Writing fiction can be a challenging pursuit. Many authors start down the road on books and stories but few actually finish them. In order to beat the odds and write a great story, one that will help you reach readers, you need to write. I mean, you need to write lot. Practice is the best way to master the craft of writing, but if you’re inclined, reading is a great way to accelerate the learning curve. For those writers, I have decided to lay out what I think are the best fiction writing books.
If you choose to read about the craft, which I think you should do, learning tips and tricks from some of the masters of the art form, I suggest a quick orientation on the topic of learning. Every writer requires something different to motivate their process. I respond very well to abstract thinking, a quality some books provide, while other people like detailed, process oriented instruction.
What kind of learner are you? You may not know now, but after reading a few of these, you’ll probably have a pretty good idea.
I mention this for a couple of very important reasons. One, to honor the reality that we’re all different when it comes to cognition. Another reason is that you need to put a book down if it’s not working for you. If you get a recommendation for a great writing book, pick it up, but find that what the teacher is offering doesn’t work, put it down. Don’t frustrate yourself! If I recommend a great book and it doesn’t connect for you, move on.
With that said, here are what I believe are the best fiction writing books.
A List Of The Best Fiction Writing Books
“Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story” by Ursula K. Le Guin
Anyone who has read Le Guin knows her for her strong voice, nuanced use of language. The late Le Guin, master of science fiction and fantasy, was a master storyteller and makes a critical connection, that all authors should know, in this book. That we write best about what interests us most.
“Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft” by Janet Burroway
This book is often used in creative writing classes. I’ve met and studied under Burroway and I love how she really hones down and focuses on the critical elements of the craft. I’m talking about narrative voice, point of view and effective use of dialog. This book is a deep dive but it is as approachable as books get.
“The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers” by John Gardner
Gardner is famous for being a teacher and this book is an indispensable guide. The book is meant, as the title implies, for young writers, but by hitting on often overlooked fundamentals, Gardner’s book is actually an indispensable tome for anyone seeking insight.
“Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity” by Ray Bradbury
Along with being a titanic figure in the world of fiction, Ray Bradbury as a writing teacher comes across as astoundingly insightful. Many of these essays offer one-of-a-kind pathways into the mercurial art of storycraft. Structured as a series of essays means that this book is easily picked up as an as needed guide on the journey of craft development.
“Writing In Restaurants” by David Mamet
This book is not just my favorite book about writing, it is among my all time favorite books about anything, period. Mamet, a playwright and raconteur, expertly challenges our assumptions about what makes a writer a writer. In his provocative, thoughtful manner, he makes a case for writing as a life-orienting discipline, one filled with deeply personal rewards.
The Best Fiction Writing Books… A Bonus Recommendation
“On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King
It almost feels like cheating at this point to mention Stephen King’s book, as I included it in my list of books for screenwriting, but this is an indispensable volume. King is an author without peer and this book which is part memoir, part how-to, immerses readers in the nuts of bolts of not just how to write, but what it means to be a writer.
Beyond Fundamentals – Where To Look For The Next Fiction Writing Books
The path to great writing is definitely not an easy one to travel. We as authors often struggle to nail down the fundamentals of writing and storytelling, creating frustrating detours and delays along the way.
If this is how you feel, don’t despair. Seriously. Don’t waste a minute on worrying about this.
Every writer, myself included, burns through a lot of “failed stories” on their way to the ones that work. You can’t write a classic on your first attempt. Anyone who claims to have done so is is either exaggerating, lying, or grossly misunderstands what a good story really looks like.
If you want to learn the craft and are willing to enhance that learning through educating yourself, great. You may want to consider searching for books by some of your favorite authors. The books I listed as the best are luminary, high level, written by emerging or established masters. If you don’t respond to that sort of pedigree and instead want a different direction, I recommend searching your favorite author on Amazon. See if they’ve written a craft book.
The key to learning how to write, I believe, is finding the message that helps connect you to success!