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

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Write Great Beginnings by Sandra Gerth

Our Summary

Defines "a beginning" and lists do's and don'ts together with pointers on how to achieve the first and avoid the second. Offers exercises based either on an ongoing manuscript or a published work.

What I learned From It

This is a comprehensive and clear overview written in simple terms. The points it makes are self-contained so you can zoom directly to whatever concern you have about the beginning of your work.

Jeanette

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The Elements Of Eloquence: Secrets Of The Perfect Turn Of Phrase by Mark Forsyth

Our Summary

This is a book with a clear message (from the blurb): In an age unhealthily obsessed with the power of substance, this is a book that highlights the importance of style.

What I learned From It

About thirty chapters each dedicated to a rhetorical figure. The book is a fun read and has plenty of examples from The Bible, Shakespeare and Tupac ( "Money don't make the man, but man I'm making money")

JohnBertel

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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

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Story – Substance, Structure, Style And The Principles Of Screenwriting by Robert Mckee

Our Summary

An oft-quoted reference for screenwriting, this book delves deep into story as a metaphor for life. McKee's analysis of film structure is hugely insightful for novelists. He explores genre, character, theme and exposition in terms that are clear and thought-provoking. Beyond a 'how to' guide, this is a reference book that deserves its place on a writer's shelf.

What I learned From It

The art of story is universal. The same set of skills a writer uses to bring a story to the screen also strengthen our craft in writing fiction and other narratives.

Mel L

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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

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Into The Woods: How Stories Work And Why We Tell Them by John Yorke

Our Summary

A structural guide to storytelling, plotting, punch, flow step by step

What I learned From It

Although such a step by step guide seems a bit prescriptive and in theory has the potential to limit the creative flow, I found that following the principles helped prevent a story from being a shapeless mass and made it take shape and form. A bit like a block of marble being turned into Michelangelo's David (although perhaps my results have been less classically terrific). Or a diving board: a structure from which to soar.

AliG

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The Positive 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 Negative Trait Thesaurus by the same authors.

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

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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

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The Memoir Project – A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text For Writing & Life by Marion Roach-Smith

Our Summary

Rational and literary at the same time, this slim tome is an extremely helpful exploration of how to turn life into memoir -- without boring the pants off the reader.

What I learned From It

A memoir is an illustration of a truth, a single facet of a life rather than a life story. Just because something happened doesn't make it interesting. Narrow the focus, find your voice and write in scenes until you have a vomit draft. Then the real work begins.

Mel L

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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

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On Writing by Stephen King

Our Summary

Leave it to the literary rock star to compose a craft book that’s as entertaining as a good novel. “This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit,” King writes. What follows is a witty, practical, and sometimes poignant guide that is refreshingly devoid of the aforementioned BS. King relates his personal story of becoming a writer, then offers a “toolkit” of clear advice about everything from dialogue and descriptive passages to revisions and the head game. And there’s more: tips for beginning writers on submitting work for publication, a mark-up of one of King’s own manuscripts, and a reading list. You might not be awake at 3 a.m. turning these pages, but we promise On Writing will open your eyes to essential tricks of the trade.

What I learned From It

Just write a story readers will read.

James Charles

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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

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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

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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

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The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

Our Summary

This is Hollywood story consultant Vogler's distillation of Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces. That is, it's a book on comparative mythology turned into a writing manual about the "Hero's Journey".

What I learned From It

See description in previous post of Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

Rich.

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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

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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

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Intuitive Editing by Tiffany Yates Martin

Our Summary

Everything you could possibly need to know to get your manuscript to submission or self-publishing standards.

What I Learned From It

This book is gold dust. Made me think objectively about everything I've been doing or hope to do.

Vagabond Heart

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Blurb Your Enthusiasm: An A To Z Of Literary Persuasion by Louise Willder

Our Summary

How different blurbs work in different genres from an insider in the business (Willder is a Penguin books blurb writer). Lots of great examples in each genre in terms of what does and doesn't work and why. Willder argues every word matters in a blurb, and so each has to count. Thus, she offers ways to do this.

What I learned From It

How to write a successful blurb from an experienced blurb writer. That is, what will appeal to readers in different genres and why. Use of specific words and phrases that attract readers. The multitude of different examples proved helpful as comparisons to craft your own blurb. As the book is written with humour, it's easy to read. You can also flick to different sections as per the genre you're working in, but I'd recommend you read the whole books to get the full picture.

Rachael Burnett

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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

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