Style, Structure and Substance: Three Must-Have Books for Fiction Writers

Over the course of my time as a writer, there are three books that have helped me to better understand the technical aspects of storytelling and writing. Some of the things I try to think about when I write is – well – how I write, why I write and what it takes to make it all come together (hopefully) in a good way. To create a good book, or any piece of art whatsoever, requires the three most important S-words: Style, Substance and Structure.

STYLE

Every writer has their own unique voice, but to develop a voice, it’s necessary to get those darn rules of grammar, punctuation and style down pat, which is where The Elements of Style comes in. If you’re a long-time writer, you have at least heard of Strunk & White’s little tome and if you’re new to writing, you need to read it. A word of caution: This book is a really dry read because it’s a lot of technical stuff about usage of the English language and you might have flashbacks of your crazy English teacher from middle school (I did). I promise if you apply the concepts described in The Elements of Style, you will see a noticeable improvement in the quality of your writing and so will your readers.

SUBSTANCE

Stephen King is always an entertaining read. Being an avid fan of horror fiction, I have A LOT of Stephen King on my bookshelf, but the most-read King book in my library is not a horror at all — unless advice and anecdotes about writing and life hide under your bed and creep out to mess with you at night. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is an adventurous peek into the mind of a serious writer, someone whose life is fully concentrated on making their writing the best and most authentic it can be, with tons of substance.

King describes the tools and trade of the wordsmith in fantastic ways, and I personally think the energy of his narrative hearkens back to his days as a teacher, before he made the big time. Had he not written the classic horrors millions now enjoy, I don’t think the world would be worse off, because I’m convinced Stephen King, in the guise of a bookish English teacher in New England, would have quietly educated and raised a zombie legion of unstoppable writers. I guess with On Writing, he is sort of doing that now. Crafty, Mr. King. Very crafty.

STRUCTURE

The final book on this must-have list is not as much a book about writing fiction as much as it’s a book about dramatic structure. Dramatic structure is so, so important in writing because if there is no drama, no panoramic emotional peaks and valleys, well then you’re stuck wading through the flat places of the world you’ve forged, left to wander aimlessly in marshes that bog you down and deserts that sap you of your vitality. Dramatic, yes?

Save the Cat is a book for screenwriters written by Blake Snyder. In it, Mr. Snyder showcases the best ways to map out your story, develop a strong plot, and inject your book with the ingredients that keep your audience glued to the page, whatever your genre. Honestly, Save the Cat changed the way I approach writing projects in such a way that enabled me to finally finish my first novel.

And of course, the list doesn’t really stop there. Whatever book you are reading, read it for enjoyment and also read it to understand literary style, substance, and structure.

Happy reading and writing! Have a great day!

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About Andrew Conlon

Fiction Writer. World Builder. Likes Books, Words, Ideas. Loves Family, Friends, Food.

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