My favorite books on Writing for Aspiring Authors

When I first started writing The Soul Mender I was beginning from scratch. Not in the sense that I had a blank piece of paper and a pen waiting to get to work, as that applies to all authors, but rather that I didn’t know a whole lot about the craft of writing, or some of the elements of storytelling that need to be in every good book.

I could tell you the scientific name of a Largemouth Bass and write a pretty solid research paper on the proper management of a catfish pond, but somehow that just wasn’t the same as developing characters or plotting storylines.

But as I had a story in me that needed to be told, I searched out other books on the craft of writing to help teach me about presenting my story in a way that both carried my message, and entertained the reader.

I have a bookshelf full of various writing tomes ranging from dull and redundant to inspiring and educational. I want to share my top four favorite books on writing with other aspiring authors, so that they can avoid some of the useless info, and go straight to the stuff that works.

1)   On Writing by Stephen King

What I love about this book is the personal anecdotes intermingled with writing advice. King lists the struggles he faced in his journey alongside his thoughts on adverbs, dialogue, and clichés. The book (which is a memoir) reads more like an uplifting story than an educational tool, yet each time I read it, I feel that I’ve learned something and feel more positive about my own writing. If you are about to get started on your first book, PLEASE take a moment to read On Writing. It will help you avoid some pretty common mistakes, as well as pump you up to change the world with your words.

Favorite Quotes:

“So okay― there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You've blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot if difference. They don't have to makes speeches. Just believing is usually enough.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“Words create sentences; sentences create paragraphs; sometimes paragraphs quicken and begin to breathe.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

2)   The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

Admittedly, I have not finished this long and dense book, however the sections that I have read are so well done and informative, I can hardly wait to see what else I will glean from its pages. While King’s book focuses more on the craft of writing, The Hero With A Thousand Faces focuses on the art of storytelling, and the need mankind has felt since the beginning of time to use stories to understand life and ourselves. This book takes you through storytelling from the beginning of time, and introduces the universal themes and ideas that are still necessary to breathe life into a good book.

Favorite Quotes:

“It is only when a man tames his own demons that he becomes the king of himself if not of the world.”
Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces

“Perhaps some of us have to go through dark and devious ways before we can find the river of peace or the highroad to the soul's destination.”
Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces

“It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those that tend to tie it back.”
Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces

3)   The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White

I’ll be brief on this one. Grammar, grammar, grammar. While the others focus more on the ethereal aspects of writing, this book is plain and simply a fabulous tool to help you understand grammar. Buy it. Keep it on your desk. And use it.

Favorite Quotes:

“Omit needless words.”
William Strunk Jr., The Elements of Style / How to Speak and Write Correctly - Special Edition

“When a sentence is made stronger, it usually becomes shorter. Thus, brevity is a by-product of vigor.”
William Strunk Jr., The Elements of Style

“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
William Strunk Jr., The Elements of Style

4)   Save The Cat by Blake Snyder

I discovered this book while searching for something specific to writing trilogies. And while Save the Cat is targeted toward screenwriting, it’s amazing how much movies and books actually have in common. What is great about screenwriting books (Another helpful one is Screenwriting Tricks for Authors by Alexandra Sokoloff) is that they utilize the three Act play structure, breaking it down into detailed outlines, and pretty much give you the necessary ingredients for Act I (Book one), Act II (Book two), and Act III (Book three). Then all you as the author have to do is to make sure you fill in the blanks and connect the dots. If you look closely at every story, even standalone novels, you will be able to pick out each of the three Acts and the elements within.

Favorite Quotes:

“Save the what? I call it the “Save the Cat” scene. They don’t put it into movies anymore. And it’s basic. It’s the scene where we meet the hero and the hero does something — like saving a cat — that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him.”
― Blake Snyder, Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need

“True originality can’t begin until you know what you’re breaking away from.”
― Blake Snyder, Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need

“To be a screenwriter is to deal with an ongoing tug of war between breathtaking megalomania and insecurity so deep it takes years of therapy just to be able to say “I’m a writer” out loud.”
― Blake Snyder, Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need

The above books are great resources but, in the end, the best way to learn how to write better is to do it often, and also to read often. Every book you pick up can be a textbook, and I encourage you to see what works and what doesn’t for other authors, and transfer those conclusions to your work.

And, one of the most important things I’ve learned through all of this is that the elements of a good story are already ingrained in each of us. They are evident in every movie or TV show we watch, in every book we read. As you peruse the books I’ve listed and others, you’ll find that you know more than you don’t, and that storytelling, since the beginning of time, is almost as integral to being human as breathing.