No matter what you feel about the age-old debate of ‘teaching creative writing’, one thing is true, a good grounding in the technical side of writing will make you a better writer. ‘Show, don’t tell’, has almost become a cliché but if you are unable to ‘tell’ a story in the best way possible your writing will suffer.
After years of editing at BubbleCow we have read and absorbed hundreds of books about writing. This article highlights those books about writing that actually work. The aim is to give you a collection of books, which when read as a whole, will make you a better writer. The criteria for inclusion on the list is that they support the three principles on which we teach and edit.
- A modern simplicity and clean writing style.
- The importance of using dialogue and action to tell the story (show, don’t tell).
- The essential nature of structure (3/5 act).
On Writing by Stephen King
The first and final sections, of this three part book are autobiographical. They add meat to the bones of King’s ‘creation myth’ and provide an insight into his life as a writer and the process he went through to see his work in print.
It is the middle section where the real value lies. In this section, King talks about the technique of writing, in the process offering very practical advice, which you will be able to apply to your own work. He talks in depth about the importance of restraint in your writing, focusing on ways to cut back to the essence of your story (less is more). He also delves into the idea that storytelling is a kind of telepathy, where the writer must transfer the images in their mind to the mind of the reader.
Story by Robert McKee
Robert McKee is a very successful screenwriter and this is a book about screen writing, but PLEASE don’t let this put you off. Since high quality writing is all about dialogue and action, rather than narration, this book is highly relevant to all writers.
This book will teach you the nuts and bolts of writing. It will teach the importance of structure, explain characterization and demonstrate how to use ‘beats’ to write dialogue. Even after years of writing and editing, I still refer back to this book on an almost daily basis. It will take you years to fully absorb the nuances of McKee’s teachings, but just one read will make you a better writer.
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
Structure is an essential part of writing a novel. The most common structure is a 3 or 5 Act format, with a beginning, middle and end. However, this book takes the concept further and examines the ‘Hero’s Journey’. This is a format that has always been used in storytelling, but one of the most well known modern examples if the original Star Wars movie.
This book is written from a writer’s point of view and takes you systematically through the process of using the ‘Hero’s Journey’. The real value you will find in this book is the detailed and pragmatic approach that is taken. Just reading the opening chapter will leave you itching to write.
Chicago Manual of Style
A ‘style manual’ is a book that sets out the rules to be used in grammar and punctuation. More importantly, it also addresses certain grey areas and offers advice on the best approach to take when you are unsure of the best way to use punctuation or present a word/phrase. Following a style manual will not only get you out of a tricky grammatical corners, but will also add a new level of consistency to your work.
One word of warning, this is a manual for American English. If you are writing for publication in a country that is not using American English, then you will need a different manual. Here’s a guide that will help.
I have chosen these books about writing with care and purpose. King’s On Writing will give you a pragmatic and accessible approach to the art of writing. Story is much more of a manual and requires time and effort to learn and apply. The Writer’s Journey will allow you to apply structure and direction to your novel. Finally, the Chicago Manual of Style will give you the support you need for any potential grammar issues. Taken as a whole these five books will teach you everything you need to lift your writing to the next level.
Disagree with this list? Think we have missed a book or two? Well just pop your thoughts in the comments…
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