. Nope. These are all happily sitting in my possession. Been there, read them, recommend them.
Let’s get started!
Best Books for Writers – List Starts Here
These are some of the books that stood out for me on my learning journey. Everybody has a different favorite, and these are in no particular order. For example, while I might rave about a John Truby book (which I will), others will rave about Larry Brooks, Robert McKee, or maybe Lisa Cron. There is no right or wrong answer…these are simply books that spoke to me.
I hope one of these awesome reads will inspire you, and help take your writing to the next level.
Speaking of John Truby…
I adore his book, “ The Anatomy of Story .” It’s a book I recommend often.
QUOTE: Give your hero a moral need as well as a psychological need. It increases the scope of the character and moves the audience in a powerful way.
The next book is a full series. You’ll thank my later. Check out the entire series of the Emotional Thesaurus books . Positive, Negative, Wounds, and so much more. Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi have won many fans – as these books are often mentioned in helpful resource threads between authors.
GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict (Debra Dixon)
QUOTE: people make unusual decisions under pressure. Some decisions lead to humor, some to danger, some to mistakes.
This book is direct, without fluff, and helps you have a few aha moments. Every chapter, every scene needs a GMC.
My Story Can Beat up Your Story (Jeffrey Alan Schechter) I love this clever title! Don’t you?
QUOTE: Heroes ask questions. Villains make arguments.
Concise…great points that really get your attention. A simple statement like the one above…beautifully stated in six words, and in a manner that makes you “get” it.
Save the Cat Writes a Novel (Jessica Brody)
QUOTE: Your hero’s problem should affect their entire world: their work, their home life, and their relationships.
I needed this reminder. I’d get involved in a story, and be so focused on one aspect, I forgot to show how it compromised my hero in all areas of their life. It makes for a well-rounded story when you add those elements.
More of the Best Fiction Writing Books
Save the Cat (Blake Snyder) No, you’re not seeing double. This was written first but was directed at screenwriters. It was a classic, and so good, that when the novel version came out, many snapped it up without needing to think about it. One click, baby.
QUOTE: Stakes must be stakes for people we care about. And what might happen to them from the get-go, so we know the consequences of the imminent threat.
The Secrets of Story (Matt Bird)
QUOTE: Sympathy is great, but it’s not as important as empathy. Tony Soprano, Don Draper, and Walter White…we intensely feel for these anti-heroes, sharing their frustrations, and anguish through not their hates. We are privileged with an intimate understanding of their raw hopes and fears, even if we never sympathize with their goals.
Wow. Powerful stuff. Right? Here’s the thing… These anti-heroes sucked us into their stories. They were well written and grabbed hold of us, because of the deep emotion embedded in them. We got it, even if they weren’t shining examples of heroes. They were unique, in-depth characters that drew us in, making us tune in week after week, just for another taste of an intensely drawn character. We empathized with them as they struggled. Imagine that?
Story Genius (Lisa Cron)
QUOTE: Story is what happens internally, not externally. Not fully grasping the importance of this is what tanks countless novels….and one more…It’s about what the protagonist has to learn to overcome, to deal with internally in order to solve the problem that the external plot poses.
We get caught up in the details, and sometimes look past a crucial element like this. Story is the character’s change and growth. But he/she needs to deal with it to fix the external issues. Good stuff. I’ve taken one of her online classes on this…some good reminders and eye-opening moments. You can check out a list of writing courses and workshops here.
Writing Books for Fiction Writers Worth Reading
Structuring Your Novel (book/and workbook) – (K.M. Weiland)
QUOTE: Can you identify one way to introduce the essence of his personality or story role through action, and one way to introduce it through dialogue?
I’m not going to lie. I love K.M. Weiland’s stuff. She has an amazing blog, as well as software, and plenty of books. Check out the books on story arcs while you’re at it.
Take Off Your Pants (Libbie Hawker)
QUOTE: Make your character flawed in a serious, big, scary, potentially life-wrecking way.
I love how she words this. Sometimes I need a reminder to go bigger and bolder. This is a quick read, that’s easy to understand. She also mentions in the book, that she was influenced by John Truby’s “Anatomy of Story” – the first book I mentioned at the top. But don’t discount that as not checking out both. Libbie has her own language and really is great at simplifying things in basic language.
Writing About Villains (Rayne Hall)
QUOTE: Spend a moment on the nails. Are they prawn-pink or nicotine-yellow? Splintered, dirty, or perfectly manicured?
Can’t you just visualize that? Such vivid details. I love Rayne Hall’s books. They are to the point, and I always end up highlighting a bunch of information. I’ve read a bunch of them. In fact, the next book listed is another one by Rayne Hall.
Vivid Plots (Rayne Hall)
QUOTE: Often the mentor is reluctant to give advice. She doesn’t think the main character is experienced/s killed enough for the task and warns him not to undertake the suicidal venture…this creates tension because the main character desperately needs the information. He must prove himself worth of the mentor’s guidance.
Yep. Can you see what I’m talking about? Love me some Rayne Hall. They aren’t meaty, thick books, but they are zero filler, and full of solid writing help.
Advanced Brilliant Writing (Susan May Warren)
QUOTE: How can the villain hurt the hero or heroine the most? How can he cause the hero’s or heroine’s greatest fear to come about?
You’ll see another Susan May Warren book popping up on another writing list I’ll be posting soon. I’ve taken many of her classes through her Novel.Academy, and she knows her stuff. I highly respect her writing and ability to teach.
Writing the Breakout Novel (Donald Maass)
QUOTE: Who is the one ally your protagonist cannot afford to lost? Kill that character. What is your protagonists’ greatest physical asset? Take it away… How much time does your protagonist have to solve his main problem? Shorten it.
Gold nuggets of great writing information. Great read. Good info. Not much more to add.
Techniques of the Selling Writer (Dwight V. Swain)
QUOTE: Enter conflict. Conflict is another name for opposition: a man trying to walk through a locked door. It’s irresistible force meeting immovable object…two entities striving to attain mutually incompatible goals. For one to win, the other must lose.
Think about that. Every scene. Even two friends talking over lunch. One must want something from the other. One wins, one loses. It’s how your story moves forward. Otherwise there’s no point to a scene if it’s merely stagnant conversation for the sake of fattening a story.
Another Batch of Great Books on How to Write Fiction
Story Stakes (H.R. Costa)
QUOTE: At the midpoint, raise the stakes by increasing your protagonists’ level of commitment.
Solid information that is wrapped in resourceful writing books. I have a couple of H.R. Costa’s books and have not been disappointed yet.
The Emotional Craft of Fiction (Donald Maass)
QUOTE: Pick a moment of challenge, reckoning, betrayal, set back, or coming up short. For your protagonist, what’s the worst part of this situation? What makes it excruciating? What makes it a personal failure?
Yep. Another by Donald Maas. Reading this quote, can you see why he rated another book on my list of awesome writing books for writers? Good reminders, and excellent points.
Write Great Fiction – Plot and Structure (James Scott Bell)
QUOTE: Once you get a character with a problem, a serious problem, plotting is just the fancy name for how he or she tries to get out of the predicament.
No list would be complete without a nod to James Scott Bell. I have multiple books by this fabulous author, that always seems to be able to explain things in a way that makes it click. You won’t regret picking this book up.
Dynamic Story Creation in Plain English (Maxwell Alexander Drake)
QUOTE: We discover that themes must speak to the reader on a visceral level, and that if a theme isn’t invisible, it ruins our story because the reader will feel we’re preaching at them, instead of asking them to contemplate a question.
I love this book. I love the simple reminders, and solid information. Don’t preach to your readers. Really. Don’t. People hate that. It’s like getting a lecture. Let them come along for the ride and make up their own mind. Good reminder.
Writing for Emotional Impact (Karl Iglesias)
QUOTE: On tension: “The competent writer always tries to make the reader anxious over how things will turn out, and then delays the resolution for as long as it’s effective. Control the balance between frustration and reward.
I remember reading this book years ago. Years ago. Yep, I still remember it, because it spoke to me in a way that had me going aha, over and over again.
Writing Books for Creative Writers
Break Into Fiction (Mary Buckham and Dianna Love)
QUOTE: It isn’t enough that a character is still striving for a goal. There have to be enough roadblocks thrown in the character’s path to make the goal worth achieving. We cheer for people who succeed against all odds.
Don’t go easy on your peeps. When you think you have enough – toss more issues on your character, more conflict, turn up the screws, and push them to their limits. It makes for a stronger story.
The Plot Whisperer (Martha Alderson)
QUOTE: The energy of the Universal Story flows through three phases: comfort and separation, resistance and struggle, and transformation and return.
We relate to universal stories. They speak to us, because we all understand those elements.
Understanding Conflict (Janice Hardy)
QUOTE: …Make it harder for the protagonist to make decisions, because choosing what to do has emotional consequences, and often, the right choices is the one that protagonist doesn’t want to make.
Confession: I have more than one Janice Hardy book. Love them all. She also has a great website for writers. Be sure to check out her full list of writing books over at Amazon or your favorite ebook retailer. You won’t regret it. She writes in an easy to understand style and nails home the point of what you’re hoping to learn.
My hands are numb. I need to take a quick breather and stretch my fingers. This was quite a list!
Okay. I’m back. Are you ready to wrap this up?
13 Steps to Evil: How to Craft Superbad Villains (Sacha Black)
QUOTE: We don’t need real monsters to scare us: they’re already in our heads.
Ooh. I love that. It cuts to the heart of it. Our deepest fears, they linger in our subconscious until the moment they unleash themselves and taunt us.
Well, there you have it. 19 awesome writing books about how to write. That’s a mouthful, huh?
I hope you’ve found something that speaks to you . Never stop learning. Knowledge is something that never grows old. Sometimes it’s in the way something is phrased. Other times, it’s simply the reminder you needed at the right time. Maybe it’s a topic you’ve been meaning to tackle. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Dig in and keep learning. Happy reading!
Looking for another helpful article? Have you checked out my list of writing questions for new writers?
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The 18 Best Books on Storytelling (to Read in 2023)
All products were independently selected by our editors and contributors. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Have you ever wondered why we, as humans, are so drawn to hearing (or reading) great stories? And why is it that some stories easily captivate people while others fade into darkness?
How does one master the art and power of storytelling?
If you’ve stumbled upon this article, you’re probably looking to answer the same questions. That’s why we’ve gathered a collection of books from renowned writers to help you gain storytelling techniques.
Discover in this article, 18 of the best books on storytelling that will help you craft your stories and engage with your audience better.
Table of Contents
1. The Art of Storytelling: Easy Steps to Presenting an Unforgettable Story – John Walsh
2. save the cat the last book on screenwriting you’ll ever need – blake snyder, 3. how to tell a story: 1 book + 20 story blocks = a million adventures daniel nayeri, brian won, 14. master lists for writers: thesauruses, plots, character traits, names, and more – bryn donovan, 5. how to write a dynamite scene using the snowflake method (advanced fiction writing) – randy ingermanson, 6. understanding show, don’t tell: and really getting it – janice hardy, 7. putting stories to work – shawn callahan, 8. ted talks: the official ted guide to public speaking – chris anderson, 9. lead with a story: a guide to crafting business narratives that captivate, convince, and inspire – paul smith, 10. presentation zen: simple ideas on presentation design and delivery (voices that matter) – garr reynolds, 11. wired for story: the writer’s guide to using brain science to hook readers from the very first sentence – lisa cron, 12. the anatomy of story: 22 steps to becoming a master storyteller – john truby, 13. contagious: how to build word of mouth in the digital age – jonah berger, 14. long story short: the only storytelling guide you’ll ever need – margot leitman, 15. let the story do the work: the art of storytelling for business success – esther choy, 16. made to stick: why some ideas survive and others die – chip heath, dan heath, 17. resonate: present visual stories that transform audiences – nancy duarte, 18. the storytelling animal: how stories make us human – jonathan gottschall.
Would you like to improve your presentations? Make them more captivating and glue the eyes of your audience on you? Or simply influence more the behavior of your loved ones? Then, this book is for you.
Learn how to craft beautiful stories that give more power to your message, opinion, and wishes.
Listening to others is not our greatest skill. Yet, we can’t resist a story. It’s like jumping in a train on a route of magnificent scenery.
This book is aimed to help screenwriters. However, it’s a great tool to learn how to:
- Build up a story
- Well design your characters
- Make people curious
- Intrigue your audience with a believable plot
If you’re not a screenwriter, perhaps you’re wondering why you should read this book?
First of all is entertaining, and second, gives you so much knowledge about creating stories that help you reach your outcome.
Some years ago one of my friends was sad because (in a few days) she was turning 40. So, to lift up her spirits, I made a video in which I presented to her the advantages of being 40 plus.
Her sadness transformed into delight, thinking about all those things she can do after 40 that wasn’t possible before it.
Read this book and craft your stories for any situation.
Discover in this book how you can structure fun games to share with your family (children) and improve your storytelling skills and creativity.
The book is a great educational tool to learn the basics of writing and have fun doing it.
Another positive aspect of this book is the fact that you can offer it as a gift; they’ll be delighted!
If you’re searching for inspiration and help to improve your writing skills, then this book is for you.
In the age of technology, most probably, you must write at least a few emails today, letters, and social media posts. Do you always know what to say?
Place this book on your desk, and you’ll never again run out of ideas.
Are you a wannabe fictional writer? Or maybe you’re tired of the same bedtime story and want a bit of diversity? Read this book and discover how you can become a skilled writer and storyteller.
This book is for a writer as a piano to a musician. It gives you the perfect platform on which you can start to stroke the notes and create beautiful symphonies.
When something exciting or funny happens in our life, we want to share with others those events. However, most times, what happens is that we start talking ending up with a tiny embarrassed smile. We say “ You’ve got to have been there to understand “.
Certain things are hard to explain in words because it’s not an easy job to capture an event that created an intense emotion in you.
Learn from this book how to capture those emotions and put them into a story.
Isn’t it true that you have at least one co-worker that captivates the attention of everyone around? If you feel a bit envious, use that feeling and get curious about the secret of that person.
Most probably, the secret is their ability to tell stories and make people feel relaxed.
Discover in this book how you can share (with your co-workers, family, and friends) stories that inspire by eliciting strong emotions.
Did you know that our memory is influenced a great deal by our emotions? Therefore, the stronger the feeling you invoke in others, the more memorable you become .
One of the most prestigious places to be invited to talk, these days, is a TED conference. Is it not?
People invited to speak in one of those events always have something innovative to share. However, just having a brilliant idea doesn’t make you the right person to present that idea.
Discover in this book how to put your brilliant ideas in words so that your message it’s heard loud and clear by your audience.
Are you the proud owner of a small or big business? Or, are you the leader of a team? (bear in mind that your first team is your family)
If your answer to these questions is yes, then, this book is for you.
Learn from this book how to use storytelling so that you can:
- Influence those around you
- Teach them what you expect of them and what they can expect from you
- Show them examples of people overcoming difficulties
- Communicate your message and desire easily
“ Today, we’ll talk about the four rage stages, and how easy it can be to make people enraged ,” says a university professor before starting the lecture.
“ Stage one: surprise. ” The professor makes a diagram on the board; “ Do you understand? “
“ No “, the students reply.
“ Then, let me show you stage one in practice. ” The professor picks up the phone and dials a random number; “ Hello, I want to speak to Johnny. ” “ There is no Johnny here, ” the person at the end of the line replies surprised.
“ Stage two – irritation. ” The professor makes a diagram on the board; “ Do you understand? “
“ Then, let me show you stage two in practice. ” The professor picks up the phone and dials the same number; “ Hello, I want to speak to Johnny. ” “ As I told you last time, there is no Johnny here. Stop calling! ” the person replies irritated.
“ Stage three – anger. ” The professor makes a diagram on the board; “ Do you understand? “
“ Then, let me show you stage three in practice. ” The professor picks up the phone and dials the same number; “ Hello, I want to speak to Johnny. ” “ Are you insane? I told you there is no Johnny here! You are [intelligibly name calling]. There is no Johnny here. Stop calling this number, ” the person replies in an angry voice.
“ Stage four – rage. ” The professor makes a diagram on the board; “ Do you understand? “
“ Then, let me show you stage four in practice. ” The professor picks up the phone and dials the same number; “ Hello, I want to speak to Johnny. ” The person at the end of the line says nothing for a split second, but then, start shouting and swearing, threatening to call the police “ If you call this number one more time I’ll find you and paint Johnny on your face. “
“ It’s so easy to make people feel enraged, ” says the professor to conclude the lecture.
“ I know another stage, ” says a student. “ After rage, comes stupefaction .”
“ And how is that? ” the professor asked.
The student makes a diagram on the board; “ Do you understand? “
“ Then, let me show you the last stage in practice. ” The student picks up the phone and dials the same number; “ Hello, I’m Johnny. Has anyone called me? ” The person at the end of the line is speechless…
Yes, that’s a joke. However, there is something valuable to take from it. Most people get easily bored or angry or stupefied. Therefore, if you want your audience (of one or many) engage and listen to your message, you must learn how to use stories and give a brilliant presentation.
Is your brain wired to write or tell stories?
Many of us have preconceived ideas about what we can do and what we can learn. Writing a good story is like learning to play chess. It sounds a bit mystical and intimidating. Yet, once you start, you cannot stop.
Discover in this book how you can craft and deliver stories that make the brain of your listener unable to shift the focus from you to something else.
You don’t have to be a writer, as a profession, to need the skill of hooking people on your message. You must learn how to be a good storyteller no matter what you do because that gives you the slight edge to get on top.
We are born only with two fears, all the rest we learn. One of those fears we learn and petrifies most people is the fear to feel embarrassed.
Many years ago, I was to a chess tournament. There were 100 plus players in the room. You could hear only the muffled sound of ticking clocks. What can I say? Almost dead silence… until an old gentleman (in the middle of the room) slipped a loud and long fart.
At least half of the players turn their heads and looked at the “guilty” person and started laughing.
About a year later I met that gentleman at another tournament and we had a chat. In the middle of the conversation, he looked me straight in the eyes and said: “ Do you remember me farting and how people laughed at me? ” I didn’t know what to reply; should I pretend that never happened? Or that I haven’t noticed? Should I lie ?
Before me having the chance to answer, he started a dissertation about all that happened to him that day (to have the full picture of the things that led to that monumental fart).
When he finished the story, he laughed “ I’ve never been more embarrassed in my life; now I’m more precautious about what I eat before a game. “
He told the story of that day to all of the players that witnessed the ‘big event’; he laughed with all of us (100 plus), and we laughed with him, not at him.
I was very young back then, but I learned a valuable lesson (for life) from that experience:
Any embarrassing moment in your life, put in the context of a story, becomes a funny story to tell.
Discover in this book the anatomy of story, how to become a master storyteller and overcome whatever holds you back.
From the beginning of humankind, we learned to value two things above almost anything else. Those two things are:
- First, being viewed (by those around) as a good person,
- And second, we value being seen (not being invisible and left behind).
Those around you live through an overload of information. Therefore, never before you’ve been challenged (to this extent) to show who you are and what you stand for.
Discover in this book how you can present yourself and your ideas in the most visible light. Learn how you can stand out from the crowd by building a compelling story behind what you’re offering to this world .
Behind every person, there is a story. What is yours?
Your story is not finished yet (luckily)… You are writing it as you go through life and build on it your legacy .
Whenever you want to inspire others and help them, two ways of doing it stand out the most:
- First, your personal example – the story of how you overcome obstacles,
- And second, stories about other people coming out victorious from similar situations.
I’m not a fictional writer and yet, I often use stories in my books and courses. There is no better way to make your point than a story. There is no better way to influence your audience (of one or many) than a story.
Tell your children to eat broccoli, and they run to the freezer for the ice cream. Tell a story about how their favorite characters became powerful by eating broccoli, and you’ll not have enough money to by as much as they want.
Implore your husband not to leave his clothes on the floor, and the next day you can see there is a floor in the room. Tell him a story about a husband showing his love by folding his clothes; and, how in return, his wife stopped collecting and filling up the kitchen cabinets with bags and bags.
Ask (nicely) your co-workers to return the stapler, and you’ll be waiting a very long time for that to happen. Tell them a story (if possible a funny story), about a person that always forgot to give back what he borrowed; and how that person lost his job as a result.
Discover in this book how you can craft a story for whatever situation you’re in… What is your story? Can you tell it? Can you talk about the multitude of positive character traits you have without sounding pretentious? Can you convince those around that your way of doing things is the best?
Have you ever wondered how come we could be so insensitive about the misfortune of others? How can we be so cold and unmoved reading calamities or disasters facts and figures?
Facts and figures don’t have faces . It’s information that (most likely) we forget in a matter of minutes.
Discover in this book how to use the characteristics of your offer, product, and business to build a compelling story. Listen, many people have brilliant ideas, but only a handful know how to put those ideas into words, into infectious messages.
Give your business that’s slight edge that needs to stand out from your competitors.
Made to Stick is concrete, useful, memorable, understandable, and to the point. Chip and Dan Heath explain the anatomy of ideas that stick and reveal ways to make them even stickier.
How? To make an idea sticky, it has to be simple yet concrete, credible, emotional, unexpected, and tells a story.
This book will transform the way you communicate. Add this to your reading list to learn more about effective and persuasive communication.
Related : Effective Communication: How to Improve Your Communication Skills
Nancy Duarte masterfully draws the connection between story and presentation. With meticulous care, she brought about undeniable proof of how a well-crafted speech works.
The author explains, step by step, how to change the minds of an audience.
This book also emphasizes the importance of telling a story; to deliver a memorable experience and produce an emotional response from audiences.
For centuries, humans have enjoyed making up stories, reading novels, watching plays, and living in the land of make-believe.
We are wired for story. But why is that?
In The Storytelling Animal, Gottschall aims to unravel some of the mystery of storytelling. He seeks to better understand how stories determine so much of the human experience.
Understanding the role storytelling has played throughout history is vital; it will challenge you to tell stories that matter.
No matter what’s your profession, your job and interests, you cannot escape from telling stories. From the astute business owner to teachers and parents, from co-workers to siblings, we all need to know how to:
- Write/ tell
- And make interesting our stories
I hope you found these 18 best books on storytelling helpful, so that you can captivate your audience (of one or many) and excel in whatever you do.
Take as an example physics. The most captivating branch of physics is mechanics. That’s because mechanics tell a story that we can easily understand and see it in practice.
10 more great books on storytelling:
- The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On and Others Don’t by Carmine Gallo
- The Science of Storytelling: Why Stories Make Us Human and How to Tell Them Better by Will Storr
- Unleash the Power of Storytelling: Win Hearts, Change Minds, Get Results by Rob Biesenbach
- The Story Factor by Annette Simmons
- Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling by Matthew Dicks
- Into the Woods: A Five-Act Journey Into Story by John Yorke
- Ted Talks Storytelling: 23 Storytelling Techniques from the Best Ted Talks by Akash Karia
- Make Noise: A Creator’s Guide to Podcasting and Great Audio Storytelling by Eric Nuzum
- Stories That Stick: How Storytelling Can Captivate Customers, Influence Audiences, and Transform Your Business by Kindra Hall
- The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker
6 best film storytelling books:
- Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
- Pixar Storytelling: Rules for Effective Storytelling Based on Pixar’s Greatest Films by Dean Movshovitz
- The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
- Storytelling in Film and Television by Kristin Thompson
- The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler
- Storytelling for Film and Television: From First Word to Last Frame by Ken Dancyger
4 best brand storytelling books:
- Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
- The Power of Visual Storytelling: How to Use Visuals, Videos, and Social Media to Market Your Brand by Ekaterina Walter and Jessica Gioglio
- Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald A. Miller
- Brand Storytelling: Put Customers at the Heart of Your Brand Story by Miri Rodriguez
6 best books on writing fiction novels:
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.
- Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
- The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
- Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere) by Lisa Cron
6 best books on novel structure:
- Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules by Steven James
- Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story by K. M. Weiland
- Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K. M. Weiland
- Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure by K. M. Weiland
- Plot & Structure : Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell
- Structuring Your Novel Workbook: Hands-On Help for Building Strong and Successful Stories (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 4) by K. M. Weiland
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Her Name Is Barbra, but It Wasn’t Always
In a chatty and candid new memoir, Barbra Streisand talks about her early determination to be famous and tallies the hurdles and helpers she met along the way.
Barbra Streisand in a still from “Funny Girl,” which made her an instant movie star. Credit... Kobal/Shutterstock
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By Alexandra Jacobs
- Nov. 7, 2023
- Apple Books
- Barnes and Noble
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MY NAME IS BARBRA, by Barbra Streisand
Of course Barbra Streisand’s memoir, 10 years in the making if you don’t count the chapter she scribbled in longhand in the 1990s and then lost, was going to approach “ Power Broker ” proportions.
For one thing, she is — fits of insecurity notwithstanding — a bona fide power broker: tearing down barriers to and between Broadway, Hollywood, the recording industry and Washington, D.C., like Robert Moses on a demolition bender.
For another, as Streisand writes in “My Name Is Barbra,” a 970-page victory lap past all who ever doubted, diminished or dissed her, with lingering high fives for the many supporters, she does tend to agonize over the editing process.
After adding back material to her version of “ A Star Is Born ” for Netflix in 2018 — “I think I made it better. But did I? I’m never quite sure”— she fantasized about new, fuller cuts of both “ Funny Girl ,” which made her a movie star on arrival, and “ Yentl ,” her debut as director. Planning her wedding to the actor James Brolin in 1998, she tried to winnow down a long list of desserts before deciding “ We’ll just have them all … why not? ”
It doesn’t take a psychiatrist — though Streisand, 81, has consulted many, played one in “ The Prince of Tides ” and even incorporated the therapeutic framework into one concert tour — to figure out why she has taken such a big bite out of life. As recounted before in a flotilla of biographies , none authorized (and at least one tell-all by an early roommate, who was promptly ghosted), she grew up deprived both economically and emotionally in a housing project in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Instead of a doll she carried a hot-water bottle — “I swear it felt more like a real baby than some cold doll” — for which a sympathetic neighbor knitted a pink hat and sweater.
Such details may be familiar to fans, but for the most part they ring out more resoundingly in Streisand’s chatty, ellipses-strewn telling. She may possess megawatt fame — “a hollow trophy,” she assures us — but between these covers she’s just Bubbe Barbra at a kitchen table, talking about fabrics and fellows who got fresh and “my first fur coat, sold to me as ‘Zorina,’ a.k.a. ‘Alaskan sable,’ but in reality … skunk.”
Her father, an educator from an Orthodox Jewish background, died at 35 after a head injury when Barbara, as they spelled it then, was 15 months old and her brother was 9. (She still has her father’s copy of “Tales From Shakespeare” for children on her bedside table: “Who knows? Maybe he had bought it to read to me.”)
Her mother remarried a man named Kind who was anything but, gave birth to another little girl, and had distinct Madame Rose undertones, crooning into a broomstick microphone and so forth. “Where are my presents?” she screamed at a Christmas gathering in 1964, by which time her older daughter had released the Top 40 hit “ People ” and appeared thrice in Vogue. “ I’m the mother! She’s nothing without me!”
That the film rights to “Gypsy” have slipped from Streisand’s grasp after a prolonged tease seems one of showbiz’s prosecutable crimes. (She even gobbles egg rolls, Mr. Goldstone !) Another: This book, which is adorned with more boldface names than there were sequins on the Arnold Scaasi pantsuit she wore to the Oscars in 1969, has no index. You kind of want to resurrect Spy magazine to make one, as it did for “ The Andy Warhol Diaries .”
Little Barbara suffered from undiagnosed tinnitus, possibly a bug God planted in her ear urging her to run the hell away from her family’s dysfunction. She vowed to become a performer after seeing Susan Strasberg, the Method guru Lee’s daughter, in “The Diary of Anne Frank” at the Cort Theater, later contriving a meeting with Strasberg Sr., who didn’t intimidate her in the slightest. (“He reminded me of my uncle Irving.”)
She also was swooning at the movies near Erasmus Hall High, where she was an honors student; her schoolmate Bobby Fischer, the future chess prodigy, “looked like some sort of deranged pilot from a 1940s movie,” she presciently noted.
Streisand collected mentors who introduced her to books and records, and scratched up the money for classes in acting, pantomiming a chocolate chip and reading from Jean Anouilh’s “Medea” : “Why have you made me a girl?” Though she hates to fly, she longed to escape, and would become an expert criss-crosser of centuries and cultures onscreen.
But it was her shimmery, almost wholly intuitive singing, first at a gay bar and then at the Bon Soir supper club in Greenwich Village, that would first dazzle the public. She found the spotlight “warm and comforting,” quickly lopped off that second “a” from her first name, and reminds us now that the second “s” in Streisand is soft, telephoning Tim Cook to get the pronunciation corrected on Siri.
The author salts “My Name Is Barbra,” the title recycled from her 1965 TV special that itself cribbed the name of a Leonard Bernstein song, with Yiddishisms: tchotchkes (she likes pig ones); gonif , or thief (her ex-boyfriend Jon Peters ); fakakta (what her then-agent David Begelman called the Isaac Bashevis Singer short story that was the basis for “Yentl”).
Then there are the generous dollops of chutzpah . Besides sassing Strasberg, she somehow managed to resist all the advisers who told her to bob her long nose, ditch the thrift-store clothes and choose more standard numbers than, say, Harold Arlen’s “ A Sleepin’ Bee ,” with lyrics by Truman Capote.
Nobody put Barbra in a corner. She clashed early with the prickly playwright and director Arthur Laurents, insisting she perform the secretary Miss Marmelstein’s eponymous solo in “I Can Get It for You Wholesale” from a swivel chair.“You’re never going to make it, you know,” he snarled at her, though the audience went wild for the sequence. “Never!” (They’d reunite later, on the massively successful picture “ The Way We Were .”)
A lot of men seemed to resent her drive. “I have more talent in my farts than you have in your whole body!” Walter Matthau told her on the set of “Hello, Dolly.” Mike Wallace called her “totally self-absorbed” and made her cry on “60 Minutes.”
But many more fell at her feet, including Marlon Brando, who rubbed them. The king of England has sipped Constant Comment from her cup. Pat Conroy, the “Prince of Tides” author, compared her to the goddess Athena. (Athena on Conroy’s dancing: “Boy, he could really fling that tush around!”) Stephen Sondheim rewrote lyrics for her.
Tabulating all the boyfriends and admirers — “I thought we were going to have an affair,” the married Mandy Patinkin tearily implored her during “Yentl,” she writes — might require a second index.
Though she has a reputation for being controlling (basically the definition of being a director), Streisand here stresses, convincingly if somewhat exhaustively, her spontaneity. Contra Ethel Merman, who famously declared herself Miss Bird’s Eye when presented with new lyrics in rehearsals of “Call Me Madam,” she believes “to freeze something is to kill it.”
She wanted to print the words “this is a work in progress” on the back of her 1976 lieder album — Glenn Gould loved it ! — an example of her dogged refusal to stay in one lane. “Come to think of it, I should put it on this book, too….”
Future editions, then, might excise some of the long block quotes of praise from her peers, like the one purportedly from Tennessee Williams collected by an interviewer whose veracity was questioned by Helen Shaw in The New Yorker. Not to get too Laurents about it, but Streisand maybe could have used a trusted collaborator, a J.R. Moehringer or even a J.J. Hunsecker, to rein in some indulgences, like long lists of boldface friends at later-career concerts.
There’s something exuberant and glorious, though, about Streisand’s photo dump of self-portraits and party pics. Indeed about this whole dragged-out banquet of a book. You might not have the appetite to linger for the whole thing, but you’ll find something worth a nosh.
There are just so many scintillating Streisands to contemplate over so many years: singer, actress, director, producer, philanthropist, activist, lover, mother, wife, friend, autobiographer. “I would make a very good critic,” she suggests at one point, and as I struggle to put a button on this, all I can reply is: Barbra, be my guest.
MY NAME IS BARBRA | By Barbra Streisand | Viking | 970 pp. | $47
Alexandra Jacobs is a book critic and the author of “Still Here: The Madcap, Nervy, Singular Life of Elaine Stritch.” More about Alexandra Jacobs
'My books emphasize love': 101-year-old veteran stays active as a children's book author
Sam Baker, a 101-year-old veteran, is proving that age is just a number. As a children's storybook author with three published books, he uses his vast experience to try and help kids learn to read while learning good values.
Baker served for five and half years in the U.S. Marines during World War II before spending 30 years as a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He now lives at Vi at Silverstone, a retirement home in Scottsdale, and uses his passion for storytelling to write humorous and educational children's books.
Baker doesn't think the U.S. is where it should be when it comes to reading comprehension. He is convinced he can make a positive change in that regard, no matter how big or small.
"If you look at the (reading) scores of American children compared to foreign children, as a whole, we are behind the world," Baker said. "Reading is the foundation for all learning, so I have dedicated these books to getting children to learn to read. If ten of them learn to read after all the money I've spent, it's well worth it."
He thinks technology has impacted these scores because of how the internet makes information and images so readily available. His goal with his books is to help kids learn to imagine in a world where things are so often presented for you.
"How can you imagine something if you don't have an imagination?" Baker said. "In these books, you have to imagine a worm big enough to talk, with arms and legs, and you have to imagine a mouse that can talk. If you interest little children enough, they'll want to learn to read."
Baker gets his inspiration for his characters and stories from events from his life.
His book "Oscar Goes to the Vet" is based off a full-circle experience he had while living in his retirement home. In the book, Oscar the mouse, who was based on a childhood rat Baker kept outside, goes to the vet to treat a tummy ache. The veterinarian in the book is based off of Dr. Don Casey, a fellow Marine stationed in Okinawa, Japan in 1945, the same place Baker was at the time.
They realized many years later when they met at Silverstone that they were stationed very close to each other. He learned Casey had become a veterinarian after his service, prompting Baker to dedicate the book to him. A large theme of all of his books is to be kind and to value friendship and companionship.
"I try to make my books emphasize love because we don't need hate," Baker said.
This is a lesson that he learned during his time as a lieutenant in the Marines, and he said his emphasis on friendship has helped him in longevity.
"I always relate it back to when a (fellow) Marine lieutenant told me, 'Sam, take care of your men when you can, and when you can't, they'll take care of you,'" Baker said. "And that was my creed for all my life of management. If you apply that all the way up, it makes sense, you can't do it all (alone)."
Baker also has always emphasized education in his career. A big example of this was when he was an executive officer of a 400-man battalion in China during World War II. After the atomic bomb brought the war's end, he had to figure what to do with his Marines. He created a school to educate them.
"I had a lot of young officers who had just arrived, so I started a school because we were in a schoolhouse," Baker said. "We taught math, English, civics and history, and we didn't have books, so we had to do it all from memory, and we gave diplomas every time they finished a semester."
His emphasis on education proved to be a big influence on the people he worked with, as Baker said that by the time he retired, 45% of his professionals had earned advanced degrees. He thinks this emphasis on learning he carried with him may have led him to help kids learn with his books.
Baker has now started to read his books to children at schools. He recently received a thank you drawing from a group of students that he read to, which he said deeply touched his heart.
"When you get this (drawing), you know every child worked on it, it's really something," Baker said. "They're so good when you go to talk to them. They are very attentive; they ask nice questions."
Baker is looking to continue his writing career and hopes to extend it beyond children's stories. He is currently working on a book for senior high school students. His books can be bought on his website or delivered through Amazon.
"When you get to my age, you can either sit around and do nothing, or you can be active," Baker said. "I've tried to be active."
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Main Character of the Day
'we cannot fail so big as war': a writer's lesson from examining the korean war.
Manuela López Restrepo
E.J. Koh's novel covers war and generations. Adam K. Glaser/Tin House hide caption
E.J. Koh's novel covers war and generations.
In just over 200 pages, E.J. Koh spans decades to tell the individual stories of lives impacted by the Korean War.
Who is she? E.J. Koh is an author, poet and translator of Korean literature.
What's going on? In The Liberators, her debut novel, Koh delves into the pain and history of families forced to immigrate from Korea after the war split the nation in two.
- For Koh, zooming in on the characters' individual stories was a means to accurately portray the endless impact of the conflict.
- "We get to really see how every individual makes a choice — makes a different choice, maybe about how to, or whether they should, erase the troubling origins of the war, or reconcile with the urge to do so in the face of inherited grief and violence and pain. And so we come to a really human level of understanding these choices."
The Liberators is Koh's debut novel. Tin House hide caption
The Liberators is Koh's debut novel.
What is she saying? Koh sat down with All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro to discuss the thinking behind the many perspectives in her book, and how the writing process impacted her own perception of her family history.
On including characters that process their grief and trauma in a variety of ways:
There's this wonderful author and researcher, Elizabeth Rosner, who talks ... that humanity, that our human lineage, is a braid of both destruction and restoration. And so that means that when we tell stories and we carry memories, we want to tell the stories of both the perpetrators and the collaborators, the prisoners and the guards, the murdered and the survivors. You want to be responsible for the entire braid because that's what our humanity looks like. That's what we're reckoning with.
For another perspective on family and migration, listen to Consider This on how violence in Sudan forced one mother to make a difficult choice .
On reckoning with her own lineage:
This work of fiction came after the work in my memoir, where I did a lot of looking into not only my family's stories but the history that we have in Japan, Korea and the U.S., and particularly Jeju Island, the island off of mainland South Korea. And while doing that ... there was a few — like, my mother's parents especially — that ... stayed with me. In a way, they became shadows to some of the main characters in this work of fiction.
On the importance of hope, in remembering pain and forging new paths forward:
It can be difficult. And I don't think it's ever been written in a way where hope came across as really simple and easy and straightforward. But I found, at least in working with, you know, mass trauma and grief and suffering, that there is a process to testimony, to telling stories, to sharing these stories, to listening. And really, a lot of what you're doing here in this moment matters, that nothing is always inevitable and that each of us have that point, and we can ask more questions.
So, what now?
- Here's an excerpt from Koh's acknowledgements about her deepest hope for the world:
- "My deepest hope is to understand that even if we fail, we cannot fail so big as war. And as sure as the sun rises and the world rotates, we as humans have a chance to try again."
- The Liberators is available now.
- 'Music was there for me when I needed it,' The Roots co-founder Tariq Trotter says
- In 'White Holes,' Carlo Rovelli takes readers beyond the black hole horizon
- Alice McDermott's 'Absolution' transports her signature characters to Vietnam
The interview with E.J. Koh was conducted by Ari Shapiro, produced by Kat Lonsdorf and edited by Courtney Dorning.
Neal Rubin: Metro Detroit seniors become authors with new book about older adulthood
I get asked a few times a month how to become a writer. The answer isn't complicated:
Sit down and write.
Or, if you prefer, stand up. That's what Winston Churchill, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway did.
Whatever your posture, maybe start the novel whose plot has been bounding through your head since 1994. Maybe devote 200 therapeutic words to describing your annoying neighbor.
Maybe tell the story of how you wound up laughing in front of a funeral chapel the day after your husband of 61 years died and a police car spontaneously combusted.
That's how Edie Blumer did it ... finally.
Blumer will turn 99 in a few weeks. She lives at the Meer Apartments in West Bloomfield, one of six nondenominational senior residences operated by Jewish Senior Life .
She's one of 39 contributors to a new book called "Don't Write Me Off! Thirty-Nine Stories of Older Adulthood," available at amazon.com and a Tuesday evening fundraiser where the authors will happily sign copies of their work and show you pictures of their grandchildren.
Breaking the tech barrier
Beth Robinson, the instigator of the project, patterned it after a collaboration she'd been part of with her pandemic writing group. Among the differences was that they'd had lots of practice linking words together and they knew how to use computers.
Only 4 of the 39 people whose faces appear on the cover of "Don't Write Me Off!" were remotely tech-savvy, said Robinson, whose multifaceted day job starts with managing the Jewish Senior Life volunteer program.
“I would run to the building next door to send myself documents from their phones,” she said, having struck out on the more time-saving methods: “Can you email it to me? Put it in Google Drive? Carrier pigeon?”
But the sprints were worth it, because the newly created creative writers knew how to do other valuable things, like deal with loss and tragedy and loneliness.
Searching for perspective
The flyer Robinson sent to 200 Jewish Senior Life residents only five months ago asked them to write about something that happened in the last 10 years. She was willing to concede that their glory days were glorious; what she wanted was to take a look at a demographic that's frequently invisible.
"Taken all together, I figured it would make a mosaic of older adulthood," she said, and she was correct, even though she personally has the wisdom of only 59 years. "It's got everything from skydiving to a leg amputation."
Edith Birnholtz, 94, who was rescued from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, miraculously recognized her brother in a Russian army uniform shortly afterward in Budapest, Hungary. She touched on old losses, but also new friends.
Toni Curtis Fontana, 60, a former Christian missionary, wrote about embracing God and ignoring her own mortality: "I'm not in a race to see who will live the longest."
Ruthe Levy, 72, said creativity is a goal, gratitude is a choice and the impediments of aging only make her more determined to be appreciative.
Ann Torf, 95, keeps the hundred or so greeting cards from her last birthday in a paper sack near her favorite chair, and plucks some out every day for "a dose of happiness and joy and kindness. That's the best medicine there is."
It wasn't a quiet death
As for Blumer, her husband Nathan, 91, decided to laze a bit longer in bed on a November Sunday 14 years ago.
She read the newspaper, ate breakfast, went to rouse him and discovered that she had become a widow.
A call to 911 brought forth five Oak Park police officers and two EMTs, piloting an ambulance they parked in the driveway. Not long after, a neighbor tapped on the door.
Blumer assumed he was curious about the hubbub, “but no,” she wrote, “I was mistaken. He was there to say that one of the patrol cars was on fire.”
The driver had parked atop a pile of leaves. The blaze sneered at the other officers’ fire extinguishers, shattered the vehicle’s glass, melted its tires and sent a thick black plume into the sky.
By the time two fire trucks responded and doused the flames, a TV cameraman was on the grass in the middle of the street, shooting footage for that night’s newscast.
At some point in the tumult, a funeral director had arrived from a chapel in Southfield. Accompanied by her daughter-in law, Blumer visited him the next day.
“No disrespect to you, Mrs. Blumer,” he told them, “but when I came to your home yesterday and saw all those police cars and two fire engines, I thought, ‘Oh, my G-d, she killed her husband.’ “
They were laughing when they left, and she laughed again committing the story to paper.
Back to the beginning
Blumer writes in cursive on long legal pads. For the book, or for the much-beloved writing class at Meer that volunteer Shari Cohen launched two years ago, she does an early draft in pencil and then switches to a fine-point Cross pen.
“Right now, I’ve been writing about Clementine Churchill, Winston Churchill’s wife,” she said. “It’s just a fun thing to do.”
Blumer has determined, she said, that “everybody has a story to tell, and everybody’s story is different."
Approaches are as different as postures and writing implements. Truman Capote wrote in bed or on a couch. "I am a completely horizonal author. I can't think unless I'm lying down," he said.
Just sit down, or stand up, or recline, and write.
Make it a habit. Write a few paragraphs a day describing a scene or a conversation. Break the seal and let the words flow, or at least trickle.
Poof. You're a writer. "And the more you write," Robinson said, "the better you get."
Reading helps there, too. A police officer I met last spring in Melvindale, Jessica Winward, put it perfectly — "To be a better writer, be a better reader."
Pay attention to what moves you and what intrigues you and what bores you. Take notes if you're inclined, but even if you don't, you'll improve by osmosis.
Getting paid for what you write, I should note, isn't always so easy. Then again, it isn't always the point. Sometimes, words are just straining at your fingertips, and you need to let them out.
You could do that at 90, and you'd be a writer just the same. But why wait?
The authors of "Don't Write Me Off!" will sign books as part of JSL's annual Lives Well Lived event at 7 p.m. Tuesday at The J, formerly known as the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield. Other highlights will include a tribute to the late filmmaker Sue Marx and a screening of the Oscar-winning short documentary she directed with Pam Conn, "Young at Heart." For information, email [email protected].
Reach Neal Rubin at [email protected].
To subscribe to the Free Press and enjoy an endless supply of words for one low price, click here .
Richard Osman, author of The Thursday Murder Club series, visits Australia to promote his new book
On paper, a crime fiction series set in a retirement village doesn't scream global bestseller.
However, since Richard Osman published the first instalment of the Thursday Murder Club in 2020, the series has sold more than 5 million copies worldwide, including 500,000 copies in Australia.
Osman, a popular quiz show host in the UK, is in Australia for the first time to promote the series' fourth instalment, The Last Devil to Die (2023).
It's hard to overstate the success of the Thursday Murder Club, which also includes The Man Who Died Twice (2021) and The Bullet that Missed (2022).
Steven Spielberg snapped up the movie rights early on and will start filming the screen adaptation in March 2024. Osman also recently signed a four-book deal with Penguin for $19 million, which includes two Thursday Murder Club titles and two instalments of a new crime series.
While many have argued that Osman's books are part of a renaissance of 'cosy crime', it's not a tag Osman welcomes.
"Cosy crime doesn't seem to quite cover it."
Bad things happen in his novels, he says.
"[My books] make people laugh, and I think critics find that quite difficult."
Write what you read
Osman, a long-time fan of crime fiction who cites Patricia Highsmith as his favourite author, always wanted to be a writer.
"I've always read crime fiction, which is why I write it. I think you have to write what you read," he says.
"I wrote Thursday Murder Club because I was looking for a particular type of book, and I couldn't quite find it."
The inspiration for Coopers Chase — the home of the Thursday Murder Club — came from a real-life retirement village Osman once visited in the English countryside.
However, he says the four central characters of The Thursday Murder Club represent "the four quarters" of his brain.
There's Elizabeth, an ex-spy; Joyce, a former nurse; Ibrahim, a psychiatrist; and Ron, who worked as a trade unionist.
The unlikely friends form a formidable crime-fighting gang — and one that is helping to change the conversation around ageing.
"The one thing they've all got in common is they've got older and become invisible, but they have incredible skill sets, and they never take no for an answer," Osman says.
Anything but harmless
The Thursday Murder Club pushes back against the idea that people over 70 have nothing of value to contribute.
"We worship at the altar of youth," Osman says.
Pop culture often depicts senior citizens as harmless and peripheral to the action — but in the Thursday Murder Club, they are anything but.
The quartet's worldliness turns out to be a great asset and rich fodder for a crime fiction novel.
"When you're 75, there are lots of downsides," Osman acknowledged in a 2020 interview with ABC RN's The Book Show .
"You're around grief a lot, and loss and physical incapability, but you have such life experience, and you've dealt with every type of person. You've seen it all before."
As the Thursday Murder Club's success attests, Osman's audience relishes reading about a world where the antics of retirees are centre stage — evidence, he says, that readers were ready for a different depiction of old age.
"I think that I was really pushing an open door. As soon as these characters came along, who were older and felt like heroes … everyone went, 'Oh, finally, and about time'," he says.
"I think everyone was completely ready for it."
Tackling a taboo topic
In The Last Devil to Die, Osman takes on the troubling issue of dementia as the forgetfulness of Elizabeth's erudite husband Stephen descends into something more serious, severing his connection with the present.
Even though Osman says most families have experienced dementia, including his own, the debilitating condition is often considered a taboo topic — something the author wanted to address.
"We don't talk about it too much — it's so frightening," he says. "I wanted to give a character real dignity and respect and try to talk about it openly and honestly."
Stephen's experience of dementia was inspired by Osman's conversations with his grandfather before his death from a dementia-related illness.
"I wanted to try and get inside a character's head in tribute to my grandfather," he says.
Although his grandfather's decline was accompanied by great sadness, Osman says there was a lot of love and laughter, too.
"Love was the thing that endured … He felt loved, and he knew he loved you, and I wanted to get that across."
The Thursday Murder Club meets the Da Vinci Code
Osman will spend 2025 working on the first book of a new series centred on a detective agency run by a woman and her father-in-law.
"The daughter-in-law has a real jet set life — she's a close protection officer to billionaires, so she spends her life in Dubai and Macau and all over the world. And the father-in-law lives in a sleepy village and has no interest in ever going abroad," Osman says.
Like the father-in-law, Osman is happiest at home — "I'm not really a globetrotter," he says — and saw the dramatic potential in sending a homebody on "a Da Vinci Code-esque worldwide murder hunt".
He's also excited by the narrative possibilities presented by setting a novel in a detective agency.
"With a detective agency, someone can literally knock on the door of your office and give you your plot. They can say, 'Can you please solve this please?' In the first Thursday Murder Club, I'm not able to do that," Osman says.
But despite his plans to pen a new series, Osman has no intention to retire his much-loved crime-fighting quartet.
"I love those characters," he says.
"They've given me an awful lot, and I'm so deeply fond of them, and I love spending time with them, so I'll keep going for a very, very long time, I promise everybody that."
The Last Devil to Die by Richard Osman is published by Penguin Random House.
Richard Osman is appearing in conversation with Sydney Writers' Festival Artistic Director Ann Mossop at Sydney Town Hall on Tuesday, November 14, 2023.
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