How to Write Best Selling Fiction Hardcover – Sep 1981
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This is a very practical guide: long on examples and practical lists and short on voodoo and magic. Koontz breaks writing down into understandable pieces, whereas some writing books I've read spend far too much time on touchy-feely things that are hard to understand or emulate.
There is much practical advice here, not only in the writing of best-sellers, but also in the business of books, dealing with contracts and agents, etc. There's even a reading list of books and authors that will inspire the aspiring novelist.
My one complaint is that, even in the 20 years since this was written, the publishing industry has changed dramatically. I would LOVE to see Koontz update this tome with a 21st century edition, addressing some of the changes he's seen in the course of his career. I'd also like to see an updated reading list...I wonder which authors Koontz would praise now?
An excellent resource for writers, even if you have to pay quite a bit for it!
The first time I considered it was a three stars book because I was expecting someting else. Then I read the book again and I changed my mind about it. This is the third time I read it, and now I can say this book is mind blowing. If you want to write bestsellers this as a good place to come and learn.
I just love how the author defends commercial writing and puts it above the so-called "literature". In recent times I've come across people and schools that look down at commercial writing. They believe their "artful writing" is much more valuable. I think not. Koontz proves his case by talking about some of the most successful writers of all times. Does Dickens sound familiar? Well, he's just one example of many.
Also, there are hidden jewels in this text. For example, I bought a dvd workshop that talks about a very exclusive method to develop plot. This workshop claims that you will find this method in very few places. They sell this workshop with some degree of hype. Well, Koontz explains the whole thing in a couple of pages -no hype, just the truth about plot points common to all good selling fiction. So, with Koontz you get the very best information on how to grow a plot without hype.
Another example of the secrets in this book has to do with methodology. Like it or not, methodology is the most difficult aspect to grasp when writing. How does a writer create? How does a writer come up with story ideas? Well, I have had to search in many books on this topic. After searching a lot I found some very good ideas on the best methods to write stories. Then I came back and read Koontz again, and guess what? Yes! Some of those methods are right here.
I really don't know why the first time I read Koonts work I didn't see how rich and valuable it was. It has gone way up in my list of favorite creative writing books. It is now close to "Techniques of the Selling Writer" by Swain -which is still the best book I've found on creative writing so far.
Now, as time has passed I can see why many people like it. If you ask me, all I can say is that the book is not so much about technique. The book does address some techniques but the real main subject of this book is a way of thinking about good selling fiction. The author presents a series of arguments to support his idea of what he calls "main stream fiction". On the one hand there are "academic creative writing" books. Koonz gives reasons why you should run on the opposite direction when ever that approach to writing is trying to influence you. On the other hand, there are "formulaic genre books" such as mystery novels, romance novels, etc. Koonz gives reasons why you should not under any circumstance choose that path.
Without "academic fiction" and "genre fiction" what do we have left? Main stream fiction. The rest of the book is an explanation of how main stream fiction differs from "academic fiction" and "genre fiction".
In some ways this book has high dosses of Zen for writers. It is about your approach to writing and how to turn your writing into the most popular writing it can ever be.
Table of content.
1. A brief explanation of the author purpose.
2. Writing the great American novel.
3. The changing marketplace.
4. Creating and structuring a story line.
5. Action, action, action.
6. Heroes and heroines.
7. Creating believable characters.
8. Achieving plausibility through believable character motivation.
10. Grammar and Syntax.
12. Two Genres: Science Fiction and Mysteries.
13. A few more pitfalls to avoid.
14. Selling what you write.
15. Read, read, read.
1) Much of his advice is severely outdated, having been written in 1981, right after Koontz's first bestseller, Whispers, shot him onto mainstream bestseller lists;
2) There wasn't really much about the craft of writing that wasn't obvious (avoid "realistic" dialogue, avoid attributions other than "said" or "asked," use jumpcuts to do scene transitions, etc.). In fact, pretty much all of his actual advice here has been said better and more entertainingly by others in the years since this book came out. Newer writing gurus like James Scott Bell pack way more information into their books in a more laid back, casual style (see my recommended reading list, below);
3) Although Koontz certainly makes many good points and provides sound, intelligent advice, the rather dry, boring manner in which he delivers most of it had me struggling to get through this book. There is just not enough warmth or humor on display by current writing guru standards (see my recommendation list below).
1) Oddly for a book that is supposed to focus on writing bestselling mainstream novels, the thing that does stand out is the chapter on writing genre novels, specifically covering science fiction and mystery. Koontz provides a concise look at how to create believable alien races and futuristic settings along with a step by step checklist on mystery story structure and the essential components every mystery must have to be successful;
2) There are helpful, extremely detailed (clause by clause!) bits on ways not to get screwed by publishers in your contract negotiations that I haven't seen elsewhere, at least not to this degree. While some of this information may be outdated, the one thing that never changes is that the industry is out to screw you with their legalese mumbo-jumbo and creative accounting practices;
3) There is an excellent, in-depth reading list of Koontz's favorite bestselling authors and his favorite titles from each, telling you why they are so important to familiarize with--names like John D. MacDonald, James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Robert Ludlum, Stephen King, etc.;
4) As for his advice on writing bestsellers, it's mostly talk about sticking to adventure, historical epics, and suspense and to avoid everything else. He provides plenty of examples and explains why they are hits, from Alistair Maclean (Guns of Navarone) to Arthur Hailey (Airport) to James Clavell (Shogun), etc. While this may have been true at the time, fantasy (Game of Thrones) and young adult (Harry Potter, Hunger Games) have proven other types of stories can be blockbusters too.
5) Misc. advice he gives along these lines of becoming a mainstream success are: Don't think of yourself as a "horror" writer or a "mystery" writer, but as a WRITER, period. Don't get pigeonholed as a mid-list hack who will write anything for money or you'll be fighting a long, uphill battle to get any industry respect when you do (hopefully) start producing quality novels. Don't waste your time writing short stories because they only pay a flat fee rather than a per book royalty, and don't give you the same level of recognition or prestige as novels (unless you have enough to fill up your own anthology).
I have no doubt this was an important work in its day and that it positively influenced a generation of writers, nor would I mind owning a copy, but How To Write Bestselling Fiction is simply not worth it at the current prices being asked ($69-175).
RECOMMENDED READING LIST:
My favorite writing gurus all employ a casual, conversational style and manage to cram their books full of useful advice on the craft. Besides James Scott Bell (referenced at the start of this review), try Jeff Gerke (The First 50 Pages: Engage Agents, Editors and Readers, and Set Your Novel Up For Success), Raymond Obstfeld (Fiction First Aid), and for screenplay help, Blake Synder (Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need), and Jeffrey Alan Schechter (My Story Can Beat Up Your Story: Ten Ways to Toughen Up Your Screenplay from Opening Hook to Knockout Punch).
In HOW TO WRITE BEST SELLING FICTION, Koontz offers solid advice on how to create a good plot, interesting characters, good dialogue, and fast-paced action sequences. He also offers some common sense advice on how to write a popular novel that is marketable. This book is VERY well written and is just as good as Stephen King's ON WRITING in my opinion.
Koontz also offers a lengthy chapter where he offers his honest opinion on many of the famous writers of his day. I found this section quite fascinating to read. Throughout this book, Koontz also discusses his own past history as a writer, making this the closest thing to a memoir that Koontz has ever written.
I know quite a few established writers who were heavily influenced by this book. Is it worth one hundred dollars? Probably not. Given dramatic changes in the book industry, parts of this book are severely out-of-date. I recently read an interview with Dean Koontz where he admitted as much, which may explain why this book has been out of print for such a long time.
Unfortunately, Koontz has no current plans to update this book, so your best bet is to look for this book in your local library, which is where I found my copy.