Category Archives: Fiction Writing in Particular

Here’s one of the Best Books on Novel Writing and Structure

A review of Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. ISBN 1582979987

This book brings a clarity to the fiction writing process I have not found before. I have read a lot of excellent how-to-write-fiction books, at least over 30 and took thorough notes from most of them. I have also completed two lengthy  courses on fiction writing. Yet I found this text super-helpful.

The “Six Core Competencies” of story writing
That’s what Brooks calls the major topics of his book.  They are:

  • Concept
  • Character
  • Theme
  • Story Structure
  • Scene Execution and
  • Writing Voice

And he covers them all–and more–in only 278 pages. Good news, since most of us writers are already up to our eyebrows in reading material. Yet he does a thorough job of explaining his points.  Plenty clear enough to put them to work in your planning and writing right away.

This isn’t the only book you should read to perfect your fiction-writing skills, but it is really a good place to start!

Clear Guidelines are essential
All of us who write fiction, whether we are beginners or pros, whether we are striving to write the great American novel or just to get published, can benefit form insightful, well-written guidelines on how to go about it.  I, for one, need constant reminders of the many aspects of story-writing I want to keep in mind.  This book provides those guidelines.

A good story idea is not enough
I also need a game plan, a well-thought-out procedure for building that idea into the novel it can become.  I need to consider topics this book covers as I plan and organize my ideas.  Not formulas, but the big picture and what needs to go where and why. Formulas can be rigid. But the principles the author includes are flexible, and rather than inhibiting creativity, they encourage it.

Brooks provides this key information in detail with clear explanations, illustrations from contemporary novels, as well as rather amazing and entertaining analogies.

My favorite portions
The chapters on story structure and theme are among my favorites (although you couldn’t pry any part of the book away from me).

Get published sooner?
Would you like to publish a novel? Would you like to do that in a few years rather than ten or twenty? I cannot guarantee you’ll be published, of course. But assuming you have that potential, I think this book can hasten your victory.

P. S. If you haven’t visited Larry’s blog http://storyfix.com/ I recommend you check it out. I’ve read quite a lot of his posts, and each time I came away with something new or something that needed reminding.

Related posts:

http://www.dailywritingtips.com/how-to-structure-a-story-the-eight-point-arc/

http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/write-first-chapter-get-started/4-story-structures-that-dominate-novels

http://storyfix.com/a-guest-post-about-story-structure

http://storyfix.com/how-to-learn-story-structure-in-two-minutes-or-less

http://storyfix.com/another-1-5-minute-workshop-on-the-six-core-competencies

The Best Book on Revising Fiction-Period

Courtesy Cohdra @morguefile.com

Best-selling author James Scott Bell has written a gem of a book with his Write Great Fiction: Revision & Self-Editing, Techniques for transforming your first draft into a finished novel. In fact, it’s like a one-volume manual for fiction writing.

A Comprehensive Overview with a lot of Details
From the introduction: “Beginning writers will therefore find this an essential overview of the craft of novel-length fiction.” But Bell is also careful to admit that entire books have been written on the subjects he covered. So this is not an exhaustive treatment of the know-how necessary to write a competent novel. You should read other books too. Nevertheless, Bell does an admirable job of packing this book with key advice, over and over again.

Some books meander all over the grid before getting specific about what to look at, what to do, and how to do it. So what’s good about this book? In a word, everything! It’s readable and quickly zeros-in on the many targeted techniques. And its instruction is well-organized, systematic, and easy to follow. In fact, it’s like a training manual for novelists.

Still impressed
I’m re-reading it. When I first read it a year and a half ago, I was impressed with its rich content and sound advice.

Good value for your money, and then some…
The introduction “On Becoming a Writer” and the “The Ultimate Revision checklist” near the end of the book are easily worth the price of the book alone. But there is a wealth of information on the pages between–detailed by a writer who has been in the trenches, fighting hard for years to win the wisdom he shares.

It’s divided into two main parts.
Part One: Self- Editing goes over the major aspects of fiction writing, like characters, plot & structure, point of view, scenes, dialogue, show vs. tell, and so on. Each chapter is a jewel that covers key techniques for the novelist and all or certainly nearly all the essential need-to-know points. Most chapters have helpful exercises at the end, and some have more than one exercise.

Part Two: Revision prepares you the reader for tackling serious revision after that first draft has cooled off sufficiently. Topics include: “A Philosophy of Revision,” “Before Your Revise” and “The First Read-through.” Then comes one of the most useful sections of this book…

“The Ultimate Revision Checklist”
This brilliant 38-page  section is really, to me, the heart of the book. It contains spot-on and penetrating questions the novelist can profitably ask herself as she prepares for and goes about re-writing. These questions are grouped, each in its own section with titles like Character, Plot, The Opening, Middles, Endings, Voice, Style & Point of View, Setting, Dialogue Theme, The Polish.

A Few of the extras…
Throughout there are pithy quotes from well-known, successful, published authors that underscore the many points. Bell even included answers to the exercise at the end of several of the chapters.

It’s a Tough Job but…
Revising the first, or second, or third draft can be tough. The key is to identify those things that need fixing, ways to make your novel better. Bell provides not only a workable plan but also the tools to do just that.

From page 215: “The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.”  –Robert Cormier.

Highly recommended.

Other helpful books on revising fiction:
1. Immediate Fiction, A Complete Writing Course by Jerry Cleaver.
2. The Elements of Fiction Writing: Revision, How to find and fix what isn’t working in your story and strengthen what is to build compelling, successful fiction by Kit Reed (available used).
3. The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them) by Jack M. Bickham
4. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, How to edit yourself into print by Renni Browne and Dave King.