When you ask folks what are the best books for writers, odds are someone’s going to mention Stephen King’s On Writing, but that modern classic doesn’t make my top three.
Read on to see what made my top three and why.
First, a little background.
Everyone has different tastes in books. The books I like may not be the ones that you like.
And as writers, we should be spending more time writing than reading books about writing. But sometimes we need help with craft, genre, or story.
These three books focus on the art and science of storytelling, and are the most thought-provoking writing books I’ve read in the past several years.
So, without further ado, the books…
The Best Books for Writers #3
The most recent entry in my favorite writing books is Wired for Story.
This book by Lisa Cron has an interesting premise. It maps recent knowledge about how the mind works with best practices in writing a story. So it approaches story from the idea of fulfilling hard wired needs in the brain.
As described in marketing copy:
“Each chapter zeroes in on an aspect of the brain, its corresponding revelation about story, and the way to apply it to your storytelling right now.”
So here’s an example of the connection between neuroscience and story.
In chapter one, she discusses how the mind works and has evolved. She draws on neuroscience to explain that “We think in story, which allows us to envision the future.” She maps this to the story advice of “From the very first sentence, the reader must want to know what happens next.”
In other words, writing to create a sense of anticipation and puzzle (but not providing all the answers) feeds into an evolutionary survival strategy.
That strategy is to create the patterns out of fragments of information to predict the future.
The Best Books for Writers #2
The second best book for writers is The Anatomy of Story by John Truby.
This book is a master class in unlocking the DNA of story. Not only does he talk about what makes a great story, but he breaks it down into a process that a writer can use as a model to put together a novel.
I use his 22 steps to get from the point of a vague story concept to a fully fleshed out document. This working document captures theme, plot structure, character maps and relationships, and even moral development.
This book has fundamentally changed how I approach story.
After I have my story document complete, I overlay it onto a spreadsheet to create a scene weave that will carry me from the opening image to the finale. In this spreadsheet, I combine Truby’s method with those of Blake (Save the Cat) and Gullino.
I’ll share this story mapping at some point in the future.
The Best Books for Writers #1
My best book for writers is Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain.
This book was recommended to me by Mike Myers, one of my favorite editors, who I first met through Grimdark Magazine.
This is the one book you need to help clean up copy, write better, and tell a story that a reader wants to plow through. It taught me how to write a scene – properly.
This book was published in 1965 and it is still in print. It is that good.
When I have this book in my hand, I feel like I am sitting down with a writing mentor who is telling me like it is, giving me the secrets to telling a good story.
So those are the best books for writers in my opinion. What are yours?