Writing Lessons From Mark Twain Books: 11 Inspiring Works To Learn From

Posted on Jul 18, 2023

Avatar Of Sarah Rexford

Written by Sarah Rexford

Home > Blog > Creative Writing, Fiction, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Writing > Writing Lessons From Mark Twain Books: 11 Inspiring Works To Learn From

Mark Twain books have impacted decades of American culture. Better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, than his legal name, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Mark Twain books have been an integral part of American literature. 

You may have read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a child or perhaps studied his works as an adult. William Faulkner is said to described Samuel Clemens as “the father of American literature.”

For the writer, whether you love his work or think it should be banned, there are many lessons to learn. In this article, I pull various points from eleven Mark Twain classics, starting with Twain’s most famous book. 

Before diving in, here’s a quote from Robert McCrum to set the stage: “Hemingway said that all American fiction comes from Huckleberry Finn. That’s true, in the sense that Twain invented a way of looking at the American experience and putting it into fiction. I think almost every American writer has to acknowledge that.”

#1 – Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

One of a writer’s most difficult tasks is to create characters that stay with readers long after they close the last page. Mark Twain does so with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. But how does he make them so memorable? 

He writes what he knows. Both Tom and Huck are created from boys he interacted with during his coming-of-age years. In addition to creating characters that seem human, he takes them on a daring adventure down the Mississippi River in the 1840’s. Their adventures take them down a path that reveals the common thoughts of that day with a specific focus on racism. 

#2 – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

As he does with Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain’s books continue to use relatable circumstances to connect with readers. You may remember the scene of painting the fence or how the mindset of these characters impacted your own. 

Just as Tom Sawyer painting the fence is now a common American story, the imagery and plot points Twain uses stirs nostalgia in the hearts of readers. Mark Twain books are wildly popular, but this one in particular is one of America’s most loved. 

#3 – The Prince and the Pauper

Through two children, Mark Twain creates a written narrative against social hypocrisy as well as injustice, but does so using comedy and creativity. This is a useful tip for today’s writers. Mark Twain books are known for giving readers a close look at American society, and The Prince and the Pauper does just that. 

Switching identities, social class, and entire roles, Tom Canty and Edward Tudor walk in the other’s shoes and experience life from an otherworldly perspective of sixteenth-century English society.

#4 – Roughing It

Mark Twain books are often fiction, but in Roughing It, he takes readers through a partly autobiographical account of his travel adventures:

  • Mining for gold and silver 
  • A ten day stint as a millionaire 
  • Involvement in real estate 
  • Trip to Salt Lake City 
  • Experience with the Brigham Young Mormons. 

Roughing It is a great example for writers seeking to create a fictional narrative from their own life experiences. 

#5 – The Gilded Age of Today

This revealing satire was originally published in 1873. Twain seeks to level out his notorious perception of the post-Civil War age with equal part wit. Of the many Mark Twain books in print today, this one was created through collaboration with Charles Dudley Warner. Together, Twain and Warner published a written attack on the negative mindsets of their day:

  • Greed
  • Lust
  • Naïveté 

Known as both a crucial satirical novel as well as a social document, Twain’s portrait of this crucial time in America gets his point across through the art of fiction. 

#6 – Letters From Hawaii

If you’ve ever wondered about the value in documenting your experiences, of all Mark Twain books, Letters From Hawaii may be the best one to show you the importance of this value.

The Sacramento Union newspaper underwrote his trip to Hawaii in 1866. Rather than remain on the island for one week, Twain decided to stay for over a month. Published the same year as his trip, Twain’s personal letters document his adventures in Hawaii. 

#7 – Letters From the Earth

Published after Twain’s passing, Letters From the Earth is a collection of personal essays Twain wrote during an extremely difficult period of his life. This period lasted for five years and included the passing of his wife, one of his daughters, as well as great debt. 

While it can be difficult to write during emotionally trying times, of the many Mark Twain books, this one demonstrates the accessibility he had to his own emotion and the powerful way his evocative writing connected with modern day audiences. 

#8 – The Mysterious Stranger

Not every writer needs to write a book in a month or two, and Mark Twain is evidence. Twain initially began work on this book in 1897 and worked on it periodically until 1908. 

Just as with Letters From the  Earth, The Mysterious Stranger did not see publication until after Twain’s passing. However, despite the delayed publication, this work is a standout example of continuing to put effort into your work-in-progress and that effort paying off.

#9 – Following the Equator

Mark Twain books do not only detail adventure and social issues. This 1897 travelog focuses on Twain’s tour of the British Empire. The origin of the book itself is fascinating. 

Twain found himself in immense debt after investing in a typesetting machine that ended up failing. To pay off his debt, Twain wrote about his 1895 tour. Writer, you never know what experiences you may write about, so pay attention to your daily life.

#10 – The Innocents Abroad

This book takes the cake due to its best selling status during Twain’s life. Additionally, one of the best-selling travel books to date, Twain’s narrative details his time traveling to the Holy Land.

If you want to learn how to show, not tell, read this book as an example of this literary rule. Never one to miss a shot at humor, this iconic account is known as both irreverent and entertaining.

#11 – Life On the Mississippi 

Among the many adventures in Mark Twain books, Life on the Mississippi is specially a memoir and released in 1883. A recounting of Twain’s experiences as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River, you may notice correlations between this memoir and his other classics that are also set on the river.

Finding similarities between fiction and nonfiction is a great technique for making fiction come alive and nonfiction ring of adventure. 

Mark Twain Books: Which Tip To Take?

Of the tips above, which one most resonates with you? 

  • Writing what you know? 
  • Using fiction and wit to call out social hypocrisy?
  • Creating fictional characters that seem almost human? 
  • Writing your memoir in a way that’s so exciting it feels like fiction? 
  • Crafting characters and setting them in polar opposite settings to reveal both spectrums of social class? 

Perhaps you want to combine several of the lessons learned from Mark Twain books and create a unique perspective of your own. We look forward to hearing how lessons from the father of American literature inspire your next book!

Get Published Book
Disclosure: Some of the links above may contain affiliate partnerships, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Self-Publishing School may earn a commission if you click through to make a purchase.
Liked this post? Share it with friends!

Interested in working with us?

Book a free strategy call with our expert team!