top of page

5 of the Best Writing Craft Books

There are countless books available on the craft of writing. So many, in fact, that it can be hard to distinguish those that stand out from the crowd. Here we give you our thoughts on five of the best.

At Inky Frog Editorial we are big believers in developing strong foundations for our writing through reading, and that extends to reading about writing craft. There are so many books on the craft of writing that we struggled to choose only five. Some of these books are widely known, some are less well known. Some deal with the broad aspects of writing, some choose to focus on specific elements. Some deal with fiction for all ages, some focus on children's and YA fiction. We have tried to curate a list with variety so that you can find the book that might help you most. Happy reading!


Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories by Scarlett Thomas

The Author

As both an author and lecturer of creative writing, Scarlett Thomas has years of experience in crafting novels for both children and adults. Her own writing has been longlisted for the Orange Prize and shortlisted for the South African Book Prize. Her novels include Bright Young Things, Going Out, and PopCo.

The Book

Monkeys With Typewriters is written in two parts: part one looking at theory, part two focusing on practice. Thomas is a professor of creative writing and this shows in her handling of the theoretical components. This book is perhaps more academic than some of the others on our list, but it is still aimed at the beginning writer, offering explorations of Plato, Aristotle and Chekhov. Thomas takes the reader on a journey through the anatomy of plots, specifically through what she believes to be the eight basic plots of story: tragedy, comedy, the quest, rags to riches, coming of age, stranger comes to town, mystery and modern realism.

Whether it's differentiating between comedy or tragedy, or identifying the eight basic plots, Thomas is a fine guide —

Part two walks the reader through the practical elements of constructing their story: ideas and inspiration, styles of narration, characterisation, compelling sentences and – most importantly – beginning to write. She introduces us to her own plotting and character building strategies through the use of matrices, many examples of which are provided in the book.

Thomas's advice is peppered with examples from novels (her own and others), writing theory, and literary criticism. You can't help but absorb the wealth of her knowledge and understanding from her many years of immersion in the world of story.

We absolutely recommend Monkeys with Typewriters. My one wish is that it had an index to make future reference easier.

Writers' & Artists' Guide to Writing for Children and YA by Linda Strachan

The Author

Linda Strachan is an author and creative writing teacher. With over 60 children's books published, and a breadth of experience teaching writing to children and adults, as well as speaking about writing craft at conferences and festivals, Linda was the perfect choice to pen the Writers' & Artists' Guide to Writing for Children and YA.

The Book

You can pretty much have confidence in anything that carries the Writers' & Artists' brand, such as the yearbook (a must-have for all writers), website, courses and other resources such as this book. Again written for the beginning writer, the book is presented in five parts, the first of which sets about demystifying the age classifications of children's and YA fiction. Strachan explores the different age ranges from picture book to YA in the context of genre, theme, illustration, gendered reading, sensitivity and authenticity, as well as the book market for each age range.

If you are interested in writing a series of books, chapter 6 takes you through some of the essential considerations before moving on to talk about non-fiction, the educational market, and technology.

An essential read for everyone interested in the art, craft and business of writing — Malorie Blackman

Part two is a writers' toolkit covering basics such as plot, character, dialogue, point of view, beginnings and endings, setting and visualisation. Crucially, Strachan centres one chapter around the importance of generating original and fresh ideas – essential in today's overcrowded children's market.

Parts three and four take a glance at the pre- and post-publication stages which includes agent submissions, marketing and publicity, and author events – to name just a few.

The book really is a comprehensive beginner's guide to writing children's and YA fiction. The content has been well thought through and clarifies many of the unknowns of the writing world for the new writer.

If you are a more experienced writer, perhaps attempting a cross-over from adult fiction to children's, you may find one of the other titles on our list more suitable for you.

How Not to Write a Novel by Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark

The Authors

Between them, Newman and Mittelmark have racked up thirty years of experience in the world of books. Newman is an author and has taught fiction and creative writing at a number of academic institutions. Mittelmark is an author and ghostwriter, and has worked for literary agencies and publishers in various editorial capacities. Their combined experiences – and their cutting sense of humour – have positioned them as the perfect authors of this hilarious guide.

The Book

If you need some humour injected into the writing process, How Not to Write a Novel is the one for you. The book takes you through the classic elements of story that we would expect – plot, character, dialogue, perspective, voice, and so on – but with the twist of telling us what not to do. Like Monkeys with Typewriters, this one focuses on all fiction, not just children's and YA, but the advice is relevant to all age ranges.

A hilarious, wickedly observed and deeply useful guide — Kate Saunders, The Observer

Packed full with comical examples of classic writing errors, this is a gem of a book to read before you consider self-publishing or submitting to an agent. In fact, this would be a great book to read after your first draft is completed and before you start your first self-edit – as long as you remember to bring your sense of humour! The bitingly funny examples are so accurate that most writers – whether new or seasoned – will recognise many of the traits in their own writing.

Each section within the chapters is punctuated with a witty header:

Are Sticks and Stones Still an Option?

Wherein the author mangles common expressions

The Tennis Match

Wherein the point of view bounces back and forth

The Court Reporter

In which every single last solitary word of conversation is included

The Convention of the Invisible Men

Where the author fails to identify his speakers

Be prepared to laugh your socks off with this one, but most importantly, be prepared to recognise some of these missteps in your own writing. Perhaps you know you are prone to overly flowery or ornate language; maybe you are aware that you include too much of the mundane day-to-day action in your writing. No writer is perfect; if we can acknowledge our quirks and foibles and learn how to improve our story, we will be well on the way to a stronger novel. At least this way we can laugh about it at the same time.

Show, Don't Tell: How to write vivid descriptions, handle backstory, and describe your character's emotions by Sandra Gerth

The Author

As an award-winning, bestselling writer, and senior editor of Ylva Publishing, Sandra Gerth has a solid understanding of the elements of structure and prose that bring a story to life. Sandra has penned a series of books for writers, including Point of View: How to use the different POV types, avoid head hopping, and choose the best point of view for your book; and Write Great Beginnings: How to start a novel, hook readers from page one, and avoid common first-chapter problems.

The Book

Unlike the previous books in this list, Show, Don't Tell doesn't take a broad approach to writing craft; instead it focuses specifically on one concept. And at around 100 pages, it is a very manageable, quick dip into the world of 'show, don't tell'. You may have heard of Anton Chekov's famous quote: 'Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.' Genius. And so simple. Understanding the problem of telling rather than showing is one thing; putting it into action is more of a challenge. Gerth breaks the concept down with concrete examples to show exactly how the concept can be applied to – and the impact it will have on – our own writing.

As well as a helpful introduction to 'show, don't tell', the book helps you identify your own instances of 'telling' and how to turn this into 'showing'. Gerth focuses on three 'danger areas' – backstory, descriptions and emotions – which are often prone to 'telling'. Dialogue is another key area that needs attention, ensuring that you aren't using dialogue as a convenient but clumsy way to share vital information. Gerth introduces the reader to 'maid and butler' dialogue, one of the dreaded pitfalls of telling rather than showing.

The only way to improve your writing is by writing — Sandra Gerth

There are practice exercises peppered throughout the book to give you the opportunity to test out your showing skills, and there are numerous examples for you to be able to see 'show, don't tell' in action. And, as any good editor would, Gerth takes the time to explain when telling would be preferable over showing. Telling most definitely has its place if it is used at the right time and in the right way.

This is another book that I would recommend reading around the time you start your first self-edit. Reading this before you start writing will only cause you to second-guess everything you write. Firstly, just focus on writing your first draft. Once that is complete you can spend some time thinking about the tools that will help you edit that draft. And having this book in your toolbox would be a good idea.

How to Write a Page Turner: Craft a Story Your Readers Can't Put Down by Jordan Rosenfeld

The Author

Jordan Rosenfeld is a writer, ghostwriter and freelance editor. She has written three novels (Forged in Grace, Women in Red, and Night Oracle) and numerous books on the craft of writing. She has written articles, stories and essays for a number of publications and is both a teacher and writing coach, having spent many years working with writers to refine their skills.

The Book

Like Sandra Gerth's Show, Don't Tell, Rosenfeld's How to Write a Page Turner focuses specifically on one feature of writing craft: how to infuse your story with tension. Each chapter focuses on a new aspect, first looking at the essential tension elements of danger, conflict, uncertainty and withholding, before focusing on tension with characters, plot tension, and tension in exposition.

Tension is the heart of conflict, the backbone of uncertainty, the hallmark of danger — Jordan Rosenfeld

As with other books in the list, Rosenfeld supports her advice with examples from a range of novels, many of which may be familiar to you. You can see how J. K. Rowling used the reversal of loyalty to create tension in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, how Stephen King used setting in The Shining to pump tension into his story, or how Angie Thomas uses anxiety to build tension in The Hate U Give.

Again, this book gives advice for fiction as a whole, rather than focusing on children's or YA fiction, but it is easy to see how the guidance would translate to novels for younger readers and how crafting a story full of suspense and tension will keep younger readers engaged.

Each chapter closes with a handy summary – Tension Takeaways – and a call to put theory into practice with your own work-in-progress. From adding conflicting emotions within your characters to plotting out your novel's energetic markers, Rosenfeld will teach you the tools to build attention-grabbing, heart-pumping tension in your writing.


So there you have it: our thoughts on five of the best writing craft books. We're not suggesting you read all of them (at least not all in one go!) but hopefully we've helped you identify one or two you might like to start with. As we said before, Inky Frog Editorial advocates building strong writing foundations with reading (both fiction and writing craft) but the only real way to improve your writing is by writing. Take what you read in these books not as abstract theory, but as real, practical, applicable tools to put to use in your own writing.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page