Priya has been previously shortlisted for the Margaret and Reg Turnill Writing Competition (2020) and the Val Wood Prize (2020).
Looking to Improve Your Writing?
Fiction writing is an art. I didn't always know this, though. For a long time, I thought a novel was created simply by typing one word after the other. But it takes more than that—it takes plotting, characterization, structure, style, voice, etc. It’s different from writing an essay or an academic paper.
So, to help all you fiction writers out there, I have compiled a list of seven practical books that will help you on this journey.
Practical Books on Fiction Writing
Science of Storytelling
Stein on Writing
Writing the Breakout Novel
Master Class on Fiction Writing
The Seven Basic Plots
Understanding Show, Don't Tell
1. Science of Storytelling by Will Storr
The Science of Storytelling pins down the important elements that make a story. It charts out these elements with the help of science, focusing on how, when, and where these elements should pop up. The book teaches you to craft three-dimensional characters. It teaches conflict—the different types of conflicts employed in novels—because, without conflict, a book is flat. And it teaches plot, setting, goals, themes, etc. The book covers all the bases that are needed to make a story, a great story, as do the other books on this list. The reason why it is on the top of my list is that it tackles these issues in greater detail, depth, and reasoning.
2. Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
This book is a go-to if you’re writing a novel. The structure of the book is the structure that you should follow when you’re plotting your novel. It has excellent chapters on characterization, plotting, and dialogue and really opens your mind to the craft of writing. It also helps you to choose the name of your book which, if I understand correctly, is quite a task in itself. On top of that, it also provides tips on writing non-fiction novels if ever you feel the need to diversify.
3. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas
Donald Maas is a literary agent and has his own Donald Maas Literary Agency in New York. So, you’d expect him to shell out some wonderful tips. This was one of the first books I had read on the topic of writing fiction. The book tackles all the elements in an engaging manner—providing extracts from different books—all the while, keeping in mind, the necessity of practice. At the end of each chapter, you will find exercises designed to sharpen your skills.
4. Hooked by Les Edgerton
If you want a commercial best-seller, one that traps the reader into your world, this is the book for you. It examines elements, styles and voices focused to keep the reader, well, hooked. And it points out everything that doesn’t do so, such as poor beginnings—the protagonist ruminating on his past, his failures, maybe even the weather—all these things keep a reader from enjoying the novel. It teaches you how to set up your story without sounding like a total bore.
5. Master Class on Fiction Writing by Adam Sexton
If you aspire to write literary fiction, then this is the book for you. It begins with understanding your protagonist and antagonists, goes on to conflicts, developments in plot, and then, climax. What I really enjoyed was the way the book tackles descriptive writing—when and where to draw the line. When is it too little? When does it too much? It also explains the point-of-view and narration in great detail. At the end of chapters, it attaches a list of books that can help you improve your understanding, much like Writing the Breakout Novel.
6. The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker
This book doesn’t per se help you to plot, but it teaches you to create an overview of every novel you have ever read. For Christopher Booker, every plot in any genre can be diluted and categorized in any of the seven plots that he has recognized. You will look at plots from a different angle. It’s a book you should read to understand your story better.
Read More From Owlcation
7. Understanding Show, Don’t Tell by Janice Hardy
The concept behind Understanding Show, Don’t Tell has been explained in all the above books. Most agents and editors focus on it because too much tell can distance the reader from the show. On the other hand, too much tell can make the book boring. While others usually reserve a chapter for this, Janice Hardy wrote an entire book on it. It is very helpful to get a grasp on this elusive concept. As Hardy explains, you need to know how and when to balance show and tell. It’s insightful and sharp and a must-read to tighten your prose.
If you pin fiction writing on Pinterest, almost every resource available online will pop up on your page, from world-building to characterization to plotting. Try it!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Priya Barua
Priya Barua (author) on April 14, 2020:
@Thanks Aishatu, glad it has helped you
Anya Ali from Rabwah, Pakistan on April 12, 2020:
Interesting post - thank you!
Priya Barua (author) on April 12, 2020:
Thanks for both your recommendations. I will certainly read them!
Prachi Sharma from Seattle, WA on April 12, 2020:
That's an awesome list. Thank you, that's just what I needed. I'd also like to add The Art of Fiction by David Lodge. It's quite helpful too.
Liz Westwood from UK on April 12, 2020:
This is a useful article for writers. I would add that following Bill Holland and reading his Writer's Mailbag weekly is very helpful. I understand that he also offers tuition to writers.