How to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

How to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  1,101 ratings  ·  100 reviews
Written in a clear, crisp, accessible style, this book is perfect for beginners as well as professional writers who need a crash course in the down-to-earth basics of storytelling. Talent and inspiration can't be taught, but Frey does provide scores of helpful suggestions and sensible rules and principles.

An international bestseller, How to Write a Damn Good Novel will ena...more
ebook, 192 pages
Published April 1st 2010 by St. Martin's Press (first published December 15th 1987)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,128)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Dan Schwent
With National Novel Writing Month fast approaching, I look upon my shelves and see I own six books on writing. The ones by Lawrence Block and Stephen King are by far the ones I've gotten the most use out of. The others are by authors I've never heard of and are like asking a psychic for winning lottery numbers. If they already know the winning numbers, why are they giving them to you instead of using them themselves? Surely being a millionaire pays better than psychicing over the phone.

I'll be h...more
Jonathan Peto
There seem to be about two broad categories of writing book. Some are inspirational/visionary/literary. Others focus on reader interest and organising your writing so that it might sell commercially. I like both kinds and expected this one to fall into the second category, which it did.

When I pick up a book about writing, I don't necessarily expect anything earth-shattering because I've read a fair number of them. What I expect is an opportunity to reencounter ideas in a fresh way that for some...more

Having read a few books on writing (Stephen King's On Writing, Jerry Cleaver's Immediate Fiction, Renni Browne and Dave King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, and John Gardner's On Becoming a Novelist), I found James Frey's How to Write a Damn Good Novel rather narrow-minded, lacking in detail, and even trite.

Every time Frey gives advice, he comes across as dogmatic; it's as though he thinks his method is THE right method and other methods are inferior in themselves. But that's just plain...more
Feb 03, 2012 Jeanette marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Can someone tell me, please, why I feel compelled to read so many books like this one when I have no intention of ever writing a novel?
Krystal Williams
How to Write a Damn Good Novel is an excellent read for novelists, especially beginners. Frey has packed this book with actionable information that will help writers craft, well,...a good novel.

The book addresses everything from character and conflict to storytelling and dialogue. If you’ve never completed a novel or if you’re trying to polish or rework one, this book is a vital and indispensable tool.

Frey is good at instructing the writer, not only on what to do, but on how to do it. He discu...more
Jan 22, 2008 LeAnn rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Would-be novelists
Now I think I've gotten a pretty well-rounded introduction to novel writing for the novice. As a novelist and editor at a publishing house, Stein offered very pragmatic advice that I found I could apply to my writing immediately. Maass, a novelist and literary agent at a major agency, understood and wrote about what makes a novel stand out for agents and readers so that it sells well. What was missing perhaps was the perspective of the novelist who also teaches and trains writers. Frey fills thi...more
Arthur Mills
How to Write a Damn Good Novel is a damn good book. Since the late 1990s, I attempted to write a novel but to no prevail. I had a great idea but I had no idea how to write a novel. In December 2008, I bought How to Write a Damn Good Novel and read the first page to the last page trying to soak up every word. I studied the book like a textbook. Months later, I bought Mr. Frey's follow-on book How to Write a Damn Good Novel II. I also studied this book like a textbook. My manuscript titled The Emp...more
I can't think how many years I have had this book and only read up to the first chapter. I have several writerly books that tell you how to do it. This is just one, and the credentials of the author are not as great as some others on the craft.

That being said (written) does this book add to my path in becoming a better writer and working on my craft? Frey does give some solid guidelines that should not be ignored but he as so many want to do is tell a writer the formula that has been working for...more
Nov 11, 2012 Robert rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Robert by: Craig Valentine
This book was recommended to me by a public speaker who I respect. I asked a clarifying question regarding this book. He stated that even though it is written for would-be novelists, speakers will gain much from this. He described it as a book that transformed his speaking. Given he won the World Championship, I took him up on it.

Yeah, it didn't work out so well. I couldn't shake two things with this book:
1. The book covered far too much quoting far more from other books than adding original tex...more
Off to a good start: "Homo fictus has hotter passions and colder anger; he travels more, fights more, loves more, changes more, has more sex. Lots more sex."

Unfortunately, the book was disappointing. There were a few words of wisdom, but a lot of the advice felt rather dated. Of course, the book was published in 1987, which could explain a lot of it -- the "keep x by your typewriter" references, and the instructions to have the final manuscript professionally typed, for example. All of which can...more
James N. Frey's How to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling is an excellent primer on the nuts and bolts of writing a novel.

The pros: Frey is a good teacher, and that comes through in his writing. He offers many excellent tips and techniques that many writers would do well to heed. He is great at describing the nuts and bolts of writing fiction.

The cons: He cites a few twentieth century books on writing so much that I was compelled to pick up one I'...more
For Mother's Day I received my first digital SLR camera, with an extra zoom lens. I've had lots of fun relearning my SLR techniques, the various zooming and focusing and framing.

I was given Damn Good Novel as a gift when I started whinging about being unable to write. This quickly read, easily accessible book was almost like automatic focus. It wasn't that I have no skills, it's that I was focusing on things that were not helpful at the time. Who knows when I would have adjusted my vision on my...more
Richard Stephenson
Ahhh - delving into a field I love so much, but from the other side of the table. It's so interesting to see how much planning, work, and execution goes into creating a truly enjoyable read.

Mr. Frey does a good job of spelling out major tenants of creating a dramatic novel in a way that's enjoyable to read, useful, and quick to digest. Plenty of examples and questions to really get you to think about your plan to printed fiction.

Writing is good, but writing well is gooder... no wait... that can'...more
Sep 19, 2009 Kristin rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: someone who is interesting in writing a novel.
How to Write a Damn Good Novel is a quick read, and I enjoyed the author's sense of humor. Although I didn't come across anything earth-shattering, I did learn many concepts that were new to me (creating step sheets, the positives and negatives of various perspectives, what editors are looking for, etc.). Frey didn't answer some of my more technical questions, such as whether I can use the names of real places, TV shows, etc. (I'm guessing not), but I still think this book is worth reading if yo...more

it's not useless, mind, but... i've read a fair number of these books over the years, and this one struck me as particularly dull. first off, it's mistitled. it does not teach you HOW to write a damn good novel, it conveys pointers as to what types of things go into writing a novel. there is a difference, but i am not sure mr frey would appreciate the nuance.

which brings me to why only 2 stars when it's "not bad". i docked the book for several shortcomings. for one, it's a repackaging of The...more
Mar 07, 2008 James rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Aspiring fiction writers
One of the best books on writing I've ever read. The author has established himself both with his own fiction and as a writing instructor, and this is full of clear and practical guidance. I strongly recommend this to any aspiring novelist.
Jennifer Perez
James N Frey's book is perfect for beginning writers. I have read so many books on "how to write novels" but THIS book explains in full detail what it really takes to make a great story. I understand some writers are in a hurry to get there book written. Some writers don't want to take the time to create well-rounded and unforgettable characters, but they won't do as well as the writers who make time to do every agonizing step to ensure success. Everything in James's book makes sense and it make...more
Se dovessi consigliare a qualcuno un manuale di scrittura con cui cominciare consiglierei senza dubbio questo.
Come si evince dal titolo non si concentra su argomenti specifici ma tratta della scrittura in generale, dalla pianificazione della storia alla riscrittura — il che include anche lati a cui personalmente non avevo mai pensato (il concetto di premessa, primo su tutti, e l'insistence-resistence) o suggerimenti generali che ho sempre ignorato (come fare una scaletta anziché buttarsi a capof...more
James Frey's How to Write a D*** Good Novel is a classic for writers. It's been around a long time (since 1987) because it is straightforward, easy to ready and prioritizes what's important in writing a great novel. If you're new to writing, it tells you what the most important elements are and if you're experienced, it reminds you where the problem areas lay. The fact that he relays all the details with a sense of humor makes everything digestible--as opposed to pedantic lecturers who write not...more
Kristina  Kriss
There is a lot of filler in this book (excerpts from other books). There are no secrets revealed. You’ve basically heard all of this before. My biggest gripe with this book is that Frey is over the top. He claims that dialogue should be “indirect” or it’s boring. But by indirect, according to the examples he provides, what he really means is dramatic in a bad way. His examples have characters using colorful words or phrases that do not directly say what is meant, but dance around the topic. My q...more
How-to for Beginners

Frey, James N. (1987). How to Write a Damn Good Novel. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

I’m cautious about any how-to book that bills itself as “no-nonsense,” implying that comparable books are full of nonsense. In fact this book has quite a bit of nonsense, from the author’s strained sense of humor, to the fact that it was written in 1987 (“Keep a thesaurus by your typewriter”). Nevertheless, it covers the basics of storytelling and its breezy style makes it an easy read, approp...more
Kirk Hanley
I've read a large number of books about writing and this one falls somewhere in the middle. It has some good advice and examples, but there is nothing revolutionary here. This book strikes me as more useful to take a look at a novel you've already written and assess its weaknesses than a place to start if you're struggling with creating your first novel. Still, it has the advantage of being a short, enjoyable read - I've read longer guides with less content.
How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey, a 41-year-old best selling American author with the goods on great storytelling. This step-by-step guild explains all the essentials to fictional writing desired by aspiring novelists. Frey covers novel basics such as creating well-rounded characters, successful premises, engaging rising conflicts, efficient viewpoints, productive dialogue, organized planning, and dealing with the agonies a writer may feel in his or her exhausting, yet rewarding,...more
Colored Ink
I've had the good fortune to take workshops with Jim Frey. There are flashier writing books out there--and new ones coming out continuously--but this is a keeper. A no-nonsense guide that addressees all of the critical steps--developing a character, a voice, a point of view, a plot, a structure, and more to write a .... good novel.
This is a classic and a staple on my shelf. Recommend to beginning and experienced writer alike.
Mary Catelli
This book has got some good advice. About dialog, about conflict and what is needed to keep it going, and how to keep it rising steadily, about characters, even -- even though his advice about building all your characters first and then getting to the plot is not sound for all writers.

Even if he does over-tout the "premise". All right, I'm cynical; it did not help that he spent over a page gushing about how great it is before getting around to telling us. And yes, you do need to have unity of th...more
Tim Williams
Having already read three other books on writing by James Frey, I was already familiar with his methods and had seen this material presented in altered forms. BUT it doesn't detract from it being very good. If I were to rate it with previous knowledge in mind for myself it probably would have been a 4, but as a rating for others, especially those just starting to learn how to write, definitely a 5.

One caveat - if you are writing to create art and you look down on genre fiction, skip this one. Th...more
When I started this, I was impressed because I recognized the author and could remember him being in the news recently about writing, so he must be famous, right...yeah, that would be correct. Famous for exaggerating details in his best selling memoir.

So after making the connection, I was skeptical of this book. Besides, I'm not in a place right now to sit down and write a book, so I don't know how much information I gleaned from reading this.

When I looked at the resume of Frey I recalled pick...more
So... Bought two books on writing.. This one, and Stephen King`s book on writing. Read the King version first. And i am glad i did.

This book isn`t that bad: quite scientific in its form.. Which dosn`t have to be a bad thing. The problem is, that litteratur - is not like science. There is no truth, no right way to write a story.. There is no perfect way to tell a story, and our flaws make the story better. To some extent.

Although there are some interesting parts in this book; it would have earne...more
Al Macy
Despite many tepid reviews, this book gave me a lot of practical advice on writing a novel. The author usually had good examples to illustrate his points.
For whatever reason, I'm pretty sure this book brought on a temporary block - probably due to its many rules about what fiction has to be, especially the part that every single character absolutely must have a ruling passion in order for he or she to be compelling. Many good characters do but not every single one. Plus, because this author doesn't write books I would read and I think we vary a lot on style. Finally, a lot of it seemed very dated, which makes sense because the book was written 30...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 70 71 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes
  • How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them
  • Beginnings, Middles & Ends (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Plot
  • The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life
  • Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go
  • Writing the Breakout Novel
  • Immediate Fiction: A Complete Writing Course
  • Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time
  • Story Engineering: Character Development, Story Concept, Scene Construction
  • Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer
  • The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need To Know About Creating & Selling Your Work (Writers Digest)
  • Telling Lies for Fun & Profit
  • Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success
  • Chapter After Chapter: Discover the Dedication & Focus You Need to Write the Book of Your Dreams
  • Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller
How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II: Advanced Techniques For Dramatic Storytelling How to Write a Damn Good Mystery: A Practical Step-by-Step Guide from Inspiration to Finished Manuscript The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth How to Write a Damn Good Thriller: A Step-by-Step Guide for Novelists and Screenwriters The Gift of the White Light: The Incredible Story of Annette Martin, America's Most Amazing Psychic

Share This Book

“Writer's block is real. It happens. Some days you sit down at the
old typewriter, put your fingers on the keys, and nothing pops
into your head. Blanko. Nada. El nothingissimo. What you do
when this happens is what separates you from the one-of-thesedays-
I'm-gonna-write-a-book crowd.”
“To set a forest on fire, you light a match. To set a character on fire, you put him in conflict.” 23 likes
More quotes…