Nicola's Reviews > How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II: Advanced Techniques For Dramatic Storytelling

How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II by James N. Frey
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's review
Jun 27, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: non-fiction, writing

In this book (published as How To Write Damn Good Fiction in the UK, FYI), James N. Frey moves on from the basic tenents of storytelling and offers "advanced" suggestions. Note the sarcastic quote marks -- I really don't think advice on defining your premise and strengthening your voice is advanced stuff. I finished the book with a distinct feeling of, "yeah, and...?"

Damn Good is best when it's just Regular Joe, James Frey talking about his experiences on the long, long road of learning how to write. The most informative chapter is the '7 Mistakes To Avoid', which is made relatable by the stories he tells about budding writers he met along the way and why they failed to make it.

Otherwise, I'm afraid I found Frey a bit of an ass. His repeated insinuation that women exist in novels only as the love interest was offensive. His scathing reaction to Literature students who break the 'fictive dream' and study how fiction works was ridiculous. (Isn't that exactly what creative writers do as they seek to learn their craft?)

Notably, Frey criticizes the 'pseudo-rules' of fiction writing that creative writing teachers enforce to try and tame the unruly prose of beginning writers. He makes a fair point -- that these rules become an lead weight that should be tossed aside as writers grow and mature. Unfortunately, he then goes and outlines a bunch of pseudo-rules of his own! (E.g. 'To make your protagonist sympathetic to the reader, make him pitable and give him a noble goal.' Fine, that might work sometimes, but it's still a pseudo-rule that can drag down a perfectly good story!)

If you're looking for a comprehensive book on writing that covers both the basics and more advanced techniques, try Dwight V. Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer. This one does not come close to covering as much useful material.

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