The Definitive

Litopia Writers’ Reading List 2024

Peter Cox, founder of Litopia

I asked our members a simple question.

Which books have had the most profound impact on your development as a writer?

Here’s what they told me. A glorious cornucopia of more than forty definitive titles that ought to be on your reading list.

And note: if you buy them all (why not?) it will still be cheaper than taking one average-priced commercial writing course.

We’ve all enjoyed putting this list together, and we hope you get as much out of it as we have.

Peter Cox

61qk7Y1DwIL._SL1500_

The INFJ Writer by Lauren Sapala

Our Summary

Writing (and living) advice for people whose brains don't work well with logic, plotting etc. Another perspective! (The letters refer to Myers-Briggs type personality indicators, which aren't flawless, but broadly if you tend to be led more by feelings and intuitive reasoning, this might work for you).

What I Learned From It

I'd been getting super snarled up trying to follow advice that just didn't work for me in practice, even though I could see it made theoretical sense. This book gave me a bit of space to trust myself to learn my own process. I've still got a long way to go but I do a lot less bashing my head against a brick wall these days. Sharing it in case anyone else is in the same boat!

Josephine

Buy UK

Buy US

81N-eklVhmL._SL1500_

Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody

Our Summary

Great for understanding genre, theme, 3 act structure. Very well explained. Lots of examples of story beats from popular books. Even looks at pitches and loglines.

What I Learned From It

I found the famous beat sheet really helpful in deciding when to do what in my novel. The biggest thing for me was understanding structure enough to keep those pages turning

Hannah F

Buy UK

Buy US

41DA9C4WOrL

Write The Fight Right by Alan Baxter

Our Summary

Alan Baxter, a martial arts instructor and author, talks about what makes a good fight scene, and how to write rich scenes that are realistic and engaging for the reader. He discusses hand fighting in depth--techniques used, guarding and blocking, common injuries sustained in fighting, the consequences of a knockout. He explains how a smaller opponent must fight differently than a larger opponent. He discusses the sounds, smells, and yes, tastes of a fight. He discusses how the use of weapons affects the pace and outcome of a fight. Most importantly, he dives into the psychology of a fight--the effects of adrenaline, training, and experience on how people fight and how they react to a fight. All these details are explained in the context of how to convey the chaos and emotion of a fight on the page.

What I learned From It

I learned how to realistically give my characters challenging odds in fights. I also learned how to make a fight scene rich in detail without focusing on the blow-by-blow of a fight. Most importantly, I learned that the key to a fight is the emotional reactions of the characters--how the characters experience and emotionally process the fight is more important than the mechanics of the conflict itself. I also learned how to realistically address the aftermath of a fight--the broken hands, concussions, emotional turmoil--rather than have my characters bounce right back as though nothing happened.

Robinne Weiss

Buy UK

Buy US

71l88hditAL._SL1431_

The Negative Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman And Becca Puglisi

Our Summary

Lists character traits to help you generate different types of characters and how these traits might manifest. Useful in conjunction with The Positive Trait Thesaurus.

What I learned From It

Helped me to write characters with more depth and think of a wider range of character types for my books.

Claire G

Buy UK

Buy US

61dcNGLH5hL._SL1360_

Truth by Susan Batson

Our Summary

Public personas, needs, and tragic flaws - A step-by-step guide for creating truth in a character from an acting perspective.

What I learned From It

This one's a little off the beaten path... I was fascinated with method acting, and wanted to bring that to my writing. How to embody and write the truth of a character. This is one of the books I learned a lot from in that regard.

LJ Beck

Buy UK

Buy US

71w8YtbEqrL._SL1500_

Writing Historical Fiction by Emma Darwin

Our Summary

A beginners' guide to writing historical fiction which draws on the material in her coaching sessions and lectures: characters, plot structure, research, using your senses to recreate the past and psychic distance. There are plenty of examples and exercises.

What I learned From It

I still dip into this book if I'm stuck in my writing or need some inspiration. It's practical rather than theoretical which works for me.

Liz Brown

Buy UK

Buy US

71i6Ft-vj5L._SL1500_

It Was The Best Of Sentences, It Was The Worst Of Sentences by June Casagrande

Our Summary

Gets into the line level of sentences and what order you need to put words so you can help a reader follow what you put down on paper (or computer). From phrases, clauses, subordination, long v short sentences tense, tense, prepositional phrases, danglers and much more. Perfect for reacquainting yourself with the nuts and bolts of grammar.

What I learned From It

I learnt how to consider what order words need to be in, and how writing them out of order confuses the reader. Now every sentence I construct considers the reader first.

RK Wallis

Buy UK

Buy US

81Ko3a3-zeL._SL1500_

Becoming Superman by J Michael Straczynski

Our Summary

An astonishing bio of an accomplished (mainly) screenwriter.

What I learned From It

Never to feel sorry for myself. To keep doing it and never give up. To learn, learn, learn. A fantastic psychology of writing book that every writer serious about making it would benefit from imo.

Trey

Buy UK

Buy US

41ZugeOB2RL

Point Of View by Sandra Gerth

Our Summary

A clear, informative guide to the different types of POV with tips on choosing the best POV for your own manuscript. Offers exercises focused either on your work in progress or on a published book.

What I learned From It

I saw how to mix some POV, how and why to avoid head-hopping and picked up tips on internal monologue.

Jeanette

Buy UK

Buy US

71n+whq5s2L._SL1360_

Talking Books by James Carter

Our Summary

Various children's authors talk about craft and how they became professional authors.

What I learned From It

That it was possible to be a writer without being a god. It is a cherished book that sparked the possibility of being a writer for me.

Trey

Buy UK

Buy US

81KqxiiWucL._SL1500_

Secrets Of Story by Matt Bird

Our Summary

An award-winning screenwriter’s view of journeyman writing. How to hone in on and hone your story.

What I learned From It

Imagine your reader being on a long plane ride. Then imagine you are their seat mate. Are you the engaging stranger who entertains them with your sparkling wit and fascinating adventures? Do they want to take your name and keep in touch thereafter? Or are you the boring Uncle from Derry Girls that makes them consider opening the plane door and shoving you out?

Pamela Jo

Buy UK

Buy US

81tL463Sp2L._SL1500_

The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

Our Summary

First published in 1949, this dense, sometimes impenetrable, and somewhat controversial book on comparative mythology takes a tour through world folklore to tease out common themes and archetypes.

What I learned From It

What George Lucas was thinking when he wrote Star Wars. If you want to understand Hollywood's obsession with this mode of storytelling, you should read this book. If you've heard other writers talk/evangelize/fret about the "Hero's Journey" and you're not exactly sure what they're talking about, you should read this book. If you have even the most passing interest in commercial Western storytelling, you should read this book.  Also see "The Writer's Journey" by Christopher Vogler.

Rich.

Buy UK

Buy US

51ofrIAeelL

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges

Our Summary

This is a coming-of-age fiction book about a 24-year-old boy who feels stuck in his small town taking care of his overweight mother and special needs brother, while it feels like his other siblings and friends have moved on outside.

What I learned From It

I really learned alot about voice and character from reading this book. Gilbert Grape is an incredibly flawed character and can be pretty cruel at times, but I loved him. He emotes in ways that feel unconventional to a reader/are far from cliche. Rather than crying when he's sad, he takes it out through acting out at work or little internal jabs at other people. His relationship with his mother and siblings is fascinating to read, because he never says exactly how he feels about them, but his attitude changes throughout the book. Its just a really subtle way to draw a reader in and attach them to a character, even if he can be a jerk.

tmartini

Buy UK

Buy US

91mxTIBxp9L._SL1500_

Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore by Elizabeth Lyon

Our Summary

Presents in a highly readable, organized way all of the elements of a novel, from the significance of genre and common to lesser-known structures to all the aspects of a writers' craft. Briefly and with amazing clarity, describes potential problems which might arise from each, then follows with suggestions for how to "fix" them. Chapters are organized around particular craft elements and issues, so readers can choose which parts of the book to focus on relative to their personal writing needs. Review checklists of problems and their solutions are included at the end of each chapter.

What I Learned From It

I have now read easily a dozen books on how to write a novel, plus several on revision, and while I've taken away something of value from each, not one of them has given me the breadth of awareness and practical understanding of craft elements, from A to Z and beyond, that this jam-packed, wisely conceived and clearly presented book has given me. It's not prescriptive, nor does it follow the latest trends in fiction writing. Ms Lyons doesn't think she has 'the' answer or make suggestions that make a writer feel like a square peg being forced into a round hole, but rather shows writers how to consider each issue in light of their own writing style, voice and vision for their novel. Check out the Amazon reviews; I'm not the only one who loves this book. It's a keeper! And one to be used over and over.

CarolMS

Buy UK

Buy US

51PoVGhYsfL

Developing A Written Voice by Dona J Hickey

Our Summary

This dense work focuses on a directed attitude towards developing Voice. From conversational to formal, snarky to respectful, it's all about word choice and the way that language will both sound and convey meaning. The same words with the same meaning can nevertheless be ordered in different ways with a difference in the way they are perceived, the it is this that comprises 'voice'. Replete with concrete examples and pertinent exercises, this book is hard to find but well worth the search.

What I learned From It

All writers have a voice, but not all work at developing it - or even possess a framework for it. This book provides a framework and it's a book I will continue working through for years to come.

Dan Payne

Buy UK

Buy US

71OAwyzh0FS._SL1360_

Show Don’T Tell by Sandra Gerth

Our Summary

Defines and illustrates the strategy. Explains the importance, art and limit of showing; also lists the uses of telling. Offers exercises and proposes solutions for some of them.

What I learned From It

I learned that 'telling' comes naturally to me but 'showing' much less so. This book is one I return to time and time again while I'm revising what I've written.

Jeanette

Buy UK

Buy US

910O7tU1W+L._SL1500_

Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Our Summary

Techniques of inventing, developing and presenting characters, plus handling viewpoint in novels and short stories. Spells out your narrative options in creating "real" fictional people. Distinguish among major characters, minor characters and walk-ons, and develop each appropriately. Choose the most effective viewpoint to reveal the characters and move the storytelling. Decide how deeply you should explore your characters' thoughts, emotions, and attitudes.

What I learned From It

This demystified POV for me when I first started writing prose. It also taught me how some of my all-time favorite characters were made, and why I loved them.

LJ Beck

Buy UK

Buy US

81QCq76cBbL._SL1500_

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Our Summary

Down to earth advice, not so much about the craft per se as the practice (and pitfalls) of "being a writer".

What I learned From It

I'm actually still reading it, but so far I've got lots of encouragement from it. Her style is super informal and she has a wonderful dry wit, it's like a brilliant chat in the pub with someone who really knows their shit and you go away thinking, "yeah, I really can do this..."

Josephine

Buy UK

Buy US

 

71ys8IXMAnL._SL1500_

Story Genius by Lisa Cron

Our Summary

It’s every novelist’s greatest fear: pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into writing hundreds of pages only to realize that their story has no sense of urgency, no internal logic, and so is a page one rewrite.

What I learned From It

The prevailing wisdom in the writing community is that there are just two ways around this problem: pantsing (winging it) and plotting (focusing on the external plot). Story coach Lisa Cron has spent her career discovering why these methods don’t work and coming up with a powerful alternative, based on the science behind what our brains are wired to crave in every story we read (and it’s not what you think).

AnnieSummerlee

Buy UK

Buy US

81NEiR4WgFL._SL1500_

The Dictionary Of Body Language by Joe Navarro

Our Summary

Not a writing book per say, but an invaluable text for writers. That is, it's dictionary structure means you can flick to a section and read about a specific body part you want to write about and read authentic body language positions/movements, etc. for each character. For example, you might might want to write about a character's eye, head, hand, etc. movement, the text allows you to learn authentic, non-cliched body language. Written by a ex-FBI agent, it is easy to read and invaluable for adding layers of authentic 'show' to characters. Works well with Navarro's first book What Every Body is Saying (a more detailed account of body language with illustrations).

What I learned From It

Genuine body language that can be adapted to different characters for accurate emotion and thus characterisation. Rather than relying on the usual cliches in body language for characters, this book elevates and authenticates body language, movement, and thus emotion that 'shows' rather than 'tells' the reader in a believable manner. Easy to use both via the chapter headings and the detailed index to research each different part of the body. This is one book I would not be without as a writer.

Rachael Burnett

Buy UK

Buy US