In this blog, 12 Best Writing Books For Serious Writers, I recommend my favorite writing books collected the past forty-plus years as an author and screenwriter. The order is debatable but the elite status of the listed writing gurus is indisputable. Every author and screenwriter should include these books in your writer's toolbox.
The selected writing books by those who blazed the trail, men such as Dwight Swain and Jack Bickham, and younger ones such as K. M. Weiland. The order of selection is not a rating, and was selected randomly. The only conscious decision on order was to include Jack Bickham first because he had the longest and greatest influence on my writing. Otherwise, I believe serious writers should read and refer back to all twelve books.
12 Best Writing Books
Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham
Perhaps the greatest writing instructor ever, Jack Bickham showed me firsthand how to be a writer. Scene & Structure was also the first book that helped me understand the mechanics behind writing books.
As a friend of his sons, I spent much of my childhood at their place watching in awe as Dr. Bickham pecked away on his antique typewriter. I watched him writing the Apple Dumpling Gang and some of his bestsellers.
Mr. Bickham inspired me like only my father and a handful of men, and he did so without saying much. Dr. Bickham influenced me the old fashion way, by how he carried himself, his dedication to his craft, the body of his work, and through action.
The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are a writing duo who produces some of the best writing tools for authors and other writers.
I do not know Angela or Becca, except through their books and website, but consider them two of the greatest resources for writers.
Writing "experts" implore authors and screenwriters to "show don't tell" until they turn blue in the face, but Ackerman and Puglisi teach writers how to show and bring scenes and characters to life. Showing writers how to show is a difficult art and nobody does better than the Ackerman and Puglisi duo.
Techniques of the Selling Author by Dwight Swain
Having begun the discussion with his greatest protege, let's discuss the mentor himself, Dwight Swain.
As his most famous protege, Jack Bickham said, "Dwight Swain blazed the trail for the rest of us."
Techniques of the Selling Writer influenced every great writing book since.
On Writing by Stephen King
The volume and quality of Stephen's King's body of work speaks for itself. In this book, King shares his writing journey. In so doing, the book provides a wealth of information for writers. While King has fallen out of flavor with half the United State's divided political masses, this book is about writing, and this is one of the best books on the subject.
Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field
I discovered this book when it was released in 1988 or 1989. While it taught me much about how to craft screenplays, it also taught me about writing and crafting stories in any format. I reread the book recently, and the revised version is even better.
Writing Screenplays that Sell by Michael Hauge
Another screenwriting guru, Michael Hague is another tremendous teacher I discovered around the same time as Syd Field. Indeed, Hauge and Field influenced my 100+ screenplays more than any other screenwriting teachers.
How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson
Another Dwight Swain protege, Randy Ingermanson rounds out the list because his books and blog off worthy writing insight.
Other than Jack Bickham, Ingermanson's blog Writing The Perfect Scene explains Dwight Swain's scene technique as well as anybody I've read. His blog and newsletter are worth investigating while you're on his website.
You should also check out two noteworthy Ingermanson books on writing.
Story: Substance, Structure, Style, & the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee
Robert McKee is another legend when it comes to screenwriting and storytelling.
Authors can also benefit from Mr. McKee's work because of the attention to substance, structure, style, and other writing fundamentals.
He teaches all that goes into writing a good story.
Creating Character Arcs by K. M. Weiland
This is my favorite book on character arcs. K. M. Weiland has several worthy books on structure and plotting, but this is my go-to book on character arc.
You will learn not only character arc but also how to weave it around your plot.
Weiland also makes a workbook available as a supplement to Creating Character Arcs.
The Anatomy of Screenplay by John Trudy
To some extent, John Trudy took everything we knew about writing, dumped it out, and restructured it in a way nobody had seen before.
Thousands of authors and screenwriters worldwide consider The Anatomy of Story indispensable. "If you're ready to graduate from the boy-meets-girl league of screenwriting, meet John Truby," said the LA Weekly, "[his lessons inspire] epiphanies that make you see the contours of your psyche as sharply as your script."
Save the Cat by Blake Synder
Blake Synder is another legend among screenwriters. Save the Cat! is another screenwriting book authors can benefit almost as much as screenwriters.
Screenwriters must do more with less. In less than 120 pages, they must bring characters to life, unfold plot, and produce a satisfactory ending that makes people leave the theater raving about the film's execution.
Donald Maass has studied the great writing teachers.
This book ties together many of the principles of the other eleven books. Let's face it, when somebody completes reading a novel or finishes watching a movie, all that is left is how and how long it makes them feel.
This book helps authors and screenwriters develop an emotional edge in their writing.
These 12 Writing Books Most Impacted My 43-year Writing Career
If you're a serious writer, buy copies of these books and study them. I owe each of these writing gurus for much of the improvement I've achieved over my writing career. If you click below each of the writing book suggestions, I explain why each book deserves such praise.
There are at least a dozen other worthy writers whom authors and screenwriters owe much of our development, but these twelve books help me most.
I listed Jack Bickham number one because I grew up visiting his household, and later attended the University of Oklahoma where he became Dwight Swain's best and brightest protege. Dr. Bickham touched me closer and his work deeper than the others on the list, but I owe everybody on the list.
No matter your status as a writer, investing money and time in these 12 books will advance your writing more than most four-year programs.
Learning to write well requires a life devotion (or has for me), and would be a near impossible achievement without the thirteen writing gurus and those like them. As we writers travel alone in the dark, these marvelous writing instructors serve as lighthouses, helping us to avoid the treacherous rocks in our blinded path.