Whether you write suspense, romance, fantasy or non-fiction, here are some useful starting points to elevate your craft.
1 | On Writing by Stephen King
You don't have to like horror stories to get to grips with Stephen King's advice. You don't even need to have read one of his books – although with his list of bestsellers, it's unlikely you won't have encountered at least one before. Broken down into three succinct sections, King takes you through his background and passion for writing in CV, to tools of the trade in Toolbox, and finally, to how to refine your prose in On Writing. Completely accessible, with colloquialisms like "fuhgeddaboutit" and "I figured the shorter the book, the less bullshit", King is the ideal mentor to introduce you to the world of examining your writing seriously, without taking yourself too seriously.
2 | Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
Okay, so you may be thinking, "Hollie, I'm a novelist, why are you recommending a screenwriting book?"
The answer to that, my razor-sharp friend, is: screenwriters are masters of structure. They pin their turning points down to the minute. Of course, that's easy to do when you're working with video, but the principles of creating and maintaining momentum can still be applied to books. This one may feel like you've entered a world of madness, but if you separate the wood for the trees and focus in on the Beat Sheet's, you'll learn to notice the effectiveness of conflict and well-timed turns. It will also help if you struggle with feeling overwhelmed by the sheer scale of writing a novel, by breaking down the story into smaller sections – you can map out roughly what happens not only in each Act, but whittle your chapters down into the relevant turning points. This one was truly groundbreaking for me.
3 | The Five Minute Writer by Margaret Geraghty
As sad as it sounds, we can't all be full-time writers. In fact, most authors juggle multiple commitments to keep their heads above water. That's why Geraghty's book is a godsend. Full of informative writing discussions followed by five-minute exercises, this one is great for writers who are looking to build a writing routine and/or enjoy writing from prompts. The best way to learn is to get stuck in and that's exactly the opportunity offered here. No judgements. No punishments. Just a chance to experiment and express. Swap five minutes of your daily social media scrolling for one of these exercises and you're sure to reap the benefits.
Bonus Book: any story that you enjoy
Regardless of if the work is designed to improve your writing or storytelling, if it's a piece you love, it's useful. Whether it inspires you to create like-minded characters or strange new worlds, or if you like the writer's pacing and sentence structure – if it inspires you, take a deeper look and figure out why. What can you learn and what can you borrow? This is especially useful if you're struggling with a particular idea, chapter or paragraph. For a story I set in Victorian London, I wanted my characters to use colloquial dialect within the text. So, I turned straight to good ol' Dickens to see how he brought his characters to life with his dialogue – just like that, the glue between my fingers began to dissolve and soon, I was typing away. This is your story, so do what works for you.
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