For the past ten years, I have been an aspiring writer. Although I have sold one short story for inclusion in an anthology, mostly I’m just piling up rejection letters so far. Along the way, however, I think my writing has improved. The three biggest contributions to my improvement, I think, are these disciplines:
- Keep writing, keep revising, and keep sending things out to potential markets.
- Keep reading, both fiction by great authors and books about the discipline of writing.
- Get feedback from other writers through a critiquing group like Critters.
My most recent foray into discipline #2 is a book I found in my public library: How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey. For my review, I think I’ll go Clint Eastwood on you and partition my ideas into The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
Over the years, I’ve read books and essays on writing by Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven, Orson Scott Card, Stephen King, Terry Brooks, and others. Most have something useful to say about character, motivation, and conflict. Frey’s book surpasses them, however, in its ability to show me how to focus when my plot gets stuck. He does this with humor, and more importantly, with examples. More importantly, it gave me a much-needed kick in the seat of the pants to push my characters and dialog past the mundane, so they operate at their maximum capacity (his words). I came away with practical changes I could make to my novel-in-progress to keep the plot from falling flat.
If you want a modern text on writing, this is not the place to go. Written in 1987, Damn Good Novel will not be able to give you tips on ePublishing, because the internet didn’t exist back then. Frey’s writers use typewriters, not computers, but that’s okay. The same things that made a narrative great in the 1980s still apply today, and that’s what Damn Good Novel is about.
Although the title of this book may catch the eye from a bookstore or library shelf, I was less than thrilled about its presence on my coffee table when friends from my wife’s Bible study group came by to visit. This probably means I’m shallow. So be it: I care about my reputation.