Mighty Example

Let's take a look at another story we're all familiar with. Samson and Delilah. If you don't know the story, you can find it in the Book of Judges in the Bible. The way it's told here is not exactly the way it's told in the Bible. This is more like the version told by Hollywood, in the 1951 epic starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr. Let's call it the damn good version. Samson and Delilah is the story of a man who is loved by God and given superhuman strength, becomes a hero in battle, is...

Rose By Any Other Name Is Not A Banana

The great pyramids in Egypt could not have been built without the invention of the chisel. A chisel is a simple thing, nothing more than a piece of copper or bronze rod flattened at one end and sharpened. Yet the invention of this humble tool is what led to the building of those colossal monuments. Without the chisel those huge edifices would be just piles of rocks. Premise is the fiction writer's chisel. It's the simple tool that helps shape your fictional material and create a colossal...

Advanced Techniques For Dramatic Storytelling

HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL, II ADVANCED TECHNIQUES FOR DRAMATIC STORYTELLING. Copyright 1994 by James N. Frey. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010. Production Editor David Stanford Burr Library of Congress...

Characters Worth Knowing

Lajos Egri in The Art of Creative Writing (1965) asks rhetorically, What should a writer strive for His answer Characterization. Living, vibrating human beings are still the secret and magic formula of great and enduring writing. Vibrant, living, human beings are of course human beings that are worth knowing. Hamilton Clayton in The Art of Fiction (1939) says, A novelist is, to speak figuratively, the social sponsor of his own fictitious characters and he is guilty of a social indiscretion, as...

Failure To Keep Faith With Yourself

The writers who make this mistake must number in the millions. A typical case goes like this The young writer starts out fired by ambition and a sense of mission and purpose. Every young writer feels that he or she has a great untapped talent bursting to get out, and that with a little effort that talent is sure to be recognized. So let's call our typical young writer Heidi Smith. So what happens to Heidi, who at twenty is fired up by her ambition and sense of mission and purpose Okay, first...

Failure To Learn To Redream The Dream

When I started teaching creative writing, I thought if I was lucky I'd have perhaps two or three students with potential in a class of twenty. What I found was the opposite. Almost all of my students were loaded with potential. What I mean by potential is this They have the ability to create characters a reader can believe in, the power to evoke a scene, a good sense of humor, and a flair for colorful language. The first time I taught at the University of California Extension, a young woman...

Finding A Premise For A Particular Story

Bernard DeVoto in The World of Fiction says that the best teacher of creative writing he has ever known, Miss Edith Mirrielees, always began a discussion of a student's story by asking, What is this story This is the most important question fiction writers can ask themselves about their stories. It is the first step toward finding the premise. Once you know what the story is about, you will be able to say, Here is my truth Human nature is such that, given a particular set of characters tested...

Genre

Genre novels are sometimes called category, pulp, or trash novels. They are usually sold as rack-sized paperbacks (though occasionally they're sold in hardback), which fit supermarket or drugstore book racks. When sold in bookstores, they're usually in the back of the store on shelves divided into their various types mystery, science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, Gothic, western, political thriller, techno-thriller, historical, male adventure, and so on. Genre novels are read by people who...

Info

The Basic Formulas of Fiction. Norman University of Oklahoma Press, 1944. -. The Basic Patterns of Plot . Norman University of Fowles, John. The French Lieutenant's Woman. Boston Little, Brown & Co., 1969. Gardner, John. On Becoming a Novelist. New York Harper & Row Publishers, 1983. -. The Art of Fiction Notes on Craft for Young Writers. New Hall, Oakley. The Art & Craft of Novel Writing. Cincinnati Writer's Digest Book, 1989. Hugo, Victor. Les Miserables....

Mainstream

The conventions for mainstream novels are not as rigid as they are for genre fiction. Mainstream novels are sold either in hardback or rack-sized paperback. The recently released mainstream novels are usually found in bookstores, usually near the front door, usually in large stacks or in those cardboard display boxes they call kiosks. Mainstream novels often are the ones backed by the publisher with gargantuan promotional budgets. Mainstream novels are sometimes glitzy melodramas that feature...

Mastering The Technique Of Writing With A Premise

Most of the writers in my classes, when first exposed to the idea of writing with a premise in mind, take a look at what they are writing and try to find a premise for it. First, see a half dozen movies and try to describe them in terms of their premise. Ask yourself, What is this story about Then ask, What happens to the characters in the end That's all there is to it. Say we both see the classic The African Queen. You say the premise is Vengeance leads to true love and happiness and I say...

No

The keeper put back the screwdriver in his pocket and stared at Meursault, who realized then that he shouldn't have said, No, and he felt rather embarrassed. After eyeing Meursault for some moments, the keeper asked Why not But he didn't sound reproachful, Meursault thought, he sounded as if he simply wanted to know. Well, really I couldn't say, Meursault answered. The keeper began twiddling his white mustache, then, without looking at Meursault, said gently Okay, what intimacy is lost Sorry,...

On Voice Or The Who Who Tells The Tale

As you read this book, you no doubt get a strong impression of its author. You are aware, I hope, that this book was not written by a machine. A personality is coming through the writing. You have probably noticed the narrator's sense of humor and strong opinions. You may believe that the I of the narrator and the I of the author, James N. Frey, are one. Not so. The I of the narrator is not the I of James N. Frey. When James N. Frey sits down to write, he takes on a persona and it is this...

Playing Fair

Your part of the contract with the reader obligates you to play fair with the reader. What this means is if, say, you're writing a mystery, you will give the reader a fair chance to outguess the detective it means that all the facts, clues, and so on will be offered to the reader. If you're writing a romance and as we all know, it's part of the fun to keep the lovers apart you will not keep the lovers apart except through very well motivated circumstances. If they have a misunderstanding, it...

Premisemaking For Fun And Profit

One night you have a terrible nightmare. In the nightmare you've committed a heinous crime and the law is closing in on you. You awake in a sweat and decide, wow, that would make a damn good novel. The nightmare is your germinal idea. You plan to write a novel about a man who commits a murder and feels the law closing in on him. This is not a premise. This is simply an idea for a story so far we have no story at all. Okay, the next day you sit down at your word processor and type Notes and then...

The Basic Contract

The notion of a contract is a simple one. It is an exchange of promises. Party A promises something and gets something in return party B promises something and gets something in return. You buy a house, you promise money, you get a house. The seller promises to give you a house, gets money. Simple. A real estate contract is a formal contract. A prenuptial agreement is a formal contract. A time-payment plan purchase agreement is a formal contract. There are informal contracts that are just as...

The Contract Beyond The Conventions

Your reader will try to guess what your premise is right from the beginning, and if you're holding up your end of the contract you will be trying to prove it. As Macauley and Lanning in Technique in Fiction put it, the all-important thing about the first stage of any fiction is that the author makes certain promises there. A successful novel will bear out those promises. The author should be in full command of his conception, not drifting hopefully toward it. The reader will see, as an example,...

The First Versus Third Pseudorule And Other Myths

The narrator is a character, and you should think of your narrator as a character whether or not you're writing in the first person. Don't believe the pseudo-rules about what you can do in first versus third person. Virtually anything you can do in first person you can do in third and vice versa. Take Camus's The Stranger, which uses the first-person narrator to create what is often called intimacy. You've no doubt been told this cannot be achieved with a third-person narration. In the...

The Multipremise Novel

A damn good novel may have more than one story. It may, as in Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, have two stories. There's the Anna story and there's the Levin story. It may, as in War and Peace, have more than two stories. There's the story of Pierre's marriage, the story of Pierre going to war, the story of Prince Andre's mortal wound, and Natasha's story, among others. In Crime and Punishment, there's the story of the crime and the story of the punishment. In Gone with the Wind, there's the story...

To Dream Is Not To Sleep

If you're going to succeed in a service business, you've got to know why people come to you for services and what you can do to satisfy them. If you run a janitorial business, say, you've got to know that people like shiny floors and sparkling porcelain. If you're a divorce lawyer, you've got to know your client not only wants a big settlement and alimony, but also wants his or her ex to suffer. Fiction writing is a service business. Before you sit down to write a damn good novel, you ought to...

Trying To Be Literary

I've had all kinds of fledgling writers come into my workshops, from near illiterates to near geniuses, from porno writers with their heads in the mud to sci-fi writers with their heads in cloud 2009. I've had mainstream novelists after the big bucks and wide-eyed poets writing narrative you can hum in the shower. I've been impressed and inspired by many, learned from many, and been fired up by some. All except the literati. Literati are new writers who barely know their way to the keyboard and...

Wimps

Most literary agents will tell you there is one type of story they don't ever want to see even if it's beautifully written and set in an exotic Shangri-la. Crusty old editors recoil at the sight of them. Creative writing teachers often break out in hives when one of their students writes one. What is this dreaded monstrosity Here is the usual scenario A wimpy housewife who is a total klutz at everything naive, ignorant, and yes, well, maybe even a little dumb is stepped on by, that's right, her...

Wrong Lifestyle

After I gave a talk about the writer's life to a group of writers and aspiring writers, a smartly dressed woman in her early thirties came up to me and said that she had always wanted to be a writer. She said she had several good ideas for novels that she would love to write, but she had a problem and thought maybe I could give her some advice. Every day she commuted an hour and a half to work and back, routinely worked nine- and ten-hour days, and did most of the housework. The only time she...

Empathy

Despite feeling sorry for a character who is experiencing, say, loneliness, the reader may not feel the loneliness itself. But through empathy with the character, the reader will feel what the character is feeling. Empathy is a much more powerful emotion than sympathy. Sometimes when a wife goes into labor a husband will also suffer labor pains. This is an example of empathy. The husband is not just in sympathy he empathizes to the point of suffering actual, physical pain. Say you go to a...

Egowriting

At a workshop I once attended in Berkeley a young writer read a touching story about a man whose wife of nine years up and left him one day, right out of the blue. The story opened the moment after the wife left, as she slammed the door on the way out. First the man wept, then he drank, then he got together with friends and tried to put his life back together. It ended with the man going out on a date a few weeks after the divorce with his former wife's sister, reconciled to the loss of his...

Sorting Out The Babble Of Terms

There's a great deal of confusion among fiction writers as to how a premise differs from a moral, or a theme. The easiest to understand is a moral. A moral is simply what a story teaches. Army training films about sexually transmitted diseases have a moral If you don't protect yourself, you might catch something horrible. Bible stories often have morals Obey God's laws or suffer the consequences. A fable has a moral Look before you leap, or Never trust a fox . Fairy tales often teach that if...

The Unreliable Narrator

All the novels used as examples in this book have been written in the voice of a reliable narrator. The contract with the reader is that all events are set down as they happened and that the author is playing fair with the facts of the situation. The narrator of a story, by the very nature of the storytellers' art, must withhold things from the reader. In the standard contract, the narrator, who knows the ending of the story, as an example, does not reveal it, but rather tells the story...

Identification

Identification is often confused with sympathy. Sympathy is achieved when a reader feels sorry for the character's plight. But a reader might feel sorry for a loathsome wretch who is about to be hung without identifying with him. Identification occurs when the reader is not only in sympathy with the character's plight, but also supports his or her goals and aspirations and has a strong desire that the character achieve them. In Jaws, the reader supports Brody's goal to destroy the shark. In...

Lighting The Fuse

This is one of the most potent techniques in creating suspense. What it means is this Something terrible is going to happen, usually at an appointed time, and the characters must stop it from happening and that ain't easy. In one of the Perils of Pauline movies, the hapless Pauline was tied down to the tracks by Snidely Whiplash and the 12 10 was never late. And Dudley Doright was meeting all kinds of obstacles to getting there on time. In the Tarzan movies Jane was always clinging to a log or...

Sympathy

Sympathy is often given little more than a passing nod by the authors of how-to-write-fiction books. Gaining the reader's sympathy for your characters is crucial to inducing the fictive dream, and if you don't effectively induce the fictive dream, you haven't written a damn good novel. Sympathy is a frequently misunderstood concept. Some how-to-write-fiction authors have made a pseudo-rule that says that for a reader to have sympathy for a character, the character must be admirable. This is...

Types Of Premises

There are three types of premises 1 chain reaction, 2 opposing forces, and 3 situational. The chain reaction type of premise is the simplest to under stand. Something happens to the character that sets off a series of events, leading to some kind of climax and resolution. In this kind of story, something unexpected usually happens in the beginning. Say you have Joe Average on his way to work one day, hating his humdrum life, when he sees an armored truck careen around the corner and a bag fall...

Why Now Is The Best Time In History To Be A Fiction Writer

This is the information age, and the writer's stock-in-trade is information. In the history of the world there has never been a better time to be a fiction writer than right now. The invention of the word processor and high-speed quality printers is one reason. Editing, inserting, and moving text were nightmares when writers were writing on a clay tablet, or on paper with a quill pen, the fountain pen, the ballpoint pen, or a typewriter. Now it's just a matter of pushing a...

The Wacky Factor

Great characters are often a little wacky. Some are even more than a little wacky, they're out there on the lunatic fringe. Readers are charmed by wacky, theatrical characters. Wacky characters are often exaggerated, flamboyant, colorful, ditzy, dizzy, and contrary. When you think of the great characters of literature, who do you think of Ahab in Moby Dick comes to mind. He's colorful, all right, and a little out there on the lunatic fringe. Zorba the Greek is one of the truly great wackos of...

Character Contrast And Setting

Characters should be contrasted not only with each other, but also with their setting. The rube coming to the city, for example. A socialite going to prison. Think of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court . The spoiled rich kid on a fishing boat in Rudyard Kipling's Captains Courageous. The hip street punk McMurphy in an insane asylum in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The Kansas farm girl caught in a magical land in Frank L. Baum's The Wizard of Oz. In Jaws,...

Bibliography

The Poetics in The Basic Works of Aristotle. Edited by Richard McKeon. New York Random House, 1941. Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York Washington Square Press, 1960. Benchley, Peter. Jaws. New York Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1974. Brace, Gerald Warner. The Stuff of Fiction. New York W. W. Norton and Company, 1969. Camus, Albert. The Stranger. New York Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1946. Clayton, Hamilton. The Art of Fiction. New York The Odyssey Press, 1939. Crane, Stephen. The...

The James N Frey Percent Guarantee Of Success

Anyone with a passionate desire will succeed if he gives himself to it fully, knuckles down and masters the craft, works hard, has good teachers and reliable readers, learns how to re-dream the dream and rewrite in answer to criticism, and actively pursues the selling of the script in a businesslike manner. I guarantee it 100 percent. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking it can't be true. Not everyone can be a novelist. But I assure you, it is true. I absolutely guarantee it. I can make...

Character And Competence

Readers are intrigued by characters who are, as Aristotle says in the Poetics, effective. In other words, they are good at what they do. Detectives who are extraordinarily good at detecting are of far more interest than those who aren't except when the detective's bungling is played for humor . Cowboy heroes are always good at drawing a gun, or twirling a lariat, or tracking, or some other skill. Homer knew this when he wrote the Odyssey Ulysses was not only reckless and daring, but also a...

Suspense Defined

William Foster-Harris, in The Basic Formulas ofFiction, says we do our best to paralyze the reader freeze him to the book. All quivering helplessness, he waits to see what is going to happen next. Freezing the quivering and helpless reader to the book is what a novelist lives for. To do that, the novelist tries to make his or her readers worry and wonder about characters. Worrying and wondering is another way of saying the reader is being held in suspense. Webster's defines suspense this way...

Why This Book May Not Be For

There are a scores of books for the beginning fiction writer on the bookstore shelf, most of them helpful. h few of them, such as Lajos Egri's The Art ofDramatic Writing 1946 , Jack M. Bickman's Writing Novels That Sell 1989 , Raymond C. Knott's The Craft of Fiction 1977 , Jean Z. Owen's Professional Fiction Writing 1974 , and William Foster-Harris's mighty little masterpiece, The Basic Formulas of Fiction 1944 , are extraordinary. hnd then, of course, there's James N. Frey's How to Write a...

Premise Prestidigitation

Let's examine a story and see how, if we change the premise, the story changes. A simple trick indeed. Here's our story Joe, an idealistic young man, inherits his grandfather's farm, which he is determined to make totally organic. To his horror, he finds some of his neighbors reaping huge profits by making illegal pesticides. He pretends to be one of them and in the end brings them to justice. The premise for this story Courageous idealism leads to victory over evildoers. So, this is a story...

Damn good fiction is dramatic

Fiction, whether by Hemingway or Grisham, Le Carre or Ludlum, Austen or Dickens. Despite their differences, these authors works share common elements strong narrative lines, fascinating characters, steadily building conflicts, and satisfying conclusions. James N. Frey's How to Write a Damn Good Novel is one of the most widely used guides ever published for aspiring authors who wish to write dramatic fiction. Now, in How to Write a Damn Good Novel, , Frey offers powerful advanced techniques to...

The Ruling Passions

A ruling passion was defined in How to Write a Damn Good Novel as a character's central motivating force the sum total of all the forces and drives within him. The ruling passion defines the character for the writer it enables the writer to bring the character to life with a phrase. The ruling passion might be to commit the perfect crime, or become a great preacher, or pickpocket, or art forger. It might be something less specific, like to be a good husband, or the ultimate couch potato, or...