“Those of us who have been writing
fiction for a long time know how easy it is
to get caught up in the act of writing,
in the characterizations, structure, descriptions,
dialog, polishing of language, and—that
most hair-rending of all issues—whether or not
it’s ever okay to use words ending in -ly.
We wrack our brains over this stuff.
We read intensely for hours on end, taking notes,
researching how the greats handled it.
We lie awake nights and weep…”
I’ve been reading since I was three (says my Mom), and writing for almost as long. I’ve got literally thousands of books on my bookshelves. I read about writing; I write about reading; and vice versa. I studied writing in college, and probably have too many books on writing since I should be, well, writing.
Yet, I’ve never read another book quite like Victoria Mixon‘s The Art and Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual. It’s like a Master’s class in fiction, all assembled inside one, handy-dandy cover (either electronic or paper).
This is not a book about punctuation or grammar. It’s not about the “rules” of writing. It’s not about the writer’s mindset, thought-processes, habits, or intentions. It doesn’t tell you how to write or how to find the time to write … though it touches on each of these.
What it does do, is tell you what you need to put together a well-crafted story that will hook your reader and drag them along for however long a journey you choose to take. It’s masterful in every sense of the word–because it is full of tips, tricks, secrets, and devices that belong to a true master.
“The only reason I know
for writing fiction is to tell stories.
And the only reason I know for
telling stories is the same as that for
telling jokes: to get to the punchline. …
The basic act of fiction is the art of telling a story.
You can—and will—spend far more hours
and energy on the craft of writing fiction
than you do on creating the story itself, but
the reason for writing a story remains the same: to tell it.”
Even those of us who live and breathe the written word, who pass our time going from story to story, can’t always grasp what makes some fiction sing and some fiction fall flat. We can tell when it works (hopefully), or when it doesn’t, but we can’t always put our finger on exactly what makes a seemingly well-crafted novel fail. Or why one that isn’t particularly well-written works anyway. I can listen to Mozart and know that I’m hearing a master, but I can’t tell you exactly what makes his chamber music so much better than Salieri’s. I can’t always specify what makes one author so much better than another–just that I know in my gut that it IS better.
That’s fine for a reader, but if you’re a writer, knowing the whys and wherefores is important. You might be lucky enough to throw together a masterful meal on your first trip into the kitchen, but if you want to write seriously, you’re going to need to be able to do it again and again and again … so you need to know HOW.
Well, Victoria Mixon does, and she graciously shares it with us. She not only points out what makes good writing GOOD, but she tells you how to do it yourself.
Again, I don’t mean that this is a normal writing book with general, good advice. There are lots of those (and you should read those, too). And while she does cover some of the nitty-gritty stuff like punctuation, and describing the difference between general editing and line editing, those are not the most valuable parts of the book.
This book tells you WHY one plot line works and another one doesn’t. It tells you how to make your characters breathe on the page–and how to keep your reader turning them. She explains the importance of plotting but not overthinking. The importance of having fun with your first draft, like when you were a kid and your imagination was untrammelled. She also stresses the importance of letting your manuscripts cool off between your first draft and your first re-read.
This book won’t automatically make you a better writer. It’s not filled with “Write Better Now” schemes, or a bullet-point list of things to do to make it to the bestseller list. Writing, good writing, is WORK, and you’re always going to have to work at it. But this book will tell you what to strive for.
“Never listen to anybody
who tells you not to love or hate anything
about your chosen art.
Love your work. Love every little bit of it you can.
Love the paper and pen nibs and keyboard,
love the punctuation and vocabulary and syntax,
love the alliterations and etymology and patois and
Great Vowel Shift of the fifteenth through eighteenth
centuries. Hate what really burns you up.
Throw yourself, like Camille, across the
fainting couch of literary aspirations.”
Better still, this book doesn’t read like some dry textbook. (Hence the scattered quotes through this review.) It’s lively and fun and brimming with life. Metaphors show off their colors, instructions are witty, and it ultimately feels like getting advice from your best, smarter-than-you friend.
“And this is why fiction is not just a craft, it is art.
Because art is about discovering the unknowable.
It’s about diving into that river of reality and fishing up
what you find, turning it in the sun to make the light
refract off it and show not just what it looks like,
but what it resembles, what it’s not, what it could be,
what it might be, what, in fact—in the alternate
universe in which we all simultaneously live
without even knowing it—it really is.
(In the interests of full disclaimer-ship, I will mention that this was a free review copy, but that does not change the fact that it blew me away.)
You won’t regret it.