Favorite Books on the Craft

No one can teach you to write a really fine novel. I take that back. They can teach it, but your novel may still flounder. It’s all in the gestalt of your finished story. It’s up to you to make the artistic choices.

However,  the tools of the novelist are fairly basic. You should master them, and one way is to read (and take classes on) different approaches. Each teacher will come at things like plot and character and subplots a little differently. But they all talk about the same set of tools. That being the case, it’s time to start building your library!

Here are a few of my faves, sort of in order of complexity:

  • How to Tell a Story, Peter Rubie & Gary Provost
  • How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey
  • The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler
  • Manuscript Makeover, Elizabeth Lyon
  • The Weekend Novelist, Robert J. Ray
    • I am now reading Ray’s fabulous new book, The Weekend Novelist Rewrites, and will be reviewing it here in coming weeks.
  • Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass
  • The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass
  • Story Structure Demystified, Larry Brooks (ebook) **particularly recommended**
  • Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting,  Robert McKee.

A little warning, perhaps obvious: No matter how much you may admire a how-to book, be prepared to follow your instincts. Remember, everything is in service to the story. Your story. Don’t force it.

4 Responses

  1. “Writing by Design” also very insightful, and encouraging. Bob McKee’s STORY is the bible of all things story, great that you mentioned it,

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nick Burnette, Kay Kenyon. Kay Kenyon said: How do you write a novel? I dunno. But I posted on my 8 favorite books on the topic. http://tinyurl.com/327kd94 […]

  3. Don Moir says:

    John Truby’s book on Art of Story deserves a spot on the list, too.

  4. Kay says:

    That’s a good one. A lot of people love Truby’s approach. For me, it is over-complicated and a bit too confining. Worth reading, though, to see what you can take away from it that might address issues you know you have. That’s a learning approach that I call “diagnostic.” That is, you look at your draft story, or better yet, story outline, and identify what to *you* is a killer issue, and then see how various teachers would solve it.

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