Aug 13, 2013

Not a book review–Writing Fiction for Dummies


This isn’t a review as such because I don’t really have the time to give the book the attention it deserves and there’s parts of it yet that I haven’t got to and don’t need to yet.


I wanted to note that despite my instincts and the aversion to Dummies titles, this book has turned out to be invaluable.

You see I have two manuscripts, one stalled at 50 thousand words the other at 10 thousand.  I have been to  a smattering of courses but not one has really covered the basics in the way this book has.  With some of these courses it’s outside their scope and with others, well I guess its assumed knowledge or the instructors simply don’t approach their writing in such a structured way.  I guess it can be hard to teach the basics when you yourself have learned largely by doing.

This is where my work and fiction lives connect to some degree.  There’s a movement and there has been for some time towards explicit teaching, moving away from whole of language theory.  And that’s what I find this book is explicit teaching with a broad range of examples from Austen to Tom Clancy.

There’s structure to a good novel, and whether you’re a panster or a planner you really need to know what that structure is, or it least you should know because the structure works.

And I am finding that having applied what I have learned I have some idea where I am going and I can see the end of these manuscripts in sight.  Its a book that I find myself returning to and re-reading.  It’s a book that has helped me in my reading of fiction as well-enabling me to better articulate why a story does or doesn’t work.

And while critics might say that its formulaic I would counter with the observation that I can write a Shakespearean sonnet with its fourteen lines divided into 3 quatrains and final couplet, its rhyme schemes and its theme/problem and resolution but no one will ever mistake my poetry for that of Shakespeare. The devil is in the detail.

So if you’re stuck and not really sure what the three act structure is and how it applies to some of our great works of literature and to commercial genre writing  then I suggest taking a look at it.  It also has an excellent list of extra reading that focus on specific areas.  To those that say you can’t teach writing I’m inclined to say horseshit.  You can give a person a box of tools, show them how to use them and in the end what they make will be up to them.

You can buy Fiction writing for Dummies at Booktopia.  But I was able to borrow my copy from the library.

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