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50 Books You Should Read to Become a Better Writer

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

Column by C.S. Humble

This list was off the top of my head, and is no way meant to be comprehensive. There are tons and tons of writers that are not listed here that can give a writer so much valuable information. Mainly, writers should always be looking for new mechanics and tools from their peers and those that have come before.

The Exorcist - William Peter Blatty

How to write contrasting moments of grief and joy, hope and sorrow. The Violent Bear it Away - Flannery O’Conner

How to put the words in the right order. East of Eden - John Steinbeck How to paint natural and human landscapes. The Deed of Paksenarrion - Elizabeth Moon How to capture character agency amid difficulty. The Masque of the Red Death - Edgar Allan Poe How to master alliteration. The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson How to set the goddamn tone right out of the goddamn gate. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: Specifically: The Ride of the Rohirrim - J.R.R. Tolkien How to write an epic in the space of a scene. Musashi - Eiji Yoshikawa How to write an epic in the space of an epic. Moby Dick: Specifically: Chapter 42 - The Whiteness of the Whale - Herman Melville How to choose the perfect word, in every sentence, over the course of an entire novel. Go Tell It On The Mountain and every other book he ever wrote - James Baldwin How to refine prose to their most pure form. The Things We Carried - Tim O’Brien How to shatter a reader’s heart and write war realistically. Berserk - Kentaro Miura How to destroy a human heart entirely. All Star Superman - Grant Morrison How to heal a broken heart and restore hope in humanity. The Ways of White Folks - Langston Hughes How to put together a short story collection with power. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo How to dominate the reader with empathy. Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy How to write about the catastrophe of the Human Condition/pure deconstructionism. The Civil War: A Narrative - Shelby Foote How to vary sentence length and beats and meter and voice. The Call of Cthulhu - H.P. Lovecraft How to build rolling dread with disassociated narratives. The Man in my Basement - Walter Mosely How to reverse power dynamics. The Bulldog Breed - Robert E. Howard How to master the comedy of The Tall Tale. The Selfish Giant - Oscar Wilde How to master the fairy tale. Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry How to write deep relationships and various POVs and the greatest Western of all time. The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry How to write about kindness’s ability to save an un-savable world.

The Vorkosigan Saga - Lois McMaster Bujold How to Write Science Fiction with Teeth. Star Wars: Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith - Matthew Stover How to write modern Planetary Romance, How to Write in an Established Universe. Shadow Over Mars - Leigh “Queen of the Space Opera” Brackett How to write classic planetary romance. Lucifer’s Crown - Lillian Steward Carl How to turn a fantasy novel into a thriller. Cold In July - Joe R. Lansdale How to swerve a novel from one genre to another mid-plot. Glen Gary Glen Ross - David Mamet How to write high octane character desperation. The October Country - Ray Bradbury How to write seasons and weather as characters. True Romance - Quinten Tarantino How to use object transference as a scene dynamic. Henry V - William Shakespeare How to threaten a French Monarch and master monologue building. Merciless Waters - Rae Knowles How to build characters with doubt. Watchmen - Alan Moore How to write broken characters trying to save an unsavable world. Stargazers - L.P. Hernandez How to write metatextuality in the internet age. Fevre Dream - George R.R. Martin How To End A Book: Mastery of the Epilogue. The Ballad of Black Tom - Victor LeValle How to write cosmic horror with a vengeance. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned - Wells Tower How to put together a short story collection with heart. Creatures Of Will And Temper - Molly Tanzer How transport the reader into a different era. A Drink Before The War - Dennis Lehane How to write tension. Tension. Tension that never lets up. Mosaic - Catherine McCarthy How to use light and color. The Croning - Laird Barron How to Start a Book with a razor-sharp voice. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley How to write human monsters and obsession. The Legend of Charlie Fish - Josh Rountree How to seamlessly blend a normal genre into the weird. Apparitions - Adam Pottle How to write interpersonal trauma. Goddess of Filth - V. Castro How to put a unique spin on a genre. Never Bet the Devil - Orrin Grey How to write a vignette. The Fisherman - John Langan How to write traumatic cosmic horror. Whalefall - Daniel Kraus How to re-imagine a myth. The Only Good Indians - Stephen Graham Jones How to show that you know every single writing rule while, in the process, breaking it. Bonus: How to write dialogue - Watch every Tarantino movie, read everything ever written by Elmore Leonard and Douglas Adams, and listen to every Johnny Cash ballad.

We here at Paper Cuts had the pleasure of having author C.S. Humble as a guest on the show, episode 53. During our conversation he mentioned how he wanted to be a good writer. Per the advice of his mentor, he was given a list of 100 books that he needed to read. "If you want to get better at learning how to write, then you need to see how the greats have done it". The above list of books and the tools they can give a writer was compiled by C.S. Humble.


Guest Contributor C.S. Humble

C.S. Humble is the award-winning author of That Light Sublime trilogy and the Black Wells Series. He lives in East Texas. Follow him on social media here.

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