After last week’s flight into literary fancy, it’s back to basics with those ‘how-to-do-it’ books on my shelf. Ignoring John Mullan’s how novels work book, I still think James N Frey’s book How to Write a Damned Good Novel is, well, damned good. It was published in 1987 so I’ll just check if you can still buy it … yes you can. Updated with a hardcover it’s around £16 but there are earlier versions as well as the new paperback available at much less. The thing about Frey’s book is that he wastes no time. Ch1 is entitled What it’s all About is ‘Who’. Ch2 gives you The Three Greatest Rules of Dramatic Writing: Conflict! Conflict! Conflict! This is a book for a writer who wants to sell his books. With information about the tyranny of the premise and the ABCs of story-telling, you’ll learn fast. All you have to do is ‘do’ it.
Writing Quality Fiction has a different slant. As the title implies, examples are drawn from the classics. It’s a good book to refer to when you need a break from writing the next best seller; it’s a relaxing read when you want to soak yourself into literary advice from those who can.
The classis book on writing novels is Aspects of the Novel by EM Forster. Originally a series of lectures for Cambridge University, this is also a book worth having so you can sit back and enjoy Forster’s words as you absorb his advice. You will refer to this book over and over again.
Finally, if you want a tome to impress yourself with, buy Jane Smiley’s 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel. It’s easily available at around £12. Her 13 ways are listed at the front of the book, followed by 3 full pages of books you should read. I must admit, the book defeats me but I still cling to my promise that one day – when I’m bed-bound – I will read it.