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on January 1, 2004
In James N. Frey's "How To Write A Damn Good Novel", he will teach you key methods to creating dynamic, well rounded, and most importantly, highly believable characters for your story, how to make them interesting, noble, slobbish or extraordinarily ordinary. He will explain how conflict is the most important element in turning your characters to life, how the conflicts must be made clear to the reader, and reach climactic conclusions that fully satisfy them at the end of the novel, and he will teach you with practical advice, style and great humor.
Mr. Frey speaks heavily of the necessity of Premise, and describes thoroughly the difference between a workable Premise, and one that will fall through the cracks like dry sand.
He discusses perspectives, view points, flashbacks, which he feels has been misused greatly in storytelling (agreed), symbolism and the imagists who abuse it, the importance of foreshadowing, and writing sensuous, dramatic prose that engages the reader, along with clever, witty and unique dialogue to keep the reader entertained. And finally, the Zen of writing novels.
You will also learn how the only type of writing group worth enlisting in is one that serves destructive criticism. Or how to get along without a writing group entirely.
"How To Write A Damn Good Novel" is an indispensable, practical tool for writing novels. His book will change the way you think about sitting down to your word processor or type writer, and likely help you kick the habit of watching too much TV that otherwise keeps you from working on your novel.
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on August 13, 2010
The title of the book does live up to the overall tone of the book.

This book explains, in a very straightforward way (without fancy or pretentious language), what the author believes to be the conventional, acceptable and preferred format of creative writing in prose.

He often brings in actual examples of famous novels to illustrate his points.

He goes over the structure of the story, the development of characters, the way to build conflict, etc. He does cover the essentials of dramatic storytelling, and offers some practical advice and concrete examples to explain his thoughts.

I think the strength of this book is the pacing and straightforwardness. It covers the basics, and is presented in simple, understandable language. It is an easy read.

This is good for people who are considering going into professional writing and would like to have a simple handbook to get them started.

However, if you already know a lot of writing, or have read a lot of other texts, then this book is probably avoidable, as the basics are generally mostly similar in every book about the subject matter.
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on February 8, 2004
I bought this book because I wanted to get a kick start on writing. I got the kick start I needed. This book explains almost everything you need to know about writing fiction. Before I got this book, when I was reading or when I was watching TV or movie, sometimes I knew that there was something wrong about the story. I have tried to analyze and figure out what was wrong. I have come to conclusions about certain stories on what was wrong with it. Now once I've read this book, I know exactly what's wrong with a story when I see one. So far I've been trying to reinvent the wheel. When you finish reading this book, you will not look at a story the same way again. This book will not only help you write a book but also will help you to analyze somebody else's book.
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on September 28, 2003
James N. Frey has provided the aspiring novelist with an invaluable guide for improving both content and style. Frey's rich experience in the field is inspirational. He writes with clarity and energy and each chapter is replete with positive advice. Frey leads the reader through the complete writing process, from an idea's inception to its ultimate flowering. Some examples worth citing are:
Structure (Chapter 2); 'Try to avoid predictability. Start at the middle, then do the end and finish with the beginning.'
Language (Chapter 3); 'Avoid cliches like the plague. They make all writing dull as dishwater. If you use mixed metaphors, you are skating on thin ice and could end up in hot water. An inclination towards hyperbole, or exaggeration, is a million times worse than any other problem. Don't confuse tenses because publishers will rejected manuscripts that have been containing obvious errors. Don't use a big word when a breviloquent one can be just as effective. And finally, never start a sentence with a conjunction and punctuate correctly?'
Editing (Chapter 6); 'Revise your work at lest five (6) times before you sended it to a agent or an publisher.'
If you follow the steps that Frey has so carefully detailed in this book, your unpublished days will be numbered. Around 15,000.
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on May 31, 2003
I feel that the start of this book's title should really be "what should be in" and not "how to write." While there certainly is a lot of valuable advice and food for thought, I didn't feel that it did much for helping a person take the ideas that they have and manipulate them into an actual manuscript. After reading it, I felt that the opening section of the Marshall Plan (in which would-be authors found a "how-to" lecture lacking) was extremely applicable to this book.
That's not to say that this book is without value -- far from it. I found the section on premise to be extremely valuable, and was glad to see lots of examples to help explain the points Frey is trying to make. I also appreciated the emphasis on the amount of work that needs to be put into developing the characters (though once again, I felt that it didn't really tell how to focus one's efforts, just that the efforts needed to be made). I felt like by the time I was finished reading, I had many new things to consider (and I DO appreciate knowing about these helpful hints and pitfalls), but I still had not the foggiest idea how to make the transformation from concept to (successful!) product.
My best recommendation for anyone considering this book is to get this book from the library first. If I had done that, I would have taken a few valuable notes, but left the book on the shelf. If you do check this book out, and find it to strike an important cord with you, then you can come back to Amazon and snag yourself a copy. At worst, you'll waste a few days, but that's better than wasting a few bucks.
If you're really looking for a good book for organizing all those great ideas and getting them onto paper, try _The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing_ instead. It has a few problems of its own, but I found it excellent at breaking past the barriers that kept me from satisfactorily developing a story to its completion.
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on May 10, 2004
This book was like a writing course. It is a well-written book describing, chapter by chapter, the necessary elements for novel writing. Topics include: Character, conflict, climax; the importance of premise, writing effective dialog, constructing a stepsheet, growing characters, effective prose, and much more.
I liked how Mr. Frey used extensive examples, and cited well-known novels for inspiration. For anyone even thinking of writing a novel of any genre, this is a must read!
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on December 17, 2003
This book is exactly what you need when you get out of college/university and want to start writing fiction. It is practical in its advice, it is "core business" about writing, and it is simple to learn from.
I have read a lot of those pretentious literary and cultivated books on writing. They don't help you write because they're intimidating. This book will help you realize that writing is hard work, can be kept simple and is no mystery. I wish I had read this book many years ago.
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on March 13, 2003
I think the second most important aspect of a nonfiction book is that it is enjoyable, or at least easy to read. It is all too easy to find a book that has useful information, but is tedious, and to give up on it.
This book is plain fun. He uses great examples for everything he says. And the information, the lessons they will teach you, are immeasurably useful. After each of his lessons, I asked myself how I could possibly have written a good story without knowing this. And after you read a chapter, you KNOW that what he says is true, because it makes sense. And yet, it never occurred to me. (I'm avoiding actually saying what he teaches, but's got sample pages if you like)
Overall, I recommend this book unconditionally to any aspiring writer, or producer of fiction in any way. He doesn't teach how to write, as in the words themselves, he simply teachers how to construct a story that will be interesting, and how to take a good story that you've written and find the flaws. It is both invaluable and entertaining.
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on January 9, 2003
You might find the advice presented in this book a little thin if it were the ONLY writing book you intended to read, but I think it really shines as a companion volume to 'The Marshall Plan' and some other works. The structuring presented here is much weaker, but there are some excellent tips on making characters more real and dynamic as well as the importance of understanding that there are some things a particular character just wouldn't do. Some of the concepts presented seem quite new- or at least present a different approach- even after reading several books on writing.
Self editing for writers is also touched on- particularly with regard to dialog- in a way that really shows how much difference there can be with a touch of polish, the addition of sensory detail (without waxing to literary heights of eloquence which totally obscure the story) and the ruthless cutting of things which really don't belong. And, if you want to know why I REALLY feel the author of this book is deserving of five stars, it is because of his- very negative- opinion of flashbacks. I'm not generally in favor of book burning, but authors who routinely make use of flashbacks should be shown no mercy. There is nothing that will kill this reader's interest more quickly. Flashbacks are a crutch which can literally cripple an otherwise healthy novel.
The only quibble I can find with Mr. Frey in his presentation is the exclusive use of 'classical' literature as examples rather than something more contemporary. Unlike many authors who seem determined to use this approach (undoubtedly to satisfy their peers in the teaching profession) he is actually able to do this fairly successfully. But, really now, if someone were to write like Dickens in a modern genre novel (without the big name attached) would you have the patience to read it? I think not.
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on September 22, 2002
How to Write a Damn Good Novel is a fairly quick read and although studious, it doesn't read too much like a text book. I've noticed that some writing books tend to be very dry and sound like they were written by a teacher, like Bickham's writing books. This work is a considerably better than that. Some tend to be more friendly and fun to read like King's "On Writing" and to a lesser extent "The First Five Pages".
One thing I've noticed is that advice can be at polar ends and yet still sound like it is good genuine advice.
Frey recommends using a very structured route to completing a novel. You must have a premise. Write character bios. Complete a step sheet. Know where you are going. The key to writing a salable novel is too write a certain amount every day following the guide lines and rules. Follow them and you will succeed. For a writer that is going to follow this route I'd also recommend the book "Writing the Blockbuster Novel" as it gives some great examples of structuring a big novel. It also gives examples of an actual outline used in a Follet novel, which I thought was very informative. I recommend both of these books.
Stephen King's "On Writing" tells some of his life story and also tells how he writes his books. He describes writing a fictional novel as being like a palentologist digging up bones; the story is already there, it exists in total and the writers job is to dig it up without destroying all the fragile and delicate pieces. King doesn't mention in his book on writing anything about a premise, a step sheet, writing character bios or even knowing the outcome of the story. He mentions that in the writing of "The Green Mile" he didn't even know if the central character John Coffey was going to live or die. One might just say that he is a genius so the rules don't apply. Perhaps.
Another good book that seems to be in conflict to Frey's work is "Immediate Fiction". In this book we are told to start writing. Write. Write. Write. Ok, I get it. Write something.

I think that a melding of the two approaches could probably work very well. Write as much as you can with the basic idea that you have. Write a lot. Then look at the work as if you were following one of the more structured techniques. Does it work? Did you break the rules or seem to follow them instinctively?
I am going to strongly suggest that the beginning writer like myself read a few different types of writing books. I read various reviews and ordered a bunch of books based on what books received some decent reviews. Some of those are listed here. I would also recommend staying away from the more dry, teacher sounding type books, at least at first. There are harder to read, not as fun and don't really say anything different from the others.
How to Write a Damn Good Novel has received lots of good comments, and I concur, it is a very good book and highly recommend.
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