Books on writing blog

The 4 Books That Levelled Up My Writing – Katja Kaine

by author and Novel Factory creator, Katja Kaine

I have read countless books on writing, and, to be honest, a few have stood out to me as being particularly insightful and practical. However, these four stand out. These are the volumes that stuck with me. These are the ones I keep going back to novel after novel.

I don’t think it would be hyperbolic to say that these books changed my life. A couple are among the first books on writing I ever read, and others are ones I have discovered in recent years, but all will give you a new and valuable understanding of key aspects of storytelling.


‘Save the Cat’ by Blake Snyder

If you’re only going to read one book on storytelling, I’d probably suggest it’s this one. Easy to read, funny, heavy on the practical and light on the waffle, there’s a reason this has become a classic and remains one of the most popular story structure books of all time.

Screenwriter, Blake Snyder, drew on established understanding of story structure (such as the hero’s journey), distilled it and made it more universal, and added his own observations. These are all things I am a big fan of.

True, it’s focused on screenplays rather than novels, and you do need to take that into account when applying the advice if you’re writing a novel, but in my opinion it’s story we’re talking about, regardless of the medium, so this knowledge will serve you extremely well.

(It’s true the estate of Blake Snyder have released a version of the book which is aimed at novelists, but as that wasn’t written by Snyder himself, it’s my preference to stick with the source material!)



‘Into the Woods’ by John Yorke

I already knew a lot about story structure by the time I came across Into the Woods, but I still felt like this book was filled with revelations and it helped my understanding of story structure broaden and deepen.

I had already noticed that many of the popular structures seemed to share the same beats, so John Yorke’s table showing how they all align in various ways was deeply satisfying.

And his exploration of the fractal aspect of story structure – where the same basic structure can be found reflected not only in the whole story, but in each individual scene, and also in some cases paragraphs – is fascinating.




‘Getting into Character’ by Brandilyn Collins

This was one of the first books I read on writing fictional characters, and it remains my favourite. It draws on method acting theory developed by the Russian actor and director Stanislavski, and it offers seven techniques which nicely build on each other to explore what makes a character tick.

The techniques or ‘secrets’ explored are: personalising, action objectives, subtexting, colouring passion, inner rhythm, restraint and control, and emotion memory. Looking at each of these aspects of character is very enlightening and can help you create characters which are nuanced and can have internal contradictions (as we all do) but still feel consistent and authentic.




‘Dialogue’ by Robert McKee

Full disclosure – I have not read this book cover to cover. It’s quite large and quite dense, and it takes a while to digest and internalise the information.

However, it still makes it onto my top recommendations list because every time I pick it up to dip in and learn a little more about the secrets of dialogue, I find myself highlighting passages, and I can feel myself getting smarter as I read…

It explores the many different functions of dialogue (more than you might think), talks about frequently committed flaws in dialogue and how to fix them, examines how to create good dialogue and then looks at dialogue within the structure of a scene.

It is packed with beautiful examples of the best dialogue, highlighting why it is so good and why it works.