(More) of the Best Writing Advice From 10 (More) of the Best Writing Teachers

(More) of the Best Writing Advice From 10 (More) of the Best Writing Teachers

It isn’t difficult to flip through my writing library and discover what passages have impacted me. My books are punctuated with a brilliant green highlighter pen. So, in hopes of sharing a little of the best writing advice with all of you, I flipped through a few more my favorite books on the craft and chose some of those green highlights.

1. Characters, Emotions & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress

Whenever you can, have your characters do something to depict their values and choices. (p. 54)

Ask yourself: How can I dramatize these things, not just talk about them? What can this guy do to show the reader what’s going on inside him? (p. 75)

2. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamont

I like for [protagonists] to have hope—if a friend or a narrator reveals himself or herself to be hopeless too early on, I lose interest. It depresses me. It makes me overeat. I don’t mind if a person has no hope if he or she is sufficiently funny about the whole thing, but then, this being able to be funny definitely speaks of a kind of hope, of buoyancy. (pp. 50-51)

3. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas

…avoid ‘aftermath’ scenes. (p. 180)

it is essential that tension be present on every page. If your heroine and her sidekick are standing still, it ought to be because they disagree.” (p. 192)

4. Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich

The plot outline is like a game plan in basketball or football. It can look good on a chart, but once the ball flies, it does not suffice. You must have the players. If a player trips, other players may have to come up with a new plan. The plan is not sacred: it shifts, depending on the position of the players on the field and on the flight of the ball in the wind. (p. 91)

5. Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

…it’s important, as with every word we write, to be careful and sparing. If a gesture is not illuminating, simply leave it out, or try cutting it out and see if you later miss or even remember that it’s gone. Do we really need that cigarette lit, that glass of wine poured? Is it merely a way of passing time, of making space in dialogue, of telling mood and emotion? Does it tell us something specific about the character or the situation we are attempting to recreate on the page? (p. 229)

6. 45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt

Be creative with supporting characters. Change their age, sex and background until you find the best fit for the story. Make sure they’re capable of contributing something to the story whether it’s humor or expertise. (p. 251)

7. 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley

If to live is to progress, if you are lucky, from foolishness to wisdom, then to write novels is to broadcast the various stages of your foolishness. (p. 7)

I think a good rule of thumb is that novel-writing will make happy a person who can tolerate and enjoy an ever-intensifying experience of himself or herself. Novel-writing forces the novelist to turn inward day after day, year after year. No consolations, in the form of praise, fame, money, or importance can compensate for that effort if it is painful. (p. 42)

8. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

Prefer the specific to the general, the definite to the vague, the concrete to the abstract. (p. 21)

9. Lights! Camera! Fiction!: A Movie Lover’s Guide to Writing a Novel by Alfie Thompson

Introducing your character is like introducing a new friend to another good friend. You want the other friend—your reader—to really like or at the very least understand this new person you are introducing to him. (p. 34)

10. The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life by Vinita Hampton Wright

Your creative work is in many ways your diary. It is how you process your own life. (p.149)

What I’ve presented here is, of course, a very eclectic (and hopefully not too personal) sampling. If I were to quote all the great lines in these books, I’d fill up way too many blog posts and probably get myself sued a couple times for copyright infringement. Suffice it that I’ve gleaned a wealth of knowledge from all these books, and I heartily recommend each of them to any novelist pursuing the craft.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What is the best writing advice you’ve ever read? Tell me in the comments!

(More) of the Best Writing Advice From 10 (More) of the Best Writing Teachers1

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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.


  1. I see only one that I have and several I’d love to have.

    I’m a yellow highlighter kinda gal. You should see my Bible!

  2. Hey, yellow works. 😉

  3. I especially like characters and writings that the characters have hope.- I use every color of highlighter in the package!

  4. I agree. I tend to like stories that end a wee bit ambiguously (‘cuz after all, life itself isn’t tied up in neat little packages) but which also leave the reader with a sense of hope, a sense that a greater plan is being worked out.

  5. I love your site! Which book would you recommend above all the others? I am a very busy mommy, would-be-writer-if-had-the-time, but desperate to hone the craft.

  6. Thanks for reading! Hmm, that’s a tough question. All of the books I mentioned in these two posts are excellent. However, if I absolutely had to recommend just one, I’d probably pick “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne and Dave King. It was one of the first books I read on the craft, and it really changed my outlook on writing. It’s absolutely chock full of solid structural advice.

  7. I’ve learned a ton of writing tricks from Sol Stein On Writing. I strongly recommend it to anyone trying to hone their craft.

  8. You know, that’s one I’ve yet to read. I’ve heard nothing but good about it though.

  9. thomas h cullen says

    Apply visual logic. Learn to dissociate what it is you want to say from what it is that needs to be seen on the page.

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