The three books EVERY author must read

OK. So some people get really angry when i say this kind of thing. Anger of the “WRITING IS A PURE ART AND MY CREATIVE FREEDOM MEANS I MUST OBEY NO RULES RAAAH MOTHERFUUCKKER!” and my response is always “no problem you just carry on freely failing”. I understand the fear. There are a bazillion people trying to be writers, so you try to be a 100% original. But even absolute originals know the basics.

Each of these three books represents an essential area of knowledge for all writers.

Let me rephrase the statement. Every good physicist is more than likely to know math, classical mechanics and quantum mechanics. Every good coder knows at least one coding language, computer science and logic. Every good bricky knows bricklaying, mortar mixing, and how to make a cup of builders tea. Some skills may seem more or less important than others, but each job comes with its prerequisites. And writing is no different.

Are these three books the ONLY sources you as a writer can turn to. Of course not. There are many books a coder can learn C from, but there are also certain books that coders will recommend over others. Each of these three books represents an essential area of knowledge for all writers, and I highly recommend them as a great starting point, if you feel that area is one you need to develop in.

71Am9TiVG7LStory – Robert McKee’s scriptwriting classic, but equally relevant to playwrights and novelists. McKee’s writing seminars have such cult status in Hollywood that they have even been the object of satire in movies. Story is both a basic primer and advanced guide to story structure. If you can’t yet structure your Beats, Scenes, Sequences and Acts in to a coherent Narrative Arc, with a clear Inciting Incident, Midway Turning Point and Crisis / Climax / Resolution, employing Rising Action, Tension and Suspense, all crafted around the Deep Motivation of your Protagonist  to communicate a Controlling Idea, then this is the place to start. Confused? Buy the book.

51E+qZyyKKLThe Hero With A Thousand Faces – Every time I teach Joseph Campbell’s seminal book to students I see the same light of understanding bloom in their faces. Here’s the short version. All stories are  projections of human psychology. THE END. Slightly longer version. Stories hook the reader by reflecting archetypal facets of human psychology – the Self, the Ego, the Shadow etc etc (these are terms from Jungian psychology) and playing out archetypal psychological struggles that we, the audience, recognise within ourselves. Want the full explanation? Buy the book.

41StHYUmVkLBecoming A Writer – Dorothea Brande is a largely forgotten writer, except to students of writing who have found direction in this short but essential writing guide. Here’s the basic problem. To write, you need your mind and imagination to work well together. The problem is, they don’t get on. Your mind is a controlling parental figure, while your imagination is a tearaway hippy kid. Getting them to co-operate is the focus of Becoming A Writer, which has had a transformative effect for many writers struggling with that basic first step – actually writing stuff! Want to know how and why? You know the score by now.

Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Director of creative writing at UoL, published with OUP and Cambridge. Currently travelling the world and writing a book.

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