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  • Books About Writing

    Posted by Kate Sheehan-Finn on 13 December 2022 at 19:29

    Hello everyone,

    I thought it would be good to have a thread to list favourite books about writing.

    My favourite of all time is Into The Woods by John Yorke, which is about story structure and why humans tell stories. Inspired me to believe that each of us knows how to tell a story.

    Also, I like Emma Darwin’s Writing Historical Fiction. Her blog, This Itch of Writing is fantastic too.

    Write it All Down by Cathy Rentzenbrink, is a great book about writing your personal story, and this is great for memoir writers, but it has also lots for novelists too. Accessing our own personal experiences is a great source of material fiction too.

    Hope other JW peeps will share their favourites too.

    Kate SF

    Kris Williams replied 5 months, 1 week ago 8 Members · 10 Replies
  • 10 Replies
  • Libby Leyland

    14 December 2022 at 08:40

    <div>Hi Kate</div>

    I agree – Emma Darwin’s <i style=”font-family: inherit; font-size: inherit; color: var(–bb-body-text-color); background-color: var(–bb-content-background-color);”>Writing Historical Fiction is a useful guide to writing a novel even if you’re not writing historical fiction.

    My favourite book is First You Write a Sentence by Joe Moran. Its chapters have subtitles such as ‘why word order is (almost) everything’ and ‘how to say wondrous things with plain words’.

    My most frequent go-to is a reference book – one that happens to include jokes: Tidy Up Your Prose. There’s a good Jericho Writers video too Tidy Up Your Prose with Benjamin Dreyer – Jericho Writers Benjamin Dreyer is a very entertaining and reliable guide on how to get sentences right and he also deals with the differences between American and British English.

    I’ve read John Yorke’s Into the Woods, and I can see how good it is, but my brain refuses to think about structure that way. It’s a favourite book with so many people that I know the failure is mine!

  • Libby Leyland

    14 December 2022 at 08:43

    Er, here’s a translation of the first paragraph.

    I agree – Emma Darwin’s Writing Historical Fiction is a useful guide to writing a novel even if you’re not writing historical fiction.

    • Kate Sheehan-Finn

      14 December 2022 at 09:20

      Thank you for the recommendations, Libby. I’ll check out the webinar replay. I’ve not seen that one. And will add the books to my TBR list. They both sound helpful.

      I read Into The Woods Twice. A light went on in my head when I first read it. It seemed to speak to me. But I have heard others having a similar reaction to you.

      Not sure how the gobbledygook appeared above (Haha), but thanks for the translation.

      Kate SF


  • Anthony Sementilli

    14 December 2022 at 22:26

    Oh, my, this is a wonderful topic! Where do I even begin?

    Anatomy of Story–John Truby

    -I’d advertise this as the closest thing to an all-in-one book on writing. It is a bit more skewed for screenwriting I think. But since the focus is storycrafting it is perfectly applicable to books. It is perhaps the book that has helped me the most in my approach to plotting. I’ve probably read it three times and took dozens of pages of notes on it that I still reference.

    Scene and Structure–Jack Bickham

    -This is a horribly dry book, but in spite of that I think it’s an essential read especially for beginners. So many mechanical aspects about the line-level of writing, like scene & sequel, didn’t make sense to me at all until I took the plunge with this mercifully short text.

    Secrets of Story–Matt Bird

    -One of the most unorthodox “writing” books I’ve read. Cheerfully no-nonsense, it’s a collection of 120-ish “secrets of story” that he’s observed to make a good book/movie “tick.” He doesn’t claim that they’re needed in every story (and he hasn’t found one that hits them all), but they’re *incredibly* insightful and contained multiple detailed examples of dos and don’ts. (One “secret,” for example, is “do your romantic leads have an ‘I understand you moment?’ In Beauty and the Beast, the audience begins to believe that Belle and Beast have love potential when he gives her his library. He’s the first person in the world to understand her passions. Swoon. Compare this to Ron and Hermione….they never have a deep moment of mutual understanding, hence why even JK Rowling admits its a superficial romance.)

  • Julie Ford

    15 December 2022 at 14:35

    I also have the John Truby book, Anatomy of Story. It is geared towards screenwriting, but he does reference novels and plays. It is a great resource for planning, if that is how you like to write, as he has exercises to take you through the steps.

    The book I rely on most is Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody – developed from the ideas in that famous screenwriting text, Save the Cat. It works for me, as a beginner.

  • Libby Leyland

    19 December 2022 at 11:00

    For short stories I like Reverse Engineering and Reverse Engineering II (Scratch Books). You get a small selection of contemporary stories and a Q&A with each author about how and why they wrote the way they did.

  • Derek Monckton

    28 December 2022 at 12:22

    Try this one, it has good examples and is an easy read.

    “Writing a Novel” by Richard Skinner. Published by Faber & Faber, 2018.

  • Aileen Aitken

    28 December 2022 at 16:15

    Thanks for this discussion. I am new to creative writing, having produced a few short stories and some flash fiction on a recent creative writing course which I enjoyed very much. I am currently working on producing more short stories and more flash fiction. I like the reference someone gave for short story writers especially. As a beginner I enjoyed Stephen King’s “On Writing” and I am also dropping in on some of Samuel R Delany’s “About Writing” essays which explore interesting themes.

  • patti carter

    18 September 2023 at 12:01

    Great idea for a thread.

    As a newbie writer, I have found “Save the Cat’ very good for demystifying the process of writing a novel, although I appreciate that the formula might put some off. It’s also great in Audio version.

    Another book that I was recommended on a Faber course was “Creating Character Arcs” by KM Weiland. This is a lot of food for thought, and can’t be listened to as an audiobook without scrabbling for the pause button many times a minute as there is so much to reflect on. She also hosts an excellent website.

  • Kris Williams

    18 September 2023 at 12:09

    I concur with the Save the Cat recommendation. My go to when I want to get enthused is Stephen King’s On Writing. It is part memoir, which I enjoyed as a fan, but if you are just interested in the bit about writing, the second half is full of great advice, as well as a ‘writers toolkit’ section.

    All the best