7 Craft Books to Help You Become a Better Writer

From Electric Lit:

Craft is often thought of as the backbone of literature, the scientific and mathematical side of the creative process that examines an artist’s techniques. In prose, it often involves terms such as plot, pacing, point of view, characterization, scene-setting, structure, dialogue… It is the rational breakdown of those mechanisms that work behind the scenes in the stories we love and despise most—the ones we wish we’d written ourselves.

In literature, craft is fascinatingly unlike itself in any other subject. Instead of becoming more and more obvious as well as understood, it becomes subconscious, supposedly, once you’ve mastered it. But craft never ends. Even if it is turned on its head, that twist and distortion itself is a part of craft. It becomes a new and exciting way to design a story, to surprise a reader, to invent a structure that’s never been thought of before. This is the heart of craft and what the following seven books aim to describe each in their own unique way. 

The titles on this list are at the forefront of contemporary literature, engaging with experimental structures, rebelling against the canon, and carefully pointing out the ways in which our assumptions delude us. Whether you are an aspiring writer, a Pulitzer-Prize winning memoirist, or a curious reader, these books on craft will change you and the way you think about the world—as well as literature—within the complex confines of beauty and truth. 

Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping by Matthew Salesses

In Craft in the Real World, Matthew Salesses—bestselling author and Assistant Professor of Writing at Columbia University—breaks down the meaning and implications of craft in fiction, redefines its terms, and elaborates upon the history and “rules” of writing workshops in the U.S. since 1936. He argues that literature should not exist in a vacuum and that the “responsibilities of actual life” also belong in the realm of art. Through thought experiments, examples, and anecdotes, Salesses masterfully upends the framework of many MFA programs and the way many writers have been taught how to approach feedback, revision, and cultural expectations in their work. This book is a must-read—as it significantly addresses the issues that have plagued white-centric literature for far too long and proposes alternative ideas and methods that will revolutionize contemporary fiction today. 

“Craft is about who has the power to write stories, what stories are historicized and who historicizes them, who gets to write literature and who folklore, whose writing is important and to whom, in what context. This is the process of standardization… These standards must be challenged and disempowered.”

. . . .

Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative by Melissa Febos

Body Work by Melissa Febos also goes against the tide of traditional craft books. In four essays, Febos beautifully gathers her own experiences, reflects upon what she’s learned from writing and from teaching, and analyzes specific examples from the historical canon while revolting against them through personal narratives. The award-winning essayist and University of Iowa Professor shows how navel-gazing and confession can still be moving without feeling overdone, especially for women who fear being cast out by a misogynistic bias in the industry. Febos encourages her readers to examine the assumptions they’ve inherited about writing, such as how to structure a sex scene, the scripts we follow in art and in life, and the true place for cruelty in literature.

Throughout the collection, Febos is unparalleled as she draws on the power of healing through art, makes philosophical arguments on the ethics of writing about real people, and shows just how deeply one must travel to eliminate the distance between the author and the nonfiction narrator. 

“Writer was the only role I could see myself occupying in society… It offered the gift of self-forgetting, a transcendence on the other side of which lay insight.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

1 thought on “7 Craft Books to Help You Become a Better Writer”

  1. One writing rule is show don’t tell. I learned how to do that from Understanding Show don’t Tell by Janice Hardy.
    I found the examples of how to convert the tells into shows easy to follow.
    Sadly, the book could not make up for my lack of writing talent. 🙁

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