Thursday, 2 April 2009

HOW TO WRITE DAMN GOOD FICTION - Advanced Techniques for Storytelling - by James N. Frey

Originally issued as How to Write a Damn Good Novel II in 1994 this handbook was re-issued in 2002.

As with More About How to Write a Mi££ion this is a follow-up. However, it's not more of the same.

The author James N.Frey (that N. is very important) uses the opportunity not to expand on or extrapolate previously aired discussion, but to challenge his own prior stated thinking regarding what he terms here as the 'pseudo-rules' and the effective principles of creative writing.

Frey disarms the reader with his honesty from the off:
'... pseudo-rules are taught to beginners to make life easier for the creative-writing teacher.
I believed in the pseudo-rules fervently, and in turn, years later, inflicted them on my students. Now, I realize there's a difference between pseudo-rules and effective principles ...'

So, how does the repentant Frey tackle his subject?

Well, he promises to demonstrate, 'how viewpoints can be switched effectively within a scene, how the author can intervene almost at will and how you can achieve total intimacy no matter which viewpoint you choose.'

Does he succeed? Yes, though he could have been more succinct getting there.

Frey writes with a muscular tone; very much like a hale and ruddied uncle, claw-hammer in one hand, a fistful of tacks in t'other, keen to share his experience of clumping a few bits of wood together to make a cabinet and enthusing his nephew or niece.

His love of the subject often leads Frey to deploy seven examples from actual texts when, perhaps, two or three would suffice. But his heart is in the right place - he just so wants you to get it.

His chapter headings, viz. Don't Promise a Primrose and Deliver a Pickle, are effective if affected - they do make you look.

It's a good book. There's a lot of good stuff in here. And it's an easy read with a useful bibliography.

I picked up a copy at a remainder store for 50 pence - but I would have paid more.

How useful is it day-to-day? Well, it's not in the toolkit, but I look at it about six times a year. It's earned its keep on the shelf.

Worth picking up if you see it in a second-hand bookstore.

1 comment:

  1. A wonderful example of switching viewpoints within a scene is found in one of the early chapters of A Canticle for Leibowitz. There is a lengthy dialogue between two men (hm, sounds redundant, doesn't it) peppered with snippets of their internal reaction to that conversation. Seamless, effortless, and fantastic writing.