Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, contests and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Gigi Will Know: What books should every fiction writer have on their bookshelves?

Which top three books would you recommend for writers looking to improve their craft?

Have a query about craft? Need some clarification on an aspect of the publishing industry? Looking for career advice? Email your queries to [email protected] with the subject line “Advice Column.” We can’t wait to read your questions!

What is the most helpful book – or even top three books – you would most recommend to fiction writers to improve their craft?

—Lurking in the Shelves

Dear Lurking,

I don’t love books dedicated entirely to craft. I find some of them obscure and pedantic, and far too few of them cover the craft of making a book that helps people to write a page-turner. I prefer to learn from books I love, puzzling out how the writer did this, or that, to make me fall in love with a character or keep reading until the wee hours. But – grump – there are a few I reach for time and again. They are:

Scene and Structure, Jack M. Bickham. This one breaks down novels by scene. It illustrates what makes a scene work and how scenes work in tandem to keep a plot moving forward.

Story Genius, Lisa Cron. This one is all about the deep background you need to do on a character’s backstory before you can even think about crafting a plot.

Save the Cat, Blake Snyder. This one is technically about screenwriting. But it’ll help you to understand what makes stories work.

Here’s the thing about craft books, though – someone out there is always breaking the rules. And this is a good thing. It’s just that you need to understand what the rules are in the first place before you go breaking them: Readers can tell the difference between someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing and someone who is artfully, craftily making a studied choice to do something new and deliberate. These are a good place to start. Let us know what you think of them.

Read on and carry a big highlighter,

—Gigi