There are plenty of how-to articles, books, and resources available for writers at every stage of the writing process — so many that it can seem overwhelming. One of the most common pieces of advice from any experienced writer is this: read, read, read. And that includes reading books on how to write.
While you can’t learn everything about writing from a book — especially since every writer is different with their own style that doesn’t always have to follow the rules — there are a few titles that will be helpful if you’re struggling to get that scene just right.
1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Perhaps the most commonly recommended book from the master of horror himself, On Writing is both a memoir and a resource for writers. King stresses the importance of reading — everything from bad prose to good prose, writers you admire and writers you dislike, in every genre imaginable — in order to understand the structure of a story, and how to write a good one. Filled with personal anecdotes and specific advice about the craft, On Writing is a must-read for any writer — emerging or established.
2. Elements of Fiction Writing: Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
I’d definitely recommend this book for writers who are just starting out and trying to obtain a feel for their style and the world they create. Orson Scott Card, bestselling sci-fi author of Ender’s Game and the Pathfinder trilogy, provides a set of tools for creating vivid and memorable characters. This book is part of the Elements of Fiction Writing series published by Writer’s Digest, and other titles include Beginnings, Middles, & Ends, Scene & Structure, Conflict, Action, & Suspense, Plot, and Setting, among others.
3. The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
If you’ve taken any language arts course in school, you’re probably familiar with the hero’s journey. In The Writer’s Journey, first published in 1992, Vogler examines, translates, and deconstructs the core storytelling model used by mythologists and storytellers. Considered a “classic must-read for all storytellers” by writer Alex Ferrari, this book is specifically designed for screenwriters and filmmakers. But even if you aren’t writing a movie, this book offers detailed analyses of well-known protagonists and what makes their “hero’s journey” what it is today. This book will help you understand who your characters are, what their purpose is, and what part they play in their own story.
4. Writing with Emotion, Tension, & Conflict by Cheryl St. John
This writing reference book provides helpful and straightforward advice on elevating the (emotional) stakes in your story. When you raise the stakes, several elements of your story improve: the plot is more compelling, readers are emotionally invested in your characters (and therefore they care about what happens to them at the end), and your scenes are more exciting. The book covers realistic conflict creation, motivation, emotional triggers, character goals and feelings, using point of view, setting, and descriptions, creating tension, and more. At the end of each chapter, there are writing exercises to help you put what you learned into practice.
5. Architectures of Possibility by Lance Olsen
This book offers a wide range of experimental exercises for the writer who wants to think outside the box. Instead of reading as a how-to, this book questions traditional writing practices and encourages the reader to expand on these possibilities. No matter what you’re looking to improve, this book provides new ways of understanding advice such as “show, don’t tell,” and supplies exercises to help you rethink these techniques in your writing.
At the end of the day, choose the books that you think would be most helpful to you and your writing. If you struggle with settings, pick up a few writing books on setting or worldbuilding. If you’re trying to create the perfect dialogue between two characters, you can find books specifically aimed towards conversations in fiction. And finally, as you get further into the writing process, you can also find books on revising, editing, querying, and manuscript submission.
is an avid reader and passionate writer from Colorado. She studied creative writing and journalism at the University of Denver and graduated in 2021. She has worked with the Denver Quarterly literary journal, written for the DU Clarion, and currently works with Spring Cedars Publishing.