An author’s dream is to write the perfect novel that wows audiences and speaks to a reader’s heart and soul. We spend hours typing away, creating worlds and stories we hope will hit home with our readers. The writing craft is an act of love and art, but it’s also a developed skill. And like all skills, the best practitioners are constantly learning and honing their craft. If you want to improve your writing, check out these 9 books on the writing craft that can help you take your novel to the next level.
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Save The Cat Write’s A Novel – Jessica Brody
I’ve mentioned this book in previous posts because it’s one of my favorites.
Save The Cat Write’s A Novel is all about the 3-act story structure and how to put the right beats into your narrative. Every great story, from cultural classics to television blockbusters, follows a similar story structure. This structure enables the author to connect with their audience in powerful ways and brings the story to life for the reader or viewer.
In her book, Jessica Brody breaks down the basics of this story structure so that authors can better understand why specific beats are important, and how to mold them to fit your unique novel.
Don’t be turned off by the idea of structuring your story like popular tales. Your story can still be unique to you and also hit the familiar beats with readers that pull them in. The 3-act structure simply gives you guidelines on how to use the details of your narrative to reach your readers on a subconscious level.
I highly recommend this book as a guide to keep in the back of your mind when drafting your novel.
The Anatomy of Genres – John Truby
Selling your novel starts in the writing process. Readers gravitate towards their favorite genres when looking for a new book. They expect the books they pick up to hit the right points of that genre and satisfy their story cravings.
If you want to make sure your book is hitting all the right points for your chosen genre, you need to check out this book.
In The Anatomy of Genres, Truby talks about the importance of stories in our lives. He explains how stories use genres to help us make sense of and relate to the world around us.
Every great story uses a combination of multiple genres that the author has artfully woven together to add intrigue and depth. If you want to hit home with your readers, you MUST meet all of their expectations with the genres in your book.
Truby’s reference is easily the most comprehensive book on genres I have found, and can help you craft a novel that will wow your audience.
The Trope Thesaurus – Jennifer Hilt
Genres tell the best stories, but tropes sell those stories to readers.
Many writers get mixed up between tropes and clichés and think they have to stay away from both. But that’s just not true. Readers fall in love with well-written tropes. So, don’t shy away from including a few in your book.
Think of the most popular stories around today – Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Lord of The Rings. These stories layer multiple tropes into the narrative strategically and audiences gobble them up!
In The Trope Thesaurus, Hilt gives you a guide to why tropes work and how to include them in your story without feeling cliché. She goes into detail about which tropes are most important for specific genres and why readers love them so much. She also gives you helpful tips on how to use them strategically, so they hit a home run with your reader.
If you are looking for that “little extra something” to add to your novel that will pull readers in, check out The Trope Thesaurus.
1000 Strong Verbs – Valerie Howard
Do you ever struggle to find the right verb to strengthen your writing and paint a clearer picture for the reader? This little booklet is a life-saver for any writer who wants to improve the action words in their narrative.
In this book, Howard explains the difference between weak verbs and strong verbs and why they make such an impact on your writing. Then, she gives a comprehensive list of strong action words that can help make your writing shine.
I recommend having this book on hand when going through your first few editing passes. When something in your book doesn’t feel quite right, you can look up other verb options and find something that works better.
I also recommend Howard’s other book, 1000 Helpful Adjectives, for help with setting those entrancing scenes for your reader.
The Emotion Thesaurus – Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
We’ve all been told a hundred times to “show not tell” in our writing. But when you’re in the middle of crafting your story, that’s easier said than done. It’s okay if you lean more towards “telling” in the first few drafts. The goal at the beginning is just to get the story down. But as you edit, focus on turning those “tells” into pictures and experiences for the reader.
This is especially important when showcasing character emotions. Our job as writers is to take our audience on a journey and make them feel like they are part of the story. They need to relate to your characters and feel what those characters are feeling. To make this happen, we use cues to guide our readers into the feelings we want them to experience as they read.
The Emotion Thesaurus can give you a starting off point for describing character emotions through their actions and choices, rather than simply “telling” the reader what that character is feeling.
This book will help you describe character’s emotions more effectively by giving examples of expressions, reactions, and other behaviors that you can use in your writing. Ackerman and Puglisi detail the subtle clues that will tip your reader off about how a character is feeling and give them the opportunity to relate.
If you struggle with “show vs tell” in your writing, The Emotion Thesaurus is a necessity.
The Conflict Thesaurus – Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
The same writers who brought us The Emotion Thesaurus, also created The Conflict Thesaurus. This book is another resource in their line of 9 “Writers Helping Writers” texts. All the books in this series are helpful tools, but The Conflict Thesaurus is a must-have for any writer who wants to keep their readers flipping pages as quickly as possible.
Conflict in a story keeps the narrative moving and draws readers in. Both internal and external conflicts should weave together to create complex situations that keep the audience engaged and craving resolution.
This book presents a myriad of conflict options and ideas that can help you keep your plot moving. It also gives great examples and suggestions for increasing conflict and tension in various situations. The Conflict Thesaurus is a great resource of ideas for when you need to raise the stakes in your book.
Your First Fifteen Pages – Sandra O’Donnell
This book is short and sweet but packs a lot of good information into a powerful guide for writers. Your First Fifteen Pages covers the elements agents and publishers look for in the first few chapters of your manuscript.
This book is an invaluable guide for authors hoping to publish their work through a traditional publisher. However, even those planning to Indie Publish will gain a lot of insight on what hooks a reader right off the bat, and keeps them engaged enough to keep reading past the first few chapters.
O’Donnell gives valuable insight on how the beginning of your book should be a set-up for the rest of the novel. She provides tips on the inciting incident and how it should play into the plot, and even touches on character development and setting the scene. O’Donnell finishes up with tips on what agents and publishers are looking for and how to wow them with your manuscript.
This book is small, but will easily be one of the most helpful books on your shelf.
The Making of A Story – Alice LaPlante
This is a huge hunk of a book that could probably be used as a weapon just as easily as a reference tool.
The Making of A Story is like a creative writing course all on its own. If you are ready to delve deep into the science of storytelling and how to craft an amazing tale, this is the book for you.
LaPlante covers everything from how to create detailed imagery in your writing to the basics of plot development, dialog, and how to practice “show vs tell.” She also provides exercises and examples at the end of each section to help reinforce the teachings in the book.
If you want to improve your writing, but you aren’t sure where to begin, this book will give you a step-by-step guide on how to create a story that readers will love.
The Writer’s Journey – Christopher Volger
This book is an excellent reference tool for learning how to develop an intriguing story using Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey.”
However, The Writer’s Journey is so much more than that.
Volger created this work as an advisory piece for Walt Disney executives on how to produce a powerful story. Now, writers all over the world have used the information within these pages to create empowered narratives that inspire and enrapture readers of every genre.
Volger breaks down the elements required to tell an amazing story and also discusses how these elements show up in our daily lives. He starts with how to “map the journey”, introducing the important characters, and laying the foundation for the plot. Then, he breaks down the elements of the journey itself and explains why these pieces are so impactful to your reader.
Finally, he ties the entire book into “the writer’s journey”, explaining how the process of crafting your novel is an epic adventure all on its own. Volger’s masterpiece has been around for decades and is a staple for any storyteller’s bookshelf.
As writers, we all hope to touch our reader’s lives with something memorable and impactful. Writing an amazing story is as much an art form as it is a skill. But, just like a talented painter spends hours studying strokes with his paintbrush, so should writers study their craft and aim to improve.
These nine writing craft books are some of the most valuable references on the market. Anyone looking to grow as a novelist and create better stories will find support and guidance within these pages.
These books will help you structure your novel to bring maximum impact to your audience, and guide you as you edit and polish your writing. I hope you find them helpful on your author journey.