On Writing by Stephen King
This is my favorite book on the craft. I had to read it a couple of times in grad school. King has great advice wrapped in his own entertaining language. Here are a few of my favorites:
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.
King is being brutally honest here. I’ve seen so many would-be writers asking, “Do I really need to read in order to write?” or, “I don’t like reading. Can I still be a writer?” Yes. Yes you do.
To become a good writer, you need to read. As King puts it: there is no shortcut.
Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even if it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.
It has killed me to cut so many details from Lies that Bind. But even when you kill your darlings, keep the deleted scenes. Don’t just throw them in the trash! Save them as bonus material for if (or when) your book gets published.
The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: your audience doesn’t necessarily need to know every detail about your character.
In my article How You Can Avoid Character & Plot Inconsistencies I go into detail about how to create your character’s backstory. Build on that, and then weave in the backstory as you need it.
You can buy King’s book here.
Story Genius by Lisa Cron
Even after planning two novels using some of Cron’s approaches, I still reference this book. I love Story Genius and the way it’s broken up to help you build a character before you build a plot.
This is my favorite piece of advice from Cron:
Outlining your plot before you develop your protagonist traps you on the surface of your novel—that is, in the external events that happen.
If you plan your plot before your main character—which is okay to do, by the way!—then you may run into this problem. You’ll want to develop your character to fit the plot you have. But you should develop the plot to fit your character. You’ll have a much deeper story, and something that will resonate with your readers.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk and EB White
This book is more of a reference guide than an actual book on writing. However, it is universally known as one of the best books for the craft out there. I have an outdated version but can’t seem to give it up. You can purchase the most recent version here.
Have you read any of these books? Do you have any other recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!