Being a beginner is hard. There are so many options, and beginners often don’t know where to start. It seems like every blog and YouTube video is recommending a different set of tools, resources and books for writers. There are a lot of good books out there, but what are the best writing books for beginners?
Personally, I’ve kept a running list of my favorite writing books ever since I started over 20 years ago. So I’ve read a lot of books and I’ve read a lot of book recommendations from other authors and writing experts. In this post, I’m going to share with you my top 10.
The best writing books for beginners:
- The Secrets of Action Screenwriting
- Writing a Breakout Novel Workbook
- Save the Cat
- The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes
- Writing for Emotional Impact
- Secrets of Story
- Dialogue Secrets
- Act Two Secrets
- Scene Secrets
- Supporting Character Secrets
The Criteria for Choosing the 10 Best Writing Books for Beginners
My criteria: I’ve actually read the book, learned a ton and consistently apply its principles and practices to my writing on a regular basis. The book consolidates practical, clear and concrete writing lessons that have transformed my writing.
Not my criteria: I listen to the recommendations of other people but, if I’m completely honest, I think a lot of their recommendations are trash. Not that the books themselves are bad, but they don’t have the practical insight and tools that have helped me when I sit down at my keyboard to type.
Here’s also what was NOT my criteria:
- What I thought were popular books (popularity doesn’t equal good or helpful)
- What I thought you expected to hear (There are some surprises on the list)
- What I thought you might buy through one of my affiliate links (I’ve only listed books that I personally own and use regularly)
- What bestselling authors or popular authors say (There are many decent writing books out there. These are by far the best I’ve come across)
- What I wanted you to believe, like my own books (I didn’t put any of my own books on the list)
- Pretty book covers (Some of the book covers on the list look terrible and cheap. I didn’t choose the books for appearance; I chose them for content)
My ultimate criteria was: did this book change my life as a writer, level up my skills and help me to write a better story?
The 10 Best Writing Books For Beginners ( My List)
My list has changed some over the last two decades, but most of the books on here have remained largely the same. If I could go back 20 years and give my younger self 10 books on writing, these are the books I would gift.
Yes, this is a screenwriting book. Trust me, it doesn’t matter. This is by far the best writing book I have ever read in my life. It’s my absolute favorite and that’s why I listed it first. It’s a gold mine of practical understanding of what a story is and how to write a really good one.
There are so many tools and techniques in this book, I really think that it should be an entire course that’s into the hundreds of dollars. I 100% believe it’s that valuable. If you only get one book on this list, please do yourself a favor and go get this book right now.
I read all of these books on this list every time that I write a new novel, but this is by far the one that I read the most intensely and from which I apply the most tools and techniques.
Here are the book details:
|Rating||4 1/2 stars from 98 reviews|
My biggest takeaways from the book are all the specific and practical writing techniques such as how to build out scenes from your theme, connect your characters, connect internal conflict to external conflict and… I could literally go on for days. This is also the book that gave me my favorite definition of story.
I put this book second because this is the oldest book on my list. I’ve literally had it for two decades and go back to it time and time again to make sure that I understand and apply the techniques to my stories.
Yes, it’s a workbook, which means there’s an actual book that goes with it. I’ve read that book, too, and honestly I prefer the workbook . It has the same information and, in my opinion, the information is more effectively communicated in the workbook. There’s practical exercises with writing techniques very clearly laid out.
Basically, the book goes over the main elements in a blockbuster or best-selling story from one of the best literary agents in the world.
|Rating||4 1/2 stars with 139 ratings|
Oh look, another screenwriting book. This is a very popular book among writers and screenwriters because it is a simple and straightforward outline of a successful story.
I really like that this book gives you a complete approach to outlining the major plot points of a novel or script. It really covers everything from the start of the novel all the way to the conclusion.
My biggest takeaway is the 15-point outline or “beat sheet” for the major events of the story.
I also really enjoyed the idea of the different sections of a story that he calls thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis. I just think it’s a good framework for understanding what needs to happen in each segment of the story.
There are a couple of cool techniques like “save the cat” (from which the book got its title) and “pope in a pool” that I have never forgot and continue to use in all of my stories.
|Rating||4 1/2 Stars|
This is one of the most beginner-friendly writing books I’ve ever read. It covers a lot of ground but it does so very clearly and with good examples. The other thing I really like about this book is that it teaches you 38 practical writing lessons that, to get elsewhere, you’d have to read (at least) 5 and 10 separate books.
As a beginning writer, it’s a very approachable book with easy to understand and apply lessons. And, just like the title suggests, by reading the book you can avoid some of the most common writing mistakes. That, in and of itself, is invaluable.
My biggest takeaways are the simple lessons that save you a lot of time and pain as a writer learning the ropes.
|Rating||4 Stars with 80 reviews|
This is more of a dense book so not one that I would start with, which is why I put it here in the middle of the list. But, it’s a really good book that can take your writing to a much deeper and more impactful level. There are tons of tools here to add emotional depth to your characters, scenes and stories.
|Rating||4 1/2 stars with 206 reviews|
What I love about this book is how it helps you break or build out a story based on theme. The model in the story is called the thematic method. It’s all about how to develop a very connected story that is layered and powerful. You learn how to create characters, secondary characters and scenes that all include the “DNA” of the story.
It’s another very practical book full of useful tools for writers. Storytelling is, after all, the most important part of being a novelist.
|Rating||5 stars with 35 reviews|
This book is a gold mine of dialogue techniques. I really can’t explain how thorough and complete your education about dialogue will be after reading this book. Super practical, super actionable and incredibly informative.
Tons of examples make applying the techniques to your own writing as easy as possible. You will learn more about dialogue from this one book than a whole collection of other books on the same topic.
Dialog is a key element in writing a story because most scenes include some form of dialogue. And many writers really struggle with how to write realistic dialogue that reveals character while also advancing the story.
You can learn so many techniques (over 50) to level up your dialogue from this book. It’s a must read.
|Rating||4 1/2 stars with 54 reviews|
As a beginner writer, one of the most important lessons to learn is how to write the middle section of your stories. This is called act 2 in screenplays. Don’t be put off by this being another screenwriting book. Again, screenwriters seem to understand the practical structure and techniques to put together a story much better than most novelists or writing teachers.
This book will teach you everything you need to know about what to put in that middle section of your story to escalate the conflict, advance the plot, deepen character and keep the reader engrossed in the story.
In many ways, act two is the story. at least, it is the most important part of the story because it’s the biggest section where most of the story happens. So understanding the middle of the story and how to write it well is essential to Your growth as a writer.
This book puts so many different pieces of the story puzzle together for me.
|Rating||4 1/2 stars with 51 ratings|
A story is a collection of scenes. This book explores every angle and aspect of what makes a compelling scene. you’ll find the answers to the following questions: What kinds of scenes do you include in your story and what kinds do you leave out? What’s the best way to write a scene? What do you actually put in a scene? How do you make scenes more compelling to the reader?
It’s a fantastic addition to your writing library.
|Rating||4 1/2 stars with 33 reviews|
This book explains clearly and in detail everything you need to know about how to create secondary characters and subplots for your story. This is an area where many writers get confused, lost and go astray. You can really shorten your learning curve by reading and applying the ideas in this book.
You’ll learn what secondary characters are, how to create them and how to interweave subplots into your overall narrative. Lots of examples are included from different genres so that all of the points are super concrete.
|Rating||5 starts with 28 reviews|
A Few Comments About My List
You probably noticed that many of the books on the list are written by the same author (William C. Martell) who is a practicing screenwriter and not a novelist. One of my biggest aha moments as a writer in the last two decades is to realize that screenwriters, in general, seem to have a better grasp on the practical structural techniques of a story.
There are certainly differences between the visual medium of movies and the more personal and intimate experience of writing fiction. However, I have found that the vast majority of story principles, tools and techniques cross over very well.
I’d go so far as to say that I never understood story as well as when I read these “blue books” . You don’t have to believe me, just read the books, (they’re very cheap Kindle books on Amazon), and watch the results you get with your own writing.
There are a lot of good books on writing that I didn’t include in this list that many other people include their list, like Writing Down the Bones, On Writing Well, War of Art, and I could go on.
What I found in my own journey is that after reading a few of these books about the main elements of a story (characters, conflict, plot, etc.) all the other books on the same subject mostly said the same thing. Even if they did say a few extra little things that helped, those books never seemed to leapfrog me ahead in my understanding of story or my ability to write a good yarn.
The exception where the books on my list in this post. These are the books that have stayed with me for many years, some of them for the entire two decades. Every time I write a new novel, I go back to them and reread them to make sure that I understand their ideas and apply their techniques.
I think you’ll find them amazing books that will level up your writing. There’s no shortcuts to being a great writer. The key seems to be to write a lot and read a lot, get feedback and continually push yourself to improve. These 10 books are the best books to get you to great writing faster.
If you’re looking for a hundred books to turn you into a bestseller, get that free list here.
Honorable Mentions for Writing Fiction
Part memoir and part writing instruction, Stephen King’s book on writing is fabulous. If you are interested in his story interspersed with some very clear and practical writing advice, please do check it out. I consider it an essential book in any writer’s library.
However, it’s not a book that I return to over and over again to reread. That’s why it’s not on the main top 10 list. But it’s still very good.
James Scott Bell has several good books on writing that are practical and useful. You might check out some of his books and see if any of them resonate with you. I actually really like this book and it was helpful for my understanding of plot and structure. It’s just is not a book that I go back to year after year.
Best Nonfiction Writing Book for Beginners
I didn’t want to leave the nonfiction writers out of this list. So, I made a very short list of what I consider to be the best nonfiction writing books for beginners.
There are so many nuggets of information here on how to write faster, keep readers engaged and simply write better. All of the tips are very short and actionable so it’s a quick and easy read.
How to Write and Sell Simple Information for Fun and Profit: Your Guide to Writing and Publishing Books, E-Books, Articles, Special Reports, Audio Programs, DVDs, and Other How-To Content
This is literally a book about how to write other how-to books. I’ve never read a more simple, straightforward and practical book on how to create a very valuable resource for others.
What’s the Overall Best Writing Book for Beginners?
I’d say without a doubt it’s the Secret to Action Screenwriting. It just covers all the bases of a story (and I mean all). The book is incredibly thorough in covering all of the essential story elements.
It doesn’t matter if you write screenplays or novels or in which genre you write. This book is the key to take your storytelling to a whole new level. It will literally teach you more than most other writing books combined.
Those are the 10 best writing books for beginners (plus lots of other freebies and recommendations). I truly believe you’ll find these books to be fantastic resources that you’ll be using decades from now.
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