There’s a trend going around on Facebook where everyone lists 10 concerts they’ve attended (or nine concerts and one lie). I won’t jump on that bandwagon; instead, I decided to list 10 books—and I have read all—that I recommend for fiction writers.
1. On Writing by Stephen King. Part memoir and part writing lessons, this is a must-read for any writer.
2. How Fiction Works by James Wood. This is a little more high-brow than King. In just the first few pages, Wood references Tolstoy, Jane Austen, and Henry James. Very good lessons regarding characterization and narration.
3. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. While read mostly by genre authors, this book has solid lessons for everyone wanting to take their novel to the next level.
4. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. This is not editing as in checking your grammar and spelling, but editing that helps you fix dialogue and narrative distance, with writing exercises at the end of each chapter. It’s an invaluable book.
5. The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell. This has important lessons on doing self-edits at the macro and micro level, but also is a favorite of mine for its long section showing how F. Scott Fitzgerald and his editor, Max Perkins, edited Fitzgerald’s works.
6. Elements of Fiction Writing: Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickham. Books often stall when they have scenes that don’t move the story forward. Bickham breaks down scenes, what needs to go into each one, what sort of variations are possible, and how to effectively connect one scene with another.
7. The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman. Written by a literary agent, this book shows you why you must grab an agent by the first five pages—and what the most common mistakes are in manuscripts. If you hope to publish traditionally, read this book!
8. The Best Punctuation Book, Period by June Casagrande. Writers are often confused about grammar points, especially when it comes to punctuation. Part of the problem may be that style guides and even dictionaries provide conflicting information. Casagrande breaks it down for us, with a Punctuation Panel that gives advice when there’s no definitive answer.
9. The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation by Bryan A. Garner. What’s that? You still want to geek out even more on grammar? This is the book for you, then, with clear explanations and definitive rulings.
10. Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living by Manjula Martin. Everyone knows that writers don’t get into the business to make money. Here, through essays and interviews, well-known writers talk about their journey, some even discussing the financial side in detail. It was eye-opening.
I’m always looking for new books on the craft of writing and editing. What are yours?
Lourdes Venard is a freelance editor and copyediting instructor.