01/07/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Palgrave Macmillan. 254 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4039-9315-1.
check out website: www.palgrave.com
From the start, I have to say Robert Graham isn't the only person involved in this book as there are another six contributors, all of whom teach creative writing courses. That in itself should be seen as an asset as it means you do get a lot more perspectives although equally, none of them contradict each other. Whether this should be interpreted as them all agreeing with each other or the advice is all sound is therefore in your hands. Well, all right, mine as I'm doing the review of this book, originally released in 2007. As they have a collective voice in that respect, then I shall have to do the same with this review.
As an editor who's gone through in excess of four hundred story samples explaining to potential authors where they are going wrong in the past decade and have some acknowledged skill in putting short stories together, I'm rather familiar with the subject matter here.
Although 'How To Write Fiction' is targeted more at the general fiction writers than us in the SF genre, it does give some extremely useful advice that any novice writer can learn from. It even goes as far as acknowledging that most good ideas come from the ID, your unconscious mind, and it's better to either sleep on a problem or do something else to get your creative juices flowing and have a notepad ready to jot something down when you have a solution. The book also gives a series of writing exercises to ensure that you hone your skills by getting something down on a regular basis and equally importantly, get you examining how you respond to the world about you. All this nitty-gritty before getting down to the basics of storycraft for both short and long fiction. There is also an emphasis on short fiction being harder to write well compared to long fiction in respect that it should be practically considered a different form to be appreciated. Personally, I've always go along with a story being as long as it needs to be told.
With storycraft itself, I was more or less ticking off all the points I normally cover myself. About the only thing they didn't really cover was emotional content in as far as giving examples of putting that energy into the a story. Saying that, if you cover all the other things in their chapters then you should be sufficiently inspired to feed in such energy yourself.
As this group teach creative writing, it would be logical that they would think writing workshops are a good idea. Considering that they also agree that writing is also for people who need solitude to write that seems a bit contradictory in terms. Many people, from a variety of age ranges, attend creative writing classes in the hope that they will learn the knack. Often those with any ability are emulated by the rest and, at least where the subject is tutored as a hobby class, just feed into the group projects than pull away and develop on their own. Considering that they have their classes evaluate each other's work then there is a little bit of the blind leading the blind in how can you trust other people to wisely assess when they have an equal number of faults. Undoubtedly, the team here are probably good tutors but you'd have to make a personal judgement as to how much you would learn at your local college class, although I don't think these people would want you to attend more than a couple semesters.
Other than that reservation, I think both novice and experienced fiction writers can learn from this book. Fiction writing is not something that you can rely on sheer talent to get right, you really do need to understand the functions of storycraft. As such, reminding yourself of what needs to be done as well as working on any weaknesses is not a bad idea. If I can learn something from this book then I'm sure you will as well.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA