There are many helpful and inspiring books on different aspects of creative writing – here are some of my favourites, as a writer who’s interested in children’s literature, narrative design and the physical act of writing.
Order lies at the heart of narrative theory – but who decides on that order, and how do we as readers (and writers) recognise and respond to it? It might involve five acts with an inciting incident, rising drama and a neat (or not so neat) conclusion; a resonant, interlaced approach that’s less familiar to the modern reader; or a story built around a recurring symbol or dilemma steeped in our collective fairytale past.
Whatever shape it takes, and however it may seem to fly weightlessly through time or viewpoint, narrative design is always deliberate, always grounded. You just need to know where and how to look. That’s where the expertise and insight shared in my favourite books on creative writing is so very useful in terms of craft.
Then there’s the act of writing itself – the pattern on the page, as you might say. Where did letterforms come from, and how did they evolve into type? Why are pages page-shaped, and when was the idea of a paragraph invented? If these questions entice you, read on… in the order of your choice, of course.
The Art of Writing Fiction by Andrew Cowan – full of artistic insight as well as observations on process
Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts by Christopher de Hamel – a stunning exploration of the physical tome in all its medieval beauty and symbolism
How Fiction Works by James Wood – an incisive review of the nuts and bolts of narrative, peppered with analysis of the many and varied techniques employed by novelists
Singing for Mrs Pettigrew by Michael Morpurgo – a gentle but enriching reflection on stories, interwoven by unforgettable prose pieces
Into the Woods – a five act journey into story by TV producer John Yorke offers a very clear account of how and why story works.
“Stories perform for us the cultural work
of illuminating the darkness”
Paper – an elegy by Ian Samson – it’s been around for some 2,000 years, used for everything from banknotes to novels, advertising posters to legislation. So paper definitely deserves its own book!
Meander, Spiral, Explode by Jane Alison – this intriguing book looks at narrative from a very different perspective
Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland – perfect if you’re a fan of fairytales and deep dark woods, and dare to explore a little further…
The Golden Thread by Ewan Clayton – a fascinating exploration of how and why we write, the advent of print and bookmaking technology
Enchanted Hunters — the Power of Stories in Childhood by Maria Tatar – a glorious wander through storytelling, from the fireside stool.