One of my Internet contacts recommended this book to me some time ago, and said something along the lines of, “If you read one book on writing, make it this one.” So I did. There are loads of books out there on writing, but I was drawn to this one by its compactness and because it is for fiction writers.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have heard people talking about point of view, show and tell, and any number of cryptic-sounding titles for parts of writing style. This book explains these terms clearly and concisely, along with a bunch of other things no serious writer should be ignorant of.
And you know what? It’s effective. After reading through the whole book and cheerfully ignoring the writing exercises at the end of each chapter, I went through my current manuscript and began spotting things in need of significant change. This happened on the large scale, such as restructuring entire scenes to keep the action moving. It also happened on the medium scale as I targeted narrative paragraphs that would work better as dialogue. It worked on the small scale too, as I began feeling the urge to axe adverbs from inappropriate locations.
I’m sure the writing and editing exercises provided are a very effective method of learning by doing. For me, I just didn’t get that far – after absorbing the theory, I was able to practice on my own material. No doubt I will return to this manual again and again to answer questions that come up in the course of my writing. I can actually see the improvement in my style after one quick read through. How much more can be accomplished if I could internalise these principles?
It is a very technical book, and perfectly designed to assist the writer who has a complete first-draft manuscript. If I’d read it before beginning to write, it might have scared me off being an author. But having completed a first draft (well, actually, it was a third draft, but whatever!), I was able to recognise most of the technicalities described, differentiate between a good scene and a bad one, notice overall imbalances and take the right steps to rectify the problems I found.
The principles you’ll learn here are universal ones that apply to any kind of fiction: how to gain an objective perspective on your own work, how to unstiffen your dialogue, how to break up long passages, how to add action, etc., etc.
All of it is illustrated very effectively with examples of varying lengths, so that you can see exactly what is meant. Before and after shots of particular paragraphs show the editing process, and sometimes you even get three rounds with the same piece of writing to show how it was made the best scene it could be.
So please allow me to pass on the advice from my buddy. If you only ever read one book on writing style, make it this one. It’s easy to absorb and instantly effective, and your writing may never be the same again…