10 Best Books to Buy a Writer For Christmas

All the lists of Christmas gifts for writers are good at highlighting unique and fun (and sometimes useless) gift ideas. But the truth is: writers are easy to buy for. Just wrap up a bunch of books. Almost any book will do, but if you’re wanting to get specific (for yourself or a writer on your list), here are what I currently consider the 10 best books to buy a writer for Christmas.

Over the years, I have read more writing-craft books than I can count, which means I’m undoubtedly leaving a few gems off the following list. But these 10 are the ones I remember. They’re ones that were formative in my own understanding of the craft and/or deeply inspiring. They all get an unabashed five stars from me. If you or another writer you know hasn’t read them yet, now’s the time to pop them onto your last-minute Christmas list.

10 Best Books Books to Buy a Writer for Christmas

They follow in alphabetical order. (Please note these are affiliate links.)

1. The Anatomy of Story by John Truby

Anatomy of Story John Truby

This book was one of the first that truly shaped my understanding of story theory. It is complex and deep with insight. Although it is intended for screenwriters, it offers just as much to novelists. I suppose it’s been around long enough now to almost be considered a classic—and I do.

2. The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass

After reading this last year, every time I see the cover somewhere I want to stand up and cheer. It is full of practical, hands-on advice (as Maass’s books always are) for crafting deep and emotionally resonant fiction. More than that, it is a rousing rallying cry to substantial fiction. (I talked about my gleanings from it in this post.)

3. Light the Dark edited by Joe Fassler

Light the Dark Joe Fassler

This is an anthology of essays from a number of notable writers, all of whom specifically address their own writing inspirations. As you would think, it is inspirational. To hear so many great writers discoursing on the power and meaning (and sometimes difficulty) of writing fiction feels both exciting and encouraging. (After reading it, I posted about this book quite a bit here and here and here and here and here and here.)

4. The Moral Premise by Stanley D. Williams

Moral Premise Stanley D Williams

This book was formative for me in seeing the connection between plot, character, and theme. Williams does a beautiful job of tying theme in with the engine that makes it run: character arc. He further builds that into the foundation of structure to create the complete package. His writing can be a little academic at times, but any complexities are well worth the time and brainpower required to work through the information.

5. The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird

Secrets of Story by Matt Bird

Bird has X-ray vision when it comes to the mechanics of story (mostly because he’s systematically analyzed hundreds of movies and TV shows on his website). His book cuts through the fog and gets to the pointy ends of all things story. Readable, insightful, and in many ways a breath of fresh air, this has been my favorite writing craft book of late.

6. Story by Robert McKee

Story by Robert McKee

This book is a titan. It too is aimed at screenwriters, but it too is ultimately more about the theory that underlies story itself rather than the mechanics of a specific medium. This book deserves its tremendously broad title, because that’s exactly what this book is: a discussion of story. It offers theory and practicality all wrapped up into one module.

7. Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain

Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain

Although dated in some of its presentation, this book is a gold mine of practical tips. Swain’s advice on scenes and sequels and motivation-reaction units have long since entered the writing canon, and his thoughts on structure, character, and the writing life in general are invaluable.

8. The Virgin’s Promise by Kim Hudson

Obsessed with archetypal character arcs? Want more than just the (rightly beloved) Hero’s Journey? Me too! In this book, Hudson offers a deeply wrought discussion of the feminine partner arc to the Hero’s Journey—what she calls the Virgin’s Promise. This book has transformed the way I look at archetypal arcs—something I’ll be addressing in a series of posts next year.

9. Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle

Walking on Water Madeleine L'Engle

This book is a beautiful and moving treatise on the creative life and the importance of art. I have read it over and over since first encountering it a few years ago, and it is always a light in the darkness, no matter what is going on in my life or in the world.

10. Write Away by Elizabeth George

Write Away One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life

This was one of the earliest craft books I read about writing, but it has stayed with me all these years. For the most part, it is a detailed description of mystery writer Elizabeth George’s personal writing routine and particularly her outlining routines. In many ways it was the book that helped me make the first step from writer to author.

***

 For more ideas, you can check out my list of Recommended Reading for Writers, as well as my own series of writing books below. Merry Christmas, everyone!

For more Christmas gifts for writers:

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What do you think are the best books to buy for writers? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Gary Myers says

    Stephen King’s “On Writing” is one to which you’ve referred frequently in the past. I found his philosophy about how an author ‘reveals’ a story to be particularly insightful.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      A very quotable book.

    • Sandra Niedzialek says

      I love your books! I study at Writer’s Village University. Karen, my advisor, highly recommends your work. I bought three already. I hope I can become half the writer you are!

      Warmest Regards,
      Sandra

    • Wally Morris says

      The problem with King’s book “On Writing” is that it has so much filthy language. I don’t read his work nor refer to his book on writing. Better books available without the language problems.

    • I love King’s book! It gets to the heart of a successful writer that I admire. I will be aiming to read each of the suggested books during 2021, particularly those aimed initially at screen writers (I have an interest in that area too) – as well as your books that I have and will be getting.

  2. I have half of these books, although my copy of “Story” seems to have vanished into the ether 🙂

    I’m glad you’re planning to tackle the Virgin’s Promise; I made myself a Scrivener template based on three types of the Heroine’s Journey, including that one. The other two being the version by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, and the third based on the “classic fairytales” that inspired the Disney Princess movies.

    Your recommendation of Hudson’s book was a tremendous help; I finally was able to reconcile my story preferences. I basically like it when the Heroine and the Hero’s Journeys are combined (a dash of action in the former, a helping of introspection in the other). For me it was cool to figure out “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” has a heroine’s journey, and “Romancing the Stone” is a hero’s journey.

    Returning to your archetypal arc point, I’m also excited for you to tackle this, because Hudson did a great job in making me realize that some of the “villain” archetypes can simply be people who failed at their given stages of the journey.

    For example, in a series I was watching, I realized the heroines’ father was a Miser. He’s a kindhearted man, but he was so wrapped up in his grief that he failed to teach his eldest daughter important lessons. She pays a horrible price for his neglect. The father redeems himself by finally taking up his “Mentor” role, and helps her recover so she can continue the hero’s journey she was already on.

    In fact, Hudson showed me the dramatic possibilities in also having the protagonist fail steps in the journey, particularly the “false rescue” test. I’ve been planning to recommend this book to some writers I know, just because of the richer characters and stories one can draw from the lessons in it.

    I’m looking forward to your series. I will check out the other half of the books on this list … and I probably need to re-buy “Story.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I’ll be talking about the “positive” arcs of six different types of archetypal journeys, as well as “flat” archetypes and the passive/aggressive poles on “negative” archetypes as well. Lots of fun stuff! 😀

  3. Matt Bird’s book / blog, which I first found out about on this blog, is one of the best resources I’ve found online, especially for folks interested in TV / film writing. Thanks for that!

  4. I’m so enthralled with Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook right now. It’s a delightful book to gift because it’s fantastical, filled with illustrations, charts, cartoons. It’s also one of the very, very few books I’ve read (honestly, it might be the only one) that has a heavy emphasis on taking care of the imagination. I am loving every delicious page.

  5. Jack Bannon says

    Mrs. Weiland,
    I’ve read two of your books and frequently read your weekly column. I also listen (occasionally) to one of the more than 500 segments you’ve made time to record. I believe you respond to every remark ever made about your blog, even when they don’t seem to need a response as mine didn’t last week. I just want to say I admire your work and your ethic, and thank you for sharing your expertise on writing.

  6. Louis Schlesinger says

    Thank you for a great list. You mentioned that there are other books you might have added if the list were expanded beyond ten. My $.02 worth would be to add Lisa Cron’s Story Genius and, since I don’t have to be modest, any of the books you’ve authored.

    Of the books on your list, I found Matt Bird’s THE SECRET OF STORY and Donald Maass’ THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION particularly illuminating. The more I study, the more I understand that only through relentless practice and learning from my mistakes will my stories shine.

    Merry Christmas!

  7. Eric Troyer says

    Great list! And I definitely recommend all those K.M. Weiland books!

  8. I’ve been using the scene cards from Story Genius by Lisa Cron to build my initial outline. She doesn’t believe in story structure (which I need because), so I use your Structuring Your Novel to wrangle my scenes into something tighter. I also love The Dramatic Writer’s Companion by Will Dunne. It’s for screenwriting, but I think it works well for general fiction. I often use his scene questions right before writing a scene to really get into the character’s head. Your Creating Character Arcs is also invaluable. I’ve also been enjoying your new one, Writing Your Story’s Theme. It plays nicely with Creating Character Arcs and Story Genius.

  9. Great list. Some titles I don’t recognize but will definitely pursue, especially the Hudson book. I second the suggestion for Story Genius. Very helpful in doing a deep dive on the protagonist before starting to draft. I also highly recommend War of Art, by Pressfield. As one who suffers perennially from Imposter Syndrome, this book is a much needed boost. I also got a lot out of Story Trumps Structure, by James. And finally, for just laugh out loud fun peppered with good advice: Damn Fine Story, by Wendig. Quite salty, but the footnotes alone are worth the time.

    Thanks again for all your effort in posting advice to writers. You are a jewel.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m very random about how I choose which books to buy and read, but I’ll try to bump Story Genius up the list. I’ve been wanting to read it for a long time.

    • I noticed that Christopher Vogler wrote the forward to Virgin’s Promise. His book The Writer’s Journey is a terrific mashup of The Hero’s Journey and Jungian Archetypes.

  10. Cathy Robinson says

    In addition to your own books (please keep them coming!), my current favorites are Wired for Story (Lisa Cron), Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott), Big Magic (Elizabeth Gilbert), Draft No. 4 (John McPhee) and Process (Sarah Stodola). Look forward to checking out those on your list I haven’t already explored.

  11. Nicolas Gosselin says

    Interesting list. Thanks.
    I would add the two indispensable books Writing Drama and Constructing a Story by Yves Lavandier.

  12. I think your website is an absolute treasure for all writers!

    My story includes two plot-level antagonists that are also each other’s antagonists. So it is a triangle of everyone against each other. Initially, I was going to only write the protagonist’s POV, but as I outlined more, it makes more and more sense that there is a POV for each of the triangle due to their impact on the plot (don’t worry all three are interesting and somewhat relatable to the reader). I really did not want to write multiple POVs as it is my first book, but it seems like it is the best way to organize the story and actualize its potential.

    How should I divide and manage the POVs (I am thinking 50% POV for the protagonist and 25% / 25% for the antagonists)? Also, how do you recommend I manage the plot/ pinch points? should every point somehow include both the antagonists or should I divide the points or should I make multiple plot points, for each antagonist?

    Sorry for the long comment, and thank you in advance.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I touch on the issues of plot points in multiple POV in this post on dual timelines: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/6-ways-to-pull-off-dual-timelines-in/. But the short answer is that you can handle this in two ways: either use the same plot point to drive the plot in both POVs – or time it so each POV gets its own structure-advancing plot point at the proper time. In the vast majority of cases, the first is preferable, since it will contribute to a much tighter story.

      • Thank you so much, great advice as always.

        Do you find an issue with lop-sided lengths of POVs (when the protagonist has much more “on-camera” time than the other antagonist POVs)? Can I still have a balanced story when the POVs are lop-sided?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Generally, the protagonist will have a larger share of the limelight. That said, I do prefer that POVs be distributed regularly–every three chapters, for example, rather than the entirety of a single POV showing up in the first or last quarter.

  13. May I share your post(s) in my newsletter? I have a few writers on my list, and I think they’d benefit greatly from your tips, wisdom, advice. You’re my go-to recommendation when anyone asks what bloggers or podcasts to follow 🙂

  14. Alan Sawyer says

    I like your books, Lisa Cron’s Story Genius, Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. Larry Brooks’ four books really get into the weeds. Your books and Lewis Jorstad’s are quite accessible.

  15. Mary George says

    Ah, William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” gets the place of honor on my writing books shelf.

    Happy Holidays!

  16. Suzi Holand says

    “SIN and SYNTAX,” by Constance Hale “How to Craft wickedly Effective Prose.” Considered the “hippest,” grammar guide ever written. Enlightening! Also, “WRITING 21st CENTURY FICTION,”HIGH IMPACT TECHNIQUES.” By Donald Maass…like WOW! Creating fiction that transcends GENRE! Because I’m an artist, creating abstractly is common for me. My novel does not fit a boxed-in genre, I’m a big fan of FREEDOM, so I create fiction that “strips away preconceived notions of writing in today’s world. LET’S GET FREE IN 2021!

  17. Love this list!

    I would add The Writer’s Process by Anne Janzer 🙂

    I’ve reached a point where I’ve read SO MANY craft books and blogs that I really do understand the fundamentals of story structure and story theory, but I’m struggling to figure out how to actually implement all of that knowledge into an effective process. Janzer’s book was very helpful to give me ideas of how to build my own personal process to consistently write at all stages of the writing process!

    • Anne Janzer says

      Thanks for the shout-out, Emby. Writing is indeed an inner game, I’m glad that you’ve found The Writer’s Process helps you with yours.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s great! Everything really does come down to process in the end.

  18. Dartagnan Magic says

    The best book on writing, IMO, is “Invisible Ink” by Brian McDonald. Brian gets theme more than anyone else I’ve ever come across and so will you once you read it. Also his other two books are gold as well. My 2c.

  19. Lisa C Miller says

    How about Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way and Natalie Goldberg”s Writing Down the Bones.

  20. I currently have 298 books on the art of writing on my bookshelves. ALL of yours are there, including the workbooks. I told myself December would be a month without buying any new craft books. Then you produce a list of which I only own half. So, thanks a lot. lol. So far today I have purchased: The Moral Premise, Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach To Fiction and the Writing Life, The Secrets of Story and Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel.

  21. I recommend The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley. It’s the only book I know whose focus is on POV. I find it really fascinating and well written and it contains lots of literary examples. It really helps me make informed decisions about POV. (Sorry for any mistakes, English isn’t my first language!)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You might also enjoy Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card and Characters and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress.

  22. Kassiane Katsogianni says

    I absolutely love your end-of-the-year ideas for gifts, but it is true that books are the best gift for writers. The books you recommend (and I have read) are awe inspiring, and of course I’m buying the rest as soon as possible!

  23. Brad Thomas says

    Thanks Katie for all you do. However, John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story, and Robert McKee’s Story, are two of my all-time least favorite, and least useful books on writing I have read, alongside Dara Marks’s Inside Story (I’m sensing a theme “Story” a tipoff the book will be ponderous verging on unbearable); I vastly preferred David Trottier’s Screenwriter’s Bible to them, and to Syd Field’s Screenplay too.
    I recently purchased Donald Maass’s The Emotional Craft of Fiction, but haven’t had time to read it yet; of the books of his I own my favorite is Writing The Breakout Novel. I just finished Richard Curtis’s excellent (if mis-titled) How To Be Your Own Literary Agent. I don’t read their fiction, but appreciated Stephen King’s On Writing, and Dean Koontz’s How To Write Best-selling Fiction (when is Dean going to update it?). I appreciated and appreciate all of Sol Stein’s books on writing. And, for change of pace, Lynda Obst’s books are interesting and enlightening.
    Merry Christmas

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If it makes it any better, Screenplay almost made the list. 😀

      • Brad Thomas says

        Yes, it felt like it was under consideration. I didn’t care for William Zinsser’s classic either. Dean’s out of print book (How To Write Best-selling Fiction) is of course impossibly expensive to buy, so I shouldn’t have included it, but it’s well worth the read (via library); whereas Stephen King’s On Writing, is well within reach. My favorite writing book and everything book is the Bible, the actual Holy Bible (specifically the King James Version/AV). Thanks again, truly, for all you do. Merry Christmas.

  24. Awesome list K.M! Cant wait for the other post. Thanks for sharing.
    Books significantly impact and shape our lives as it can provide a vast and constant amount of knowledge that we can use in a variety of ways.

  25. I am reading Save the Cat! by Jessica Brody. In the novel has alot of beat sheets of how the book is written. She has the present of the book like the Open image to where the bad guys close end and Final image. I was wondering how you to your Catalyst when you write after the step up. I love your books.
    I am still writing or rather re-writing again.
    Have a great Christmas.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Merry Christmas to you too! I’m not sure what you’re asking. I think there might be a word missing from your question.

  26. I mean this:

    SAVE THE CAT! BLANK BEAT SHEET
    (Click here to open a blank, editable beat sheet in Google Docs)
    1. OPENING IMAGE (1%)
    2. SETUP (1-10%)
    3. THEME STATED (5%)
    4. CATALYST (10%)
    5. DEBATE (10-20%)
    6. BREAK INTO 2 (20%)
    7. B STORY (22%)
    SAVE THE CAT! STARTER KIT http://www.JessicaBrody.com
    8. FUN & GAMES (20-50%)
    9. MIDPOINT (50%)
    10. BAD GUYS CLOSE IN (50-75%)
    11. ALL IS LOST (75%)
    12. DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL (75-80%)
    13. BREAK INTO 3 (80%)
    14. FINALE (80-100%)
    15. FINAL IMAGE (100%)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sorry, I’m still not sure what you’re asking. Is there a word missing in this question? “I was wondering how you to your Catalyst when you write after the step up.”

      • I was wondering how you to your Catalyst when you write after the step up. I was wondering how you do your open image for your book or project.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Been a long time since I’ve read Save the Cat. I don’t specifically use that beat sheet, but it aligns pretty much with the same structural model I use and teach. The Catalyst is, I think, the same as what I call the First Plot Point.

  27. I am asking-Do you use the same set up when you write your books?

  28. Above is a beat sheet. I wanted to know if you use one. I was wondering how you to your Catalyst when you write after the step up. How do you do your open image when you write your book?

  29. Writing notes

    I was wondering about the symbol web from John Truby’s book called Presents the anatomy of story, 22 steps to a master storyteller
    WXA=C
    Weaknesses
    A-basic auction
    C-changed Person
    Premise
    Scene Construction and Symphonic Dialogue
    Spiral Story
    Branching story
    Designing Principle

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