A selection of recommended books on Writing. These are some of the books I’ve found particularly helpful over the years. There are longer reviews attached via links, and more to come…
Christopher Booker – The Seven Basic Plots
This fantastic and fascinating book provides a comprehensive answer to the age-old question of whether there are only a small number of ‘basic stories’ in the world. Using a wealth of examples from ancient myths and folk tales, to plays and novels, to popular movies and TV soap operas, Christopher Booker shows that there are seven archetypal themes which recur throughout every kind of storytelling. These are: Overcoming the Monster; Rags to Riches; The Quest; Voyage and Return; Comedy; Tragedy; and Rebirth. On the surface these stories seem different, but they all have key elements in common, including basic types of characters or archetypal figures. Booker also explores how stories can go wrong when they fail to express these basic archetypes, and asks why we tell stories in the first place. This book is essential if you want to understand storytelling and improve your own ability to weave a tale.
Russell T. Davies – The Writer’s Tale
A year in the life of the hit TV series Doctor Who as told by the show’s Head Writer and Executive Producer, Russell T. Davies, the man who rebooted the series and turned it into a massive worldwide sensation. The book explores in detail Russell’s work on Series Four (the one with Donna as companion to David Tennant’s Doctor) through candid and in-depth correspondence between Russell and journalist Benjamin Cook. It reveals how he plans the series and works with the show’s other writers, where he gets his ideas for plot, character and scenes, how actors are cast and other creative decisions are made, and how he juggles the demands of Doctor Who with his other writing commitments. His scripts are discussed as they develop, with detailed analysis of what works and what doesn’t. This is a glorious book that provides real insight into what it’s like being a writer.
Natalie Goldberg – Writing Down the Bones
This is a collection of short reflections on writing which show the similarity of writing practice and Zen practice. They say everybody has a book in them. Well perhaps not a whole book, but everyone certainly has stories they want to tell. Writing is a way of finding out what you think, feel and see. It’s a way to meet yourself and find out who you are. Natalie shows you how to free the writer within, offering sage and enthusiastic advice based on a two-thousand-year-old practice of studying the mind. The book can be picked up and dipped into whenever you need a boost of inspiration, or read from cover to cover. It never fails to drive me back to the page or the computer screen to dive back into my own writing practice. As Natalie says, “Now, please go. Write your asses off.”
Stephen King – On Writing
In 1999 Stephen King was hit by a van while walking along a country road in Maine. Six operations were needed to save his life. When he was finally able to sit up, he immediately started writing. This book is the result and it’s a great gift to writers everywhere. It’s part autobiography and part a collection of writing tips. He discusses his influences in books and films, and delves into his working methods to give a rare insight into how one of the best storytellers in the world actually works. His advice for writers is practical and takes you back to basics, without which nothing you write will work. I like his idea of a story being a found object, dug up like bones on an archaeological expedition. The bones don’t always come out of the ground in the right order and you must decipher the story from the fragments you have.
Eric Maisel – Fearless Creating
A guide to creativity written by psychotherapist and creativity coach Eric Maisel who breaks the creative process down into six stages and details how to overcome the various problems encountered along the way. Creating anything is always risky and this gives rise to high levels of anxiety and fear. Sometimes the hardest part of the creative process is dealing with your own doubts. This book provides valuable support and encouragement through wise advice and useful exercises at each stage of the process. The six stages are: wishing, choosing, starting, working, completing, and showing. Each of these activities is challenging in its own way, and has its own set of anxieties or inhibiting tendencies. By following the advice in this book, you can overcome your fears and find a way to bring your creative work to life. A great book for anyone who creates and guaranteed to help you work with courage and passionate discipline.
>Related: explore the Qualities of the Artist in my series Living Creatively
Dara Marks – Inside Story
This is a book for screenwriters but the advice can be applied to any story of any length. Inside Story guides you through a great process that helps you to identity your thematic intention – what your story is really about – and teaches you how to turn that intention into the driving force behind all your creative choices. The result is a profound relationship between the movement of the plot and the internal development of the characters. This is the foundation for the transformational arc which is the deeper line of structure found inside any well-written story. Working with this arc means you can express your unique point of view through your stories, give meaning to a line of action, infuse your characters with depth and subtlety, and make your stories stand out. If you want to write great stories, this is how to do it. An essential book for all writers.
Teach Yourself series:
There are tons of these self-learning books and the titles are constantly updated. Here’s a selection of some of the good ones for writers:
Matthew Branton – Write a Bestselling Thriller
Looks at each component of a thriller and breaks it down into key factors, such as the hero, antagonist, the story trigger, and how to create killer twists and satisfying showdowns. Solid basic principles that can be applied to any story.
Ray Frensham – Break into Screenwriting
A good overall reference book covering everything you need to know to put your screenplay together, from script formatting, developing ideas and character to industry, agents and pitching. Includes useful addresses and websites.
Nigel Watts – Write a Novel – and get it published
Takes you through the process from ideas, to developing plot, character and theme, to preparing the manuscript for publication. A handy reference for beginners and experienced writers.
Christopher Vogler – The Writer’s Journey
This book analyses the storytelling in films and looks at how the greatest movies have all used the principles of myth to create powerful stories. Mythology is the core of our imagination and by tapping into its power you can write stories which are dramatic, entertaining and psychologically true. Vogler’s work was inspired by the mythologist Joseph Campbell and his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces which identified the mythological hero’s journey. The Writer’s Journey details the hero’s journey and shows you how to create plot structures and characterisation that draw on this myth. Vogler illustrates how this is done using examples from some of the most successful movies: Titanic, The Full Monty, The Lion King, Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, and Pulp Fiction. This is a great reference and guide to writing well-structured stories that make psychological and emotional sense. Essential for the writer’s bookshelf.
More Writer’s Essentials – the books you can’t be without:
Strunk & White – Elements of Style
Matters of grammar and punctuation. A hard one to read cover to cover as it’s not exactly gripping. Keep it close to hand to resolve punctuation panics and grammar queries.
Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook
The only reference book you need for publishers, agents, production companies and such. Full of handy articles on writing too. No need to buy one every year – just update using the internet.
Carole Blake – From Pitch to Publication
As it says on the cover: Everything you need to know to get your novel published. Includes presenting yourself to agents and publishers, and how the publishing industry works.
Missed any good ones? Recommend a book in the comments section below…