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12 Must Read Books for Novel Writing Advice


Almost everyone has thought about writing a novel at some point in their lives. Competitions like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) attract hundreds of thousands of participants every year, and thousands upon thousands of books have been written about how to follow in their author's footsteps.

There are books that are specifically about the act of writing a novel, and while those provide useful advice, there are other ways of learning how to write prose fiction. The list below ranges from the mechanics of poetry to the components of screenwriting -- because while novels are their own separate category, good fiction and good writing come from the same place.

How to write a novel step-by-step

  1. Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass
    The first entry on the list is purely practical – if you want to know how to write a novel in the most broad and hands-on way, this is the (work)book for you. Donald Maass complies a number of lists and exercises to walk you along the appropriate path. At the end of it, you'll almost certainly have a novel sitting on your hard drive.
  2. Structuring Your Novel Workbook by K.M. Weiland
    Another workbook with exercises and checklists to help you get to the nitty-gritty of novel writing. Structuring Your Novel Workbook is the fourth book of an eight book series by author KM Weiland, an excellent instructional series, and can be used independently of the other texts. Versatile, and chock full of useful information.
  3. Save The Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody
    The book title says it all – it takes the screenwriting book Save The Cat! (discussed later) and adapts it for novels. Using a fifteen plotpoint structure and invaluable advice, Save The Cat! Writes a Novel uses the spareness of screenwriting to help people get through the difficult parts of novel writing.
  4. Ready, Set, Novel!: A Workbook by Lindsey Grant, Tavia Stewart-Streit, and Chris Baty
    The perfect companion to NaNoWriMo (written by founder Baty, former Program Director Grant, and Operations Manager Stewart-Streit), this book will give you plenty of tools and tricks to bust through the most difficult bits of creative block and write the work you've always dreamed of.

Novel-writing adjacent

  1. Save The Cat! by Blake Snyder
    Save The Cat! is an intensely practical guide to the structure of screenwriting. It eschews much of the artistry around screenwriting for a step-by-step mechanical breakdown of what good screenplays purportedly contain. How does this help with novel-writing? One, by introducing the spareness and functional nature of screenwriting as a concept. Two, by reminding potential authors that art is craft, and craft creates magic, not the other way around.
  2. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field
    Syd Field's Paradigm worksheet is perhaps the most widely known and widely used screenplay structure in the filmmaking world, and Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting does a wonderful job of explaining its utility. It blends practical advice with trenchant examples from movies throughout history, giving an aspiring writer of any type things to reverse-engineer and internalize to help them write better fiction.
  3. The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms by Eavan Boland
    The Makings of a Poem goes in-depth on the technical aspects of poetry writing, giving a writer the rules and tools of the trade – a trade that is about using precise language to describe abstract ideas, creating emotional experiences using oft-rigid structure. That is novel-writing at its best, and the poets have a lot to teach.

Writing as a lifestyle

  1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
    The best memoir on writing, On Writing has endured since its publication twenty years ago. Stephen King delves into the mechanics of English, gives useful and insightful advice to aspiring writers, and discusses what his life has been like as he wound his way through his career. A must-read for anyone looking for a glimpse into the life of a professional writer.


  1. The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition by William Strunk and E.B. White
    Anybody who's taken a single writing class has heard of Elements of Style. A classic instructional text, it is 105 pages of time-tested rules and advice that improve any writer's prose. First published in 1918 at 43 pages and expanded to its current size in 1999, it covers a wide variety of ideas from use of the active voice to not over-explaining.
  2. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King
    Authors Browne and King, best known for their work with The Editorial Department, have created a book that teaches you essentially everything you need to know about editing your own work. All good writers know that the real work begins with revision, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers teaches you how to do that.
  3. Intuitive Editing: A Creative and Practical Guide to Revising Your Writing by Tiffany Yates Martin
    Author Tiffany Yates Martin has worked with major players in publishing – through her own company and through places like the New York Times and USA Today – and brings that experience to help authors of all levels. Accessible, simple, and clear, Intuitive Editing is a comfortable journey through becoming your own best critic.
  4. Dreyer's English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer
    Drayer's English is written by the copy chief and managing editor of Random House, one of the biggest publishers in the world. It contains a storied career of advice on using the rules of English grammar to create the best and most clear prose possible. An interesting and engaging look into a usually staid subject.
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