7 Books to Improve Writing Techniques and Craft

I’ve posted about taking the time to learn the writing craft before, because writing is not about innate talent; it’s about hard work. Here are seven resources to improve your skills, written by authors who are fantastic at teaching the craft. These are not about the writing life or inspirational tomes, but books full of concrete information and specific techniques you can apply to your writing.

1. Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland

This is one of the most useful books I've ever read on novel writing, which is why it's at the top of my list. I didn't believe that the majority of bestsellers follow a simple structure until I checked some of my favourite books against Weiland's descriptions, and found that they do. Weiland includes specific examples from well-known books to demonstrate each of her points and explains how following these basic guidelines can improve your novel's pacing and progression.

2. Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell

James Scott Bell is one of my favourite authors on writing because he offers concrete advice and techniques to improve specific issues. He's one of those writers so good at explaining things, you think "Duh. Of course. Why didn't I realize that?" when you read his stuff. In this book, he tackles common problems novel writers face with easy-to-understand suggestions for improvement. Knowing how to increase conflict and suspense is a key tool for every writer, regardless of genre.

3. Practical Grammar: A Canadian Writer's Resource by Maxine Ruvinsky

Because we are a Canadian press, we'd be remiss if we didn't include a resource to brush up on your Canadian grammar! This book includes practical explanations, advice on how to avoid common problems, and exercises to apply what you've learned. Even veteran writers may find this resource useful to review.

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

This short book is a classic, including expert advice on keeping your prose concise, to the point, and grammatically correct. While I don't think a strict approach to following every rule all the time is necessary for creative writing, it's nice to know when you're breaking rules and why.

5. The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker

If you're interested in reading something more current than Strunk and White's Elements of Style, this book is short and practical. Pinker explains how to write books based on the way our brains interpret words on the page, and acknowledges that sometimes rules need to be broken to create beautiful prose.

6. Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author's Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development by K.M. Weiland

Weiland goes over three different types of character arcs—positive, negative, and flat—and how to determine which is right for you character. If you think you know everything about character arcs, you might think again after reading this. The practical insights may inspire you to write a better-plotted novel with complex and believable characters.

7. How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript by James Scott Bell

The tagline for this book is "There is one sure-fire way of improving your novel fast..." and I completely agree. I think dialogue is one of the trickiest things to get right in a story, and Bell includes useful tips on how to write dialogue that is crisp, interesting, and full of tension. Learning to write dialogue that grabs your readers attention is a necessary skill for writing good novels.

Improving your craft can be a huge undertaking, especially (if you’re anything like me) when you just want to be amazing at this thing right away without putting in the work. But take it one topic at a time. Keep reading. Keep writing. And you’ll keep improving.

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