Not the usual writing manual--this book is ideal for writers who have a complete manuscript, but still want to "punch it up". Author Donald Maass is a...moreNot the usual writing manual--this book is ideal for writers who have a complete manuscript, but still want to "punch it up". Author Donald Maass is a well-known literary agent, so as far as marketing fiction goes, there are few more knowledgeable sources. He draws examples from a wide range of fiction, from thrillers and sci-fi to Don DeLillo and Andre Dubus. Chapters cover microtension, dialogue that moves, and other techniques to entice a reader to hang on every word of your 500 page magnum opus--and each feature exercises drawing from your own manuscript (I didn't do them, since this was a library book, but I've earmarked some in my brain and plan to apply them!)(less)
Not to be confused with a "how-to" guide for either reading or writing, Francine Prose's book is more like an extended "suggested reading" list of lin...moreNot to be confused with a "how-to" guide for either reading or writing, Francine Prose's book is more like an extended "suggested reading" list of linked mini-essays on different aspects of fiction-writing craft: chapters include "Sentences," "Dialogue," "Narration," and "Gestures" just to name a few. Taking examples from classic literature and many lesser known works (like the works of Isaac Babel and Henry Green, which I am now in the process of hunting down), Prose discusses how various aspects of writing can be learned by reading, yet she is careful to avoid listing writing "rules"--because, as she points out, all "rules" have been successfully broken. She points to Chekov in particular, who notoriously and continuously violates the "don't jump between the view points of different characters" rule, the "make sure the story has a theme or point" rule, and even his own famous "never introduce a loaded gun in act III" rule (see the story "Volodya").
Of course, most of us realize that we're not Chekov. Prose addresses the universal writerly sense of worthlessness too, in the final chapter titled "Reading for Courage," in which she advocates reading the classics in order to "remind you how capacious and stretchy fiction is, how much it can accommodate" and that there's always a place for unique, rule-breaking narratives. Sure, she's preaching to the choir, and yes, at some points her mini-essay stream-of-conscience styling loses itself in occasional meandering rhetoric, but this was--for me anyway--a right book at the right time.(less)
This is a great little collection of essays by some notable contributors. I have to admit that my favorite chapter here was Steve Almond's hilarious l...moreThis is a great little collection of essays by some notable contributors. I have to admit that my favorite chapter here was Steve Almond's hilarious little gem about the awkwardness--and near impossibility--of writing about sex ("Hard up for a Hard-On", which, coincidentally, includes both lovely and nauseating examples. Consider yourself warned). Other notable chapters that I found particularly helpful include "Performing Surgery without Anesthetic" by Chris Offutt on revisions, "Making a Scene" by Anne Keesey, "Generating Fiction from History" by Jim Shepherd, and even (surprisingly?) "Shakespeare for Writers" by Margot Livesy. I found a few chapters too esoteric and/or vague, such as "The Mercurial Worlds of the Mind" about writing imaginary worlds in which the author's enthusiastically bizarre style I found almost impossible to follow. Bottom line, I'd recommend this to any student of creative writing. Good essay fodder here, to be sure!(less)
There are some good observations about writing here, but the presentation is rather disjointed--Vandenburgh admits to having trouble organizing her th...moreThere are some good observations about writing here, but the presentation is rather disjointed--Vandenburgh admits to having trouble organizing her thoughts in the acknowledgements. She goes about drafting novels in a very free-form, unstructured way (nothing wrong with that!), but I think this approach works against her in a non-fiction book about writing. My biggest barrier to gleaning information from this book is the fact that nearly half of it is an extended encyclopedia of writing terms. There are some standards here, like "conflict", "empathy", and "evil", but also invented terms and phrases I wouldn't have known to look up, such as "the way we name a river" (under W) and "your story's needs" (under Y). This forces you to read the encyclopedia chronologically--I noticed terms are re-referenced only in later sections, which seems to confirm my decision to read this way--and yet, reading an encyclopedia like this can be downright dull. There are some great little gems hidden in here (I liked "revelation" and "fairy tale"), but I found it hard to retain the disjointed, alphabetical list. Some definitions are lengthy, spreading over multiple paragraphs or pages, while others are overly vague and much too short. I think it would be more beneficial to read the books referenced here instead: Wood's "How Fiction Works", Lamott's "Bird by Bird", King's "On Writing", Forrester's "Aspects of the Novel".(less)