Four Books Every Novelist Should Read

Here are the four books I’m recommending to students in my Novel Writing Master Class. These are essential reading for anyone interested in narrative craft and the writing life.

Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, by Patricia Highsmith

You don’t have to be a writer of crime fiction or thrillers to learn a great deal from this slim, to-the-point guide on creating suspense in fiction. Highsmith’s advice on everything from plotting to getting past “snags” is invaluable to novelists in any genre. As a writer of literary fiction, I found that it provided me with a much-needed kick in the pants.

“A plot, after all, should never be a rigid thing in the writer’s mind when he starts to work.” Patricia Highsmith

On Writing:A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King

By the time I got around to reading this modern classic by one of the most prolific writers of our time, I’d already published three novels. I wish I’d found it sooner! While King’s smart, down-to-earth memoir/writing lesson is a must-read for beginning novelists, fiction writers at any stage of their careers will find much to admire and be inspired by. Consider it a crash course in how to write fiction that people want to read.

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get up and go to work.” Stephen King

Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in The Writer’s Life, by Bonnie Friedman

According to Friedman, “Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences, they are the ones who keep writing.” While the other books on this list focus on narrative craft, Writing Past Dark is the book you’ll turn to when you feel gobsmacked by your novel, ready to call it quits (and we all get there at some point).

“Write only what matters to you — those scenes, those dialogues. Get messy. Before you get neat, get very, very messy.” Bonnie Friedman

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, by Jane Smiley

A passionate and erudite exploration of the novels that inspired the author, this book is recommended for the serious novelist who is interested in an in-depth analysis of how certain well-known novels work. At the end of the book, you’ll find a list of 100 novels that Smiley recommends for readers and writers. At 570 pages, it’s a door-stopper, best consumed over a course of a few months.

“The desire to get each scene ‘just right’ works against productivity because it allows you to get in the habit of ruminating upon your self-doubts.” Jane Smiley

Have you found a book that makes you a better writer? Please share!

Michelle Richmond is the New York Times bestselling author of five novels, including The Marriage Pact, which has been sold in 29 languages, and two award-winning story collections. She is the founder of Fiction Attic Press and the creator of The Paperclip Method for writers.
Want to work with Michelle? Go here to learn about her Online Novel Writing Master Class.