Here’s a bold statement: I find Gotham Writers’ Workshop: Writing Fiction to be the best guide on writing for writers.
The market is flooded with books about writing, how to write, understanding the craft… from the mundane to the overly specialized. Yet I seldom come across a book that is fit for the absolute beginner who just decided to purchase his/her first writing guide while it also happens to be an excellent reference for the established writer.
The book covers all the main aspects of writing such as Characters, Plot, Point of View, Dialogue etc in an approachable manner. Each topic is covered by a different author; which, in my view, is an important aspect of a good writing book because no single author can be really good in all aspects of writing. Each topic is covered with a balance between comprehension and brevity.
The points of the topic are brought forward quickly with ample examples by using passages from classics or examples devised by the authors. There are activities to think of and try out, and as writing is a personal craft, these are obviously open-ended. However, pausing and thinking about these activities and doing some of them (topics you are weak at) is highly recommended.
When I started writing, this book was indispensable and filled in all the missing gaps I had about writing. The book taught me how to better understand tricky issues such as point of view. Of course, I knew about first person, third person and omniscient, but back then I didn’t know I could write a story in second person (although this requires quite some skill without coming across as leading or ‘forced’), nor did I know about multiple first person, peripheral first person, unreliable first person or objective third person.
I admit I had to reread the chapter several times and work through the examples often to get a clear grasp of all these new possibilities I could now implement into my writing, but the hard work paid off.
The book is what it claims to be, a practical guide for writers. Clear, direct and ‘on-hands’.
There is much here for beginners to learn from. There is also much to think about for practiced writers. It never hurts to go back to the basics and refresh one’s memory nor to be re-inspired by the authors who guided you the first time round, and more importantly, to look up aspects of writing you still haven’t tried.
Indirect Dialogue, anyone?