It’s a while since I wrote a blog containing writing advice, that’s for sure.
2012, I started. Way, way back when that first novel, What We Saw, was still in production. Why did I blog about writing itself when I was just a beginner writer? Mostly because I was told that was the best thing to do.
And although looking back, I can acknowledge the flaws of that approach, I made some good friends and taught myself a lot about the blogging process to boot.
Five years later, what’s changed?
Well, I’ve written a ton of fiction books, for one. Like, a ton.
Not only that, but I’ve been writing fiction full-time for a living for the best part of those five years. Yes, for a living. Yes, it’s the only job I do. No, I don’t have a “real job”. No, I’m not wasting away.
In those five years, I feel like I’ve learned a few things. I feel like I have something to say. I burned out on non-fictional blogs a long time ago, hence you haven’t read one from me for a while.
But I feel like seeing as I have some sales to back up my words, I’d start with a simple guide to the five best books on writing I’ve ever read.
And I’ve read a lot.
The outcome of this post is simple. If you want to become a better storyteller and a better all round writer, I’d recommend reading these books. If you want to improve your craft, I’d recommend reading these books. If you want to write fiction that readers will enjoy, I’d recommend reading these books. You don’t have to agree with every word in them. I certainly don’t.
But reading them alone will improve your craft and your ability.
And implementing that advice… well, it might just sell you a few novels.
These five books are the best books for any writer at any stage and any level. If you haven’t read them, you can learn something from them.
I’m going to go through them in an order that may not seem logical, but I believe there is a kind of logic to this madness. It doesn’t really matter why I’ve gone with this order; you’ll see when you come round to reading and implementing the advice.
Without further ado…
1.) Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
Story Engineering is a fantastic guide to craft.
It covers what author Larry Brooks calls the “six core competencies” of successful writing. Those are: concept, character, theme, structure, scene structure and writing voice.
Learn about these six areas, mix them together, and you’ll have a very satisfying story indeed.
The most useful aspect of this book, for me, is its approach to story structure. It’s a kind of twist on the three-act structure, but the method that really clicked for me.
Once you see the structure laid out in front of you, you’ll start seeing it everywhere. So be warned. This book may well change story for you forever.
And it’ll also change you stories for the better.
2.) Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker
Whether you’re an outliner or not, Take Off Your Pants is one of the most intuitive approaches to planning a novel available on the market.
Libbie breaks the process down into easy-to-understand stages. For me, this book really helped the “character” and “theme” competencies from Larry’s book click, so I’d definitely treat them both as a pair that can help your outlining.
And if you aren’t a planner? Don’t worry. There’s still plenty to learn about some of the key aspects of character and theme here, as well as some really handy tips on scene construction.
And hey. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up converting to the ways of planning just as I did many a year ago…
3.) Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain
If you only read one chapter in this book, read Chapter 3: Plain Facts About Feelings. It’s worth the price of admission alone.
In this chapter, Dwight goes breaks down the idea of Motivation-Reaction units, which although sounding paralysing upon reading, are actually a whole lot simpler to implement in practice. To the point that soon, they become second nature.
They’ll also make you a clearer, better writer.
The rest of the book is full of gems, too. I like the stuff on characters, especially about giving secondary characters tags, that kind of thing.
Really great book. Read it, implement the teachings, your fiction will benefit.
4.) 5,000 Words Per Hour by Chris Fox
Okay, although I’ve never come close to hitting the kind of total my friend Chris talks about, 5,000 Words Per Hour is a great little guide to not only writing faster, but writing smarter.
In the book, he breaks down the best ways to make the most of your writing time. He discusses the elimination of distractions, the setting up of your “tortoise enclosure”, and even the best ways to handle those pesky edits.
Incorporate the principles from Chris’ book and you will find yourself writing more, and writing better.
Isn’t that what we all want, after all?
5.) Craft Tips by Russell Blake
Okay, not technically a book per se. But Russell Blake’s five blogs on craft are some of the most worthwhile pieces of reading on fiction writing–and writing in general–that I’ve come across.
In the blogs, he talks about five things: mission-driven scene writing; incorporating senses into writing; how to write more efficiently; best approaches to dialogue; and character arcs.
Worth it for the first two blogs alone. I’ll let you read them in full. Bear the idea of mission-driven scene writing and incorporating all the senses into your scenes–through the eyes of the character (important)–and your fiction will immediately become more engaging.
And there you have it. Plenty of reading material, plenty to practice.
And I promise that if you do incorporate even some of the advice in these books, you’ll write better fiction. Period.
Shameless plug: I have a new series out. If you enjoyed this blog, or found any value from any of my blogs EVER, consider dropping a couple of dollars on it, or one of my other stories.
It’s called When Darkness Falls. You can read about it here.
Until next time… whenever that may be.