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 Damn Good Novel (1987), which modesty prevents me from recommending, even though it's gone through several printings and is widely used as a text in novel-writing workshops in this country and has been reprinted in England and in Europe and was recommended by Writer's Digest even though they didn't publish it, and . . .

Never mind that.

The point is, there are some damn good books that cover the fundamentals of fiction writing and explain things like how to create dynamic characters, the nature and purpose of conflict, how characters develop, finding a premise and how it's used, how conflicts rise to a climax and resolution, point of view, the use of sen suous and colorful language, the writing of good, snappy dialogue, and so on.

But this book is different.

This book was written with the assumption that the reader is already familiar with the basics and hungers to know more. This book covers advanced techniques such as how to make your characters not just dynamic but memorable, how to heighten the reader's sympathy and identification with the characters, how to intensify suspense to keep the reader gripped, how to make a contract with the reader and stick to it, how to avoid the fiction writer's seven deadly mistakes, and perhaps most important of all, how to write with passion.

There's another way in which this book differs from books for beginners: it does not lay down pseudo-rules as holy writ. Most books on fictional techniques are written by creative-writing teachers who find, for example, that their beginning students can't control viewpoint, so they make a pseudo-rule that "you can't change viewpoint within the scene," or that their students are often too pontifical or didactic in their work, so they make a rule that "the author must remain invisible." Fledgling authors who can't make the narrative voice fit their fictional material are often told, "Firstperson narrative is more restrictive than third-person, but it's more intimate, so if you want greater intimacy you better stick with first."

Such admonitions and pseudo-rules are total bunkum and following such rules is like trying to be an Olympic swimmer with an anchor tied to your foot.

Actually, pseudo-rules are taught to beginners to make life easier for the creative-writing teacher. The pseudo-rules help beginning authors appear to be in control of their material. I was taught a host of pseudo-rules by some of the very finest creative-writing teachers in America; 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: pseudo-rules are coffins; effective principles are cannons into which you stuff the gunpowder of your talent.

In this book, many pseudo-rules will be vaporized. You'll read, as an example, how viewpoints can be switched effectively within a scene, how the author can intervene almost at will (depending on the contract that's been made with the reader), and how you can achieve total intimacy no matter which viewpoint you choose.

We'll also discuss further the uses and abuses of the concept of premise, how to make the reader dream the fictive dream, how to create more complex and memorable characters, and how to write with the formal genres, as defined by the New York publishing industry, in mind.

Before we begin, please understand this book is not for everyone, even if you are not a beginner.

As was the case in How to Write a Damn Good Novel, the principles of novel writing under discussion apply to works to be written in the dramatic form. If you aspire to write another kind of novel—experimental, modernist, postmodernist, minimalist, symbolic, philosophical, a memoir, metafiction, or any other kind not cast in the dramatic form—this book is not for you.

But if what you want to write is a gripping, emotionally charged, dramatic novel—and you already have a command of the basic principles of fiction writing—then please, come join the feast.

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