Writers have to read a lot. You know that, don’t you? They have to read works in the same genre as theirs, in the same form as theirs, that targets the same audience as theirs, to get a feel for what’s publishable. They also have to read books that they like, and pick them apart word by word to come to understand why they like them.
Writers also have to learn to write. It’s a craft, a skill, just like carpentry or surgery. You wouldn’t want an electrician to do your bypass operation after watching Casualty, you wouldn’t want an office administrator sorting out joinery. So why would anyone want to read fiction or non-fiction written by someone who hasn’t learned the craft?
Luckily, like just about any skill, you can learn writing. You can’t learn creativity and imagination, but I’ve read stories with mind-blowing ideas that have been let down by poor execution, so you might as well take care of what you can and leave the rest to fate. And naturally the first step on the path to learning to write books is to read books.
I have a list that I reccommend every single time that I’m asked. Naturally there are about fifty billion books on writing that are available for you to throw your cash at, most of which have been written by people with absolutely no experience or knowledge of the subject that just regurgitate the information imparted by the books that you do need to read.
So here it is. If you’re serious, buy every last one. Read them cover to cover. Read them again. Keep them on a nearby shelf where you can reference them in a heartbeart. Then every couple of years, re-read them.
Story – Robert McKee.
I can’t harp on about the importance of this book enough. It’s quite pricey, and worth every penny. Although this book focusses on the art of storytelling mainly for Screenwriters, what it teaches is invaluable to all storytellers, no matter the media.
Solutions for Writers – Sol Stein.
Sol knows everything.
In this book, he tells you what he knows.
Robert’s Rules of Writing: 101 Off-Beat Lessons Every Writer Should Know – Robert Masello.
Masello’s “rules” are more “strong suggestions” that you’d be wise to listen to. He’s pithy, sarcastic, humorous, and spot on.
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy – Orson Scott Card.
Widely recognised as the best book on the subject.
The Insider’s Guide to Getting Your Book Published – Rachael Stock.
Only useful to UK residents. For US residents there a thousand and one books on this subject.
Rachael has been a publisher in the UK for many years, and her insights into the process and business are fantastic. Any writer who wants to be published here should read it.
If your intended output is Screenplays, then you need Syd Field. That should go without saying, but I’m saying it anyway. Start with Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, a revised version of which was published in 2005, and move on from there.