Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction Hardcover – May 15 2011
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MANY GENRES, ONE CRAFT: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction (Headline Books, 2011)is an amazing anthology of instructional articles for fiction writers looking for advice on how to improve their writing and better navigate the mass market for genre novels.
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The thing that struck me most, though, was the enthusiasm and spirit of the authors. Clearly they were having fun writing this -- such a refreshing tone compared to the typical text -- which ranges from pedantic (full of themselves) to oh-so-serious to bored with themselves. This one puts a smile on my face. And I wasn't wrong to select it. The students in my class this semester "loved" the book (their word, not mine). It's rare for students to tell me they love the textbook; so I'd say this one has something special to offer today's writers. Each chapter gave us insightful talking points which generated a lot of discussion about the writing process and publishing field.
For others thinking of using this in a course, I would note that it is not full of exercises or activities to generate writing -- it's not that kind of text. I supplemented it with a collection of writing prompts. This combination worked well together: one to practice writing and the other to learn about and discuss the process.
I recommend this one.
I'm waiting for a second book from Seton Hill. I'll be first in line to buy it.
"So, what is special about this book?" I hear you say.
There is a lot that is special about it. First, it is a primer for the experience of a MFA program. Which makes sense as it is a product of the Seton Hill University Writing Popular Fiction program. Every essay is written by either published alums, current or former mentors and teachers of the program, and special guests that visited during a Residency. You can see a whole list of the contributors at the book's website. As you read each of them, you realize that, while you have a succinct essay, the depth of knowledge and understanding in them can in many cases be deeper than whole books written on that same subject. I would almost consider them the teachers notes to a complete course.
Second, while it comes from a genre fiction background, it's a book that any writer will find helpful. The title states this to the reader. The first section of the book is about the craft of writing. No matter what you write, this unifies writers of every ilk. Each essay always goes that small step further than any other on the subjects of style, characters, setting, plot, etc., if not completely original. One such essay of the later is "Don't Be a Bobble-Head, and Other Bits of Guidance" by Timons Esaias. Just reading it over not only will strengthen your own writing, but see how frequently even the best writers of any field make simple mistakes.
The last section of the book is all about the life of the writer. I think this is the most important section of the book, because no one tells you it actually like to be a writer. What you have to do, what you have to think of each day. Most people see writing simply as an art. It is that, but it is also a profession. Just about every other field will teach you consciously or unconsciously teach you about that profession in conjunction with education in that field. A trade mark of the Seton Hill WPF program of teaching it studies about the publishing industry is branded into this book by doing the same for its reader. Tips for promotion, getting an agent, getting reviewed (and dealing with it), finding time to write, and more will help every kind of writer know how to make sure there work gets the attention it deserves in every stage: from idea to published text.
Finally, even it genre section is useful to even those who feel they write "literary" or "contemporary" fiction. Both informative and instructive, each essay explains conventions of all the genres. They are not "how-to write X genre" essays, but even deeper craft essays. Mary SanGiovanni's essay, "Dark and Story Nights: Mood and Atmosphere in Horror," while a terrific treatise on atmosphere key role in horror fiction, can be used in situations outside of horror. Albert Wendland's "Description on the Edge: The Sublime in Science Fiction" can be a key text for any writer on understanding how to describe in a story that feels natural, like the reader feels like they are in the story. Even writers of contemporary fiction have to describe things, places, and more that their readers don't know. They have to be just as effective a science fiction and fantasy writers describing what doesn't exist.
At a time where not everyone can afford numerous books to help there writing, there is a need for an all purpose book. This is it and probably the best one out there. But it is also something else. It is a testament to the fact that no genre is better, more special, or more worthy than any other. Literature is literature and it's practitioners must have all the same skills to be successful and entertaining to the world audience.
This is a must have for all who take up the pen - or keyboard - whether it be for a living or as an impassioned hobby. Many articles fill out sections on style, characterization, plotting and setting about the craft of writing as well as sections on the many genres. Romance, Science Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Thrillers and Childrens' books are all covered. Then to complete the volume, the subjects that leave writers wondering where to start or asking what to do next are covered. Learning, Working and Promoting are all worthwhile sections.
I have barely scratched the surface of all this book covers. I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of this and keep it handy. Any time you feel weak in any area of your writing, a quick thumb-through will yield an article that will almost certainly strengthen your efforts.
Reviewed by J. Keith Jones
Author of "In Due Time" & "The Boys of Diamond Hill"