The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers (2nd Edition), Christopher Vogler. The title makes the book sound academic and theoretical, but it’s not. Vogler’s prose is easy to digest. He participated in writing the movies Star Wars and The Lion King, and his book is a classic for screenwriters. Vogler understands story structure—elements of stories from earliest mythology which have reappeared in stories through the ages because they resonate with listeners and readers. Writers who digest Vogler’s concept of story elements will dramatically improve their fiction.
The Art of Dramatic Writing, Lejos Egri. The author discusses how dramatic writing is the “creative interpretation of human motives.” He talks primarily about stage plays, but almost everything Egri says applies to fiction. This is a classic and necessary book for fiction writers.
Scene and Structure, Jack Bickham. Bickham describes how to construct fiction with scene-by-scene flow, logic, and readability. Arguably Bickham’s most valuable book, it divulges the nuts and bolts of crafting a story. This is one of a series of books on writing published by Writer's Digest Books. Others are Beginnings, Middles and Ends; Conflict, Action and Suspense; and Description. More books by Jack Bickham are listed below.
The Basic Patterns of Plot, Foster-Harris. This journalism professor and multi-published writer founded a creative writing laboratory at the University of Oklahoma. Here he addresses the ingredients and patterns of plots and gives specific examples. Earlier in his career, he wrote The Basic Formulas of Fiction.
Techniques of the Selling Writer, Dwight Swain. Swain followed Foster-Harris at the University of Oklahoma. His book is helpful and specific on the creation, execution, and selling of fiction. Particularly enlightening is Swain’s description of writing a novel in scenes and sequels.
Don’t Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden. By discussing twenty-four fiction techniques, Roerden shows writers how to avoid the pitfalls of mediocre writing—“clues” that signal agents and publishers that “this writer is an amateur” and renders their manuscripts “dead on arrival.” She gives examples of how 130 published authors, mostly mystery writers, have fixed these problems. Plentiful examples and insightful comments make her readable book invaluable to fiction writers. Her book won the Agatha Award for Best Non-Fiction. She is bringing out a new version which incorporates new examples from more writers. For more information about her new book, click here.
Writing and Selling Your Novel, Jack M. Bickham. The faculty member of the University of Oklahoma’s creative writing program who followed Dwight Swain, Bickham reinforces Swain’s methods and adds examples and brain-piercing instruction to create a valuable tool for fiction writers.
Get That Novel Started and Get That Novel Written, both by Donna Levin. These books, published by Writer's Digest Books, are designed for beginners, but all novelists will discover new ways to view their work and fix problem areas.
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner. The author gives a helpful overview of fictional theory and variety. Gardner also addresses elements of fiction.
The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Novel Writing, Editors of Writer’s Digest. Various writers address the elements of fiction: action, character, setting, and plot. By considering other writers’ views and styles, the reader views her/his own work in a different light and can make it richer. This is a good book to read after you’ve been working on your novel for a while.
The 39 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them), Jack M. Bickham. This is a quick read and good check list for one’s work.
Writing Mysteries, a Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America, Ed. Sue Grafton. This compilation of articles, each on some aspect of writing mysteries by various professionals in the field, illustrates goals that mystery writers seek and the problems they face. After you read an author’s mysteries, it is intriguing to read his/her discussion of them. Students are guaranteed to come away with new understanding of various writing techniques.
How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey. Frey’s no-nonsense guide seems most useful during the time the novelist is creating his/her novel. At that point, Frey piques the novelist’s mind about avenues to explore and areas not to overlook.
Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott. This is the book to read when your writing sags, your spirit droops, and you wonder why you ever wanted to write. Lamont’s quirky, painfully honest, lyrical prose about her own writing reminds you why you love to write.
The Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book, Susan Page. Primarily geared to nonfiction writers, this book has pearls useful to fiction writers in understanding that publishing is a business and that promoting a book ranks equally with the quality of its prose in determining a book’s success.
The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit, Elizabeth Lyon. Lyon reveals particulars that other authors do not address regarding preparing and selling manuscripts. She tells how to prepare a query letter and synopsis that will entice agents/editors to read the manuscript.
On Writing, Stephen King. Whether or not you applaud King’s subject matter or his language choices, he is a very skilled writer. To craft fiction, he teases a story out of a situation. For him, this method precedes character creation. He talks about images of place, about action, pacing, and dialogue, and about the purpose and necessary amount of description. Once his story is written, King tells how he injects symbols and brings out themes. He discusses revision and zeros in on elements of style and punctuation that distinguish the amateur from the professional. No fiction writer should miss this book.