Someone recently asked me about writing resources for improving craft, so I thought it might be useful to do a post on some of my favorites. This is by no means an exhaustive list—there are thousands of writing books out there, but these are the ones I’ve found most helpful.
Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder
Save the Cat! is actually a book on screen writing, but the information is equally helpful for novelists. It’s chock full of information on story structure and Snyder’s fifteen point beat sheet is invaluable for evaluating the pacing of your novel. I highly recommend it.
This is a great book for after your first few drafts are finished and your book is ready for a polish. It will help you weed out adverbs, tighten prose, trim dialogue tags and generally clean up your entire manuscript. The authors illustrate their points with lots of examples and also offer numerous exercises for those who like that kind of thing.
The first half of On Writing is an autobiography of sorts and the second half focuses on craft. King is a discovery writer and doesn’t believe in outlining, so his approach may resonate more with pantsers than plotters, but the craft advice is spot on.
For tightening language
Again, this isn’t a book aimed at novelists, but it has some of the best examples of trimming flabby writing that I’ve ever seen. Journalism produces some excellent novelists (Rainbow Rowell, Ernest Hemmingway, Mark Twain, Anna Quindlen) and I think one reason is because journalists are well-trained to cut the fat. Newswriting has to be crisp. There’s no room for lazy writing.
Not every word of this book applies to novelists, but you’ll be surprised how much does. Good writing is good writing regardless of whether it’s fact or fiction.
For YA and Middle Grade Fiction
Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole and Second Sight by Cheryl Klein are both fantastic books for those of us writing for children and Young Adults.
Both authors cover a wide-range of topics and have excellent advice tailored to this specific market. Read them with a highlighter in hand.
One caution I would offer on writing craft books is that they are not a replacement for the work that comes from reading a lot (fiction, not craft books) and writing a lot. Don’t fall into the trap of forever reading about writing without actually writing. Practice is the best teacher.